- First, just write! That's the best thing anyone can do to become a better writer. Ten thousand hours of practice can build mastery in almost any skill, so the first thing you can do to help yourself is to write regularly - preferably, about whatever comes to mind, so you're not trying to practice when you're on the spot.
- Try morning pages. The best tool I know to help people get into the habit of writing is to write morning pages - writing, each day, ideally when you get up, three pages in a notebook. Write bla bla bla if you have to - you'll get bored of it quickly, and will write what comes to mind.
- Take a creativity course. The book The Artist's Way is one of the most famous of these, and it's what inspires me to suggest morning pages. Actually, I've never finished this course - I always get so energized just trying it that I get sucked off into my own projects. Try one that works for you.
- Read more than you write. You can't consciously choose the words that come out as you write them; they come from your subconscious. So it's important to feed your subconscious with a lot of interesting material to help you generate a lot of interesting material of your own.
- Read great writing of the type you want to create. What you enjoy reading most might not be the writing you want to emulate most, so hunt down the great writers of the type of writing you're aiming for, read them, and try to figure out what you like about them - and what makes them tick.
- Read great books on writing. The first two I always recommend to people are Ayn Rand's (yes, that Ayn Rand) The Art of Fiction and The Art of Nonfiction. More than any book I've ever read, the Art of Fiction boils down what makes good fiction writing. John Gardner's On Being a Novelist is another great, but there are so many of these it's hard to pick one.
- Read great books on style. The two I recommend to people the most are The Elements of Style by Strunk and White and Building Great Sentences by Brooks Landon. Strunk and White is the classic, and Building Great Sentences is its antidote. If you have to pick one, pick Building Great Sentences - hands down.
- Do writing exercises. There are many, many of these - The Artist's Way has some, at Barnes and Noble you can find dozens of books like 500 Writing Prompts or Creativity Bootcamp that have others; the important thing is to try different writing styles on.
- Try timed challenges. Write to the End (writetotheend.com) tries 20 minute writing challenges; Shut Up and Write ( meetup.com/shutupandwritesfo ) tries (I think) an hour; National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo.org) tries 50,000 words in a month. These cure you of the notion you need to wait for your muse.
- Join a writing group. Not a critique group - those are dangerous until you get more confidence in and acceptance of your own writing (and a thicker skin). I already mentioned Write to the End and Shut Up and Write, but there are many more (even some at Google, such as the Creative Writing Lunch).
- Take on writing projects. Write novels, write stories, write essays, write memoirs, write documentation, write songs, write plays, write poetry, write haiku, write impenetrable postmodern explorations of what it means for something to be writing - but take on a writing project that has a beginning, middle, and end ...
- Finish what you write! This is so important I wanted to write this earlier, but the problem is, it depends on what you're writing for. If you just want to improve your skill, reading Strunk and White might do it - but if you want your writing to go further, you need to finish what you write.
- Don't edit while you write! Some people do this very well, but most people have two modes: producing text, and refining text. Unless you're very confident in your ability to not rework the first paragraph of something forever, make sure you first finish, then edit. But before you do that ...
- Let your manuscripts cool off. It's hard to have perspective right after you've finished something. At least sleep on it, if you have time; ideally, come back to a story after a week or two and see if what you wrote before still makes sense to you and does what you wanted it to. In the meantime ...
- Work on something else. Start something new. Creating a new work has an almost magical way of solving problems you have in the work you have cooling on the back burner. Your skills improve, you're not invested in your old ideas, and you come back with a fresh start.
- Revise your work! Give your manuscript at least a once over. I guarantee, it's not perfect. The books Self Editing for Fiction Writers or The Elements of Editing can help you with this task. It's worth working on something a bit until you can't see anything obviously wrong to it.
- Share your work with a friendly audience. You're not ready for a critique group yet; they're often way too harsh. What you want are three friendly reviewers: a coach to help with your skills, a critic to help find flaws, and a cheerleader to praise goodness - and if the cheerleader complains, listen very closely to them.
- Revise your work again before sending it out. Listen to your friendly critics. Revise your work. Make it the best it can be. Then you're ready to send it out - to a critique group if you have to and if you have one, but ideally, to where you want the work received or published.
- Keep your work circulating until sold. This may not apply to bloggers, writers of memoirs, and internal communications, but if you've got something you want to send to an external audience, send it to as many places as you can. Some great books went to dozens of publishers before getting accepted.
- Don't argue with your critics. Whether it's a friend, a critique group, or an editor, they're not critiquing you to hurt your feelings. Listen carefully, and perhaps if there's some small misconception, feel free to clear it up, but ask yourself - why wasn't your story so clear that they got it the first time?
- Solve the problems your critics raise, but don't feel compelled to use their solutions. Humans are great at confabulating fake reasons for the feelings they have. Don't feel the need to use every suggestion your critics raise - but if two or more have problems at the same spot, listen closely.
- Learn from your genre. Whether it's writing a thesis, writing documentation, or writing science fiction stories, there are documents out there on the pitfalls of the genre and the techniques from success, from How to Complete and Survive a Doctoral Dissertation to the Evil Overlord List.
- Learn from the style guide. If you're aimed at a particular market, whether it's a science fiction magazine accepting William Shunn's document format, or a book publisher who wants the Chicago Manual of Style, or it's the American Psychological Association, read the style book. With a grain of salt, of course.
- Learn from publication. Once something is published, take a look at the published work. I can guarantee you, you'll find something about it you'd do differently now, whether it's a typo or a new way to phrase things. Think carefully about this difference and what it can teach you.
- Find a great critique group. By this point, you've been exposed to enough information to have your own opinions and to make up your own mind - and that's the right time to engage a whole bunch of other opinionated, thoughtful people to get their ideas of how to improve your work.
- Find a great workshop. These are harder to get into, but put you in touch with great writers of your particular genre or style and can really take you to the next level, if that's what you want.
- Find a great program - or embark on a great project. If you really want to be a writer, some people suggest a MFA program or other longer-term, intensive course. I simply prefer to take on little projects like 21 book urban fantasy series; these force you to learn some of the same things. :-D
32 search results for “better writer”
Recently a colleague asked me if I had any advice on being a better writer. I thought I’d posted about that, but it appears that I hadn’t, so I tried writing up my thoughts. That was too much, so I summarized. That was too much, so I summarized it AGAIN. And then it was short enough to share with you:
The super short version is to be a better writer, just write!
I often recommend morning pages - writing three pages about random topics at the start of your day, even "bla bla bla" if you have to - you'll get tired of writing “bla bla bla" quickly, and this will help cure you of the feeling you need to wait for your muse.
This advice comes from the book The Artist's Way, which is a great course to take; I also recommend Strunk and White's The Elements of Style and Brooks Landon's Building Great Sentences on grammar and style, Ayn Rand's The Art of Fiction and The Art of Nonfiction on writing and structure, and The Elements of Editing and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers on editing.
I also recommend that you read a lot more than you write, especially writing of the kind you want to emulate; take a look at it and see what makes it tick.
For fiction and other similar writing I recommend finding a writing group first, not a critique group; there are several good ones in the Bay Area including Write to the End and Shut Up and Write.
For the kind of internal communications you're talking about, you might try looking at marketing and documentation literature or the great writers internally that you admire - also popular writers, technical and nontechnical, in the computer field.
As for blogging, my recommendation is to just blog - try to do it regularly, at least once a week or so, about whatever comes to your mind, so that you create both a growing store of content - and again, a habit that helps you just write.
I’ll try to expand on these recommendations, but if I had to boil it down even further, I’d say: just write!
- Purpose: Why you’re writing (for creative expression, because your boss asked you)
- Goal: What you want your writing to do (to be fun, to help your teammates, etc)
- Content: What you want to write about (the specific information you contribute)
- Form: What kind of thing you’re writing (a story, an article, a blogpost)
- Style: What tone of voice you want to use (lighthearted, formal, quirky)
- Content: What you want to write about
- Structure: What topics do you need to cover?
- Questions: What questions should your piece answer?
- Ideas: What do you think about the questions?
- Answers: How does that translate into answers?
- Why do you want to write?
- What do you want your writing to accomplish?
- What should people learn or feel after reading your article or story?
- What is the most important specific idea that you contribute to this topic?
- Writer’s Block of the First Kind: What We Have Here is a Failure to Motivate. Solution: Butt In Chair
- Writer’s Block of the Second Kind: Not Thinking Through Your Shit. Solution: Stop and Think
- Writer’s Block of the Third Kind: The Dreaded Blank Page. Solution: Cognitive Scaffolding
- Writer’s Block of the Fourth Kind: Editing While You Write. Solution: Write to the End, then Edit
I am very interested in promoting creation. I think the world would be a better place if more people wrote, drew, painted, sculpted, danced, programmed, philosophized, or just came up with ideas. Not all ideas are great, and it's important to throw away the bad and keep the good - but the more ideas we can generate, the more we can test.
One of the biggest problems I see in unprofessional, unpublished or just unhappy creators is not finishing. It's very easy to start work on an idea - a painting, a novel, a sculpture, a program, a philosophy of life. But no matter how much you love what you do, there's always a point in creating a work where the act of creating transforms from play to work.
Whether you stall out because the work gets hard or because you get distracted by a new idea, it's important to realize the value of finishing. An unfinished idea can be scooped, or become stale, or disconnected from your inspiration. If you don't finish something, the work you did on it is wasted. More half finished ideas pile up. Your studio or notebook becomes a mess.
If you don't finish, you never learn to finish. You're learning to fail repeatedly. The act of finishing teaches you how to finish. You learn valuable skills you can apply to new works - or even to a new drafts. I know an author who was perpetually stalled out on a problematic story - until one day she made herself hit the end. Now it's on it's fourth draft and is really becoming something.
The tricky thing is you have got to put the cart before the horse: you've got to finish before you know whether it was worth finishing. This does not apply to experienced authors in a given genre, but if you're new to a genre, you have to finish something before you worry about whether you can sell it or even if it is any good.
You don't need for something to be perfect to finish it. I know too many amateurs who don't want to put out the effort to finish things because they don't know whether they can sell it. No. You've got a hundred bad programs in you, a thousand bad paintings, a million bad words, before you get to the good stuff. Suck it up, finish it, and move on.
Procrastination is a danger. This is the point in the article that I got distracted and wrote a quick email to a few other creators about ideas this (unfinished) article had inspired. Then I got back to it. Then I got distracted again doing the bullet list below and went back and injected this paragraph. The point is, it's OK to get distracted - just use that time wisely, then get back to it.
Finally, sometimes you just need help to finish the first time. The biggest thing is to find a tool which can help you over that hump when it stops being fun and starts being work - some challenge or group or idea that helps you get that much closer to done. To help people finish, I'm involved with or follow a variety of challenges and resources to help people finish:
- Write to the End: It's not a critique group; it's a writing group. We meet almost every Tuesday at a local coffee house and write for 20 minutes, read what we wrote, and repeat until they kick us out. We normally hit three sessions, so I usually get an hour of writing in every night - and hear a half dozen to a dozen other writers. Inspirational. Our web site contains articles on writing, including my new column The Centaur's Pen.
- National Novel Writing Month: A challenge to write 50,000 words of a new novel in the month of November. This seems daunting, but Nanowrimo has a truly spectacular support group and social system which really helps people succeed at the challenge. Even if you don't "win" the first time, keep at it, you will succeed eventually!
- Script Frenzy: Write 100 pages of a script (play, screenplay, or comic script) in the month of April - another event sponsored by the creators of Nanowrimo. This is an event I haven't yet tried, but am planning to tackle this year to get back into screenwriting (as part of my 20-year plan to get into directing movies).
- 24 Hour Comics Day: It's a challenge to produce a 24 page comic in 24 hours, usually held the first weekend of October. I've tried this 3 times and succeeded once. It's taught me immense amounts about comic structure and general story structure and even improved my prose writing.
- Blitz Comics: Because I failed at 24 Hour Comics Day, me and my buddy Nathan Vargas decided to "fake it until we make it" and to put on a boot camp about how to succeed at 24 Hour Comics Day. We produced a Boot Camp tutorial, a 24 Hour Comics Day Survival Kit - and along the way taught ourselves how to succeed at 24 Hour Comics Day.
- Other Challenges: There are a couple of events out there to create graphic novels in a month - NaGraNoWriMo and NaCoWriMo - though both of these are 2010 and I don't know if either one is live. (If they're not active, maybe I'll start one). There's also a 30 Character Challenge for graphic artists to create 30 new characters in a month.
Finally, I want to finish with what inspired this post: the Cult of Done. I won't go too deeply into the Done Manifesto, but from my perspective it can be summed up in two ideas: posting an idea on the Internet counts as a ghost of done, and done is the engine of more. Get your stuff done, finish it, and if it's still half baked, post it to force yourself to move on to newer and better things.
The plane is landing. Time to get it done.
Credits: The BlitzComics guy is penciled, inked and colored by me and post-processed by Nathan Vargas. Joshua Rothass did the Cult of Done poster and distributed it under a Creative Commons license. This blog post was uploaded by Ecto, which is doing well (other than an upload problem) and is probably going to get my money.
Hi, I'm Anthony Francis, and I teach robots to learn, particularly deep reinforcement learning for robot navigation as well as the intersection of memory, emotion, and planning for contextual control.
I write urban fantasy about a woman who can bring her tattoos to life and steampunk about women scientists and adventurers, as well as space opera featuring a young centauress explorer. I also draw a webcomic about a girl who can travel to any possible story.
On this site, I also have resources on how to become a better writer, on how to overcome writer's block, on the science of airships, my thoughts on how religion intersects with artificial intelligence, and even a collection of recipes and thoughts on food.
If you're looking for a good place to get started, my first novel, FROST MOON, won an EPIC Ebook award, and my team's work on PRM-RL won the ICRA 2018 Best Paper Award. Otherwise, I hope while you are here in the Library that you find something informative, interesting or at least entertaining!
P.S. This is a "sticky" post designed to introduce the blog; keep scrolling down for more recent content, or check out the site menu, tags or categories to explore more.
Recently, someone asked me if I had any advice for young writers. I just had a minute, so I could only give them one sentence - and I so wanted to say “Just write!”
But that’s not fair. Writer’s block is the biggest problem people have when they ask me how to be a better writer - and so it’s not enough to say “Just write!”
So the sentence I gave was: “Just write - start with ‘bla bla bla’ if you have to, just to get your pen moving - because the more you write, the easier it gets, and the better you get!”
And that sums up what I think about writing - literally the most important things I think you need, in a single sentence. But if you gave me just two words, I’d say: “Just write!”
So just write!
Well, we're back at a con at last! And as usual, I'm posting my schedule at the last minute. At least I got the chance to see some people I haven't seen in person for two full years!
And here is my schedule:
Title: Star Trek Essays
Description: There are thousands of worlds within Star Trek, & thousands of topics to talk about. Where do we start? Join a panel of published writers & producers to discuss what's worth discussing in Trek essays, articles, & videos.
Time: Fri 11:30 am Location: Galleria 2-3 - Hilton (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists: Kyle Mackenzie Sullivan, R Alan Siler, Anthony Francis)
Title: Teaching Robots to Learn
Description: When you tell a machine to learn, all bets are off on what it will learn to do. In this panel, we'll discuss techniques used today to teach robots to recognize objects, to grasp them, to navigate autonomously around people, & even to imagine the future.
Time: Fri 04:00 pm Location: Atlanta - Sheraton (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists: Anthony Francis)
Title: To Series or to Stand-Alone?
Description: Fantasy readers fall in love with the characters & worlds we build. How do you sustain the interest in a series--or would this idea work better as a stand-alone?
Time: Sat 10:00 am Location: Embassy EF - Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists: Anthony Francis, Moderator: Nancy Knight, A. J. Hartley, J. Gregory Keyes, Seressia Glass, Dakota Krout)
Title: Author Signings:
Time: Sun 01:00 pm Location: International Hall South 1-3 - Marriott (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists: Clay Gilbert, Patricia L. Briggs, Anthony Francis)
Title: Dead at the Keyboard
Description: Panelists discuss strategies to combat writers' block, stress, fatigue, boredom, insecurity, & deadline anxiety.
Time: Mon 11:30 am Location: Embassy EF - Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists:Moderator: Nancy Knight, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Anthony Francis, Peter David, Trisha J. Wooldridge)
Title: My Favorite Author, Book, Series, Character...
Description: Authors discuss their favorites among their own works & offer insights into their favorites in other authors' writing.
Time: Mon 01:00 pm Location: Embassy EF - Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)
(Tentative Panelists: Anthony Francis, Moderator: Bill Fawcett, Trisha J. Wooldridge, James R. Tuck)
Hope to see you there!
P.S. I have been drawing more or less every day, but I have also been moving, so you get a drawing another time.
Hail, fellow adventurers! If you want to experience our world the way Jeremiah Willstone and her friends first experienced it, there’s no better way than to come to Dragon Con in Atlanta! I’ve been going to Dragon Con longer than almost any con - certainly longer than any still-running con - and after enough time here they put me on panels! And here they are:
- Practical Time Travel for the Storyteller
Sat 05:30 pm / Athens - Sheraton
Panelists: Darin M. Bush, Michael J. Martinez, S.M. Stirling, Anthony Francis, Jack Campbell
This panel discusses the real science behind time travel, as well as how these scientific theories can place both challenging and rewarding demands on the stories we tell. Time dilation, the grandfather paradox, and more will be explained as we discuss the stories that reference these theories.
- Partners: Collaborating on Your Novel
Sun 11:30 am / Embassy CD - Hyatt
Panelists: Nancy Knight, Janny Wurts, Anthony Francis, Clay and Susan Griffith, Gordon Andrews, Ilona Andrews
When writers collaborate, the results can be great--or horrible. How do you insure that your collaboration turns out well?
- Plotting or Plodding?
Sun 02:30 pm / Embassy CD - Hyatt
Panelists: Janny Wurts, Anthony Francis, Lee Martindale, Richard Kadrey, Laura Anne Gilman, Melissa F Olson
It's the story, stupid! Everybody loves a great story. This panel discusses how to create that unforgettable story roiling within you.
- Magic Practitioners in Urban Fantasy: Witches and Warlocks
Mon 10:00 am / Chastain 1-2 - Westin
Panelists: Jeanne P Adams, David B. Coe, Linda Robertson, Kevin O. McLaughlin, Anthony Francis, Melissa F Olson
Witches and warlocks in the genre range from being an accepted part of their communities to the most feared. Our panel of authors will discuss the characteristics of those in their works.
- Write a Damn Good Book
Mon 11:30 am / Embassy CD - Hyatt
Panelists: Bill Fawcett, Peter David, E.K. Johnston, Diana Peterfreund, Anthony Francis
Writers worry about all sorts of things, but the first thing to worry about is writing a great book. Here's how.
Other fun things at the con are the Parade, the Masquerade, performances by the Atlanta Radio Theater Company, and, of course, The Cruxshadows. So come on down and hang out with 80,000 fans of fantasy and science fiction! Some of them may become your new best friends.