Last Monday I gave you a list of Free Online Courses for Serious Writers, and a few links for sites where you can find more free courses. This week, I’m giving you more ideas for improving your writing and, as it turns out, they’ll all work when you’re on a tight budget–or even when you’re flat broke.
1. Readwell-written books. You can’t write well if you don’t read well. No exceptions. Read any good books that interest you, not just books about writing or books in your preferred genre. If you don’t know where to start, start with the classics. They’ve endured for a reason. By well-written, I’m not talking about flawless grammar. I mean story, ideas, feelings. No one can accuse Mark Twain of writing grammatically-correct prose, but more than a hundred years after his death, we’re still reading and recommending his books. As you read, notice what keeps you turning pages and what makes you lose interest.
Get with the times. Invest in a low-cost e-reader and buy less expensive, electronic versions of books instead of pricey print versions. Side note to book snobs purists: When you’re broke, you can’t afford to insist on feeling the paper and turning the page every time you read. Let it be an occasional treat.
Read classics for free.Amazon provides e-versions of classic books for free (download the free Kindle app to read on your computer or tablet). You can also read free e-versions of classic books through some public library systems (call yours and find out), and at literature.org or classicreader.com.
Check out one book at a time from your local library, and return it on time. Public libraries are an underutilized, priceless resource for anyone. But those late fees can really stack up. (Get it? Get it? Stack up? Hahahahaha!) Check out books one at a time unless you’re doing research, skimming and comparing a lot of books at once. It takes, on average, twelve hours to read a novel. That’s close to an hour a day, every day, for a two-week checkout period. Adjust time for your schedule and the book’s length and complexity.
Subscribe to and read blogs about writing. Start with this blog. 😉 As a rule, I write about writing and editing on Mondays. (Wednesdays, I write whatever I feel, and Fridays I write faith-based posts.) When you read blogs about writing, you get practical information you can use. You can also post questions in the comment section about the blog’s topic, and usually get personal answers from not only the blogger, but also from other writers. Some writing blogs I recommend are:
The Writer’s Dig by Brian A. Klems, author of Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters, and online editor at Writer’s Digest.
Kristen Lamb’s Blog by Kristen Lamb, author of (among others) Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital World, Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer and We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media. She is also founder of W.A.N.A., International, an online social site to nurture creative people.
Goins, Writer by Jeff Goins, author of (among others) You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One), and The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to Do.
Write your own blog. Blogging gives you practice writing, meeting deadlines, and learning to accept both positive and negative feedback. You can try out different writing styles until you find your voice, work out the bugs in your writing, and find out what your readers respond to. Blog followers who like your writing will naturally be more inclined to purchase your books, and talk you up to their friends. See The 12 Dos and Don’ts of Writing a Blog by Brian A. Klems at The Writer’s Dig.
Find a good critique partner or group, either in person or online. You’ll have someone who isn’t your spouse or parent or best friend to read your work and give you honest feedback. Share, listen, learn, encourage, and be encouraged in a group of your peers. Try to find someone that is familiar with your preferred genre and is at least as knowledgeable as you are and growing as you are in the craft.
Connect with nature every day. Make it a point to live in the environment that your body was literally made for. Both your mind and your body will be healthier and happier for it. And a healthy, happy writer produces better writing.
When you’re writing all day, set a timer every two hours or so for regular breaks to go outside.
Stop writing one day per week and go to a park, beach, or long walk or bike ride in your neighborhood instead. And do not, under any circumstances, text, tweet, or post while you’re there. You can go somewhere without posting a selfie.
During writing time, set your computer next to an open window.
Make friends. Interact with people of various ages, backgrounds, and beliefs, so that you get a real feel for varying points of view. Don’t interview them; befriend them. Get to know them and care about them. Your characters will end up better developed and your nonfiction more complete. As a bonus, your life will be enriched by human diversity.
You might not think that some of these ideas are related to improving your writing, but I promise you, they are. All of your life is related to your writing. The more well-read you are, the more you experience in life, the healthier you are, the broader your circle of friends, the better your writing will be.
Did I include any ideas that you absolutely cannot or will not do? Why? How about some that you’d like to practice more? Do you have other low-cost or no-cost ideas for improving writing? Share in the comment section below.
Kathryn A. Frazier is a freelance copyeditor, proofreader, and writer. She lives in Tampa, Florida with her beloved family, Scruffy Dog and Valentino the Ridiculously Tiny Dog. It's hot there. And swampy. With gators. She's really brave.