Good writing takes practice — and mentors.
I get the newsletter from The Florida Writers Association. This past month’s main article was some advice in the form of a comparison: The Work of Writing: A Tale of Two Writers. An editor had two different clients. One client will almost certainly grow and become a published writer. The second, not so much.
The reason? One was willing to learn, take advice, rewrite, revise, and grow their skills. The other folded at the first critiques (constructively given) and gave up.
Being critiqued is hard. Accepting that we make mistakes is hard. But seeking advice on how to improve, then implementing said advice, a writer grows to write the next story better than the last. A writer who ignores advice is doomed to remain only the favorite author of a few friends and family (if they’re lucky).
A writer can get useful advice from beta readers or editors. When I am editing, I am always operating with the belief that the writer on the other end of the conversation wants to improve as a writer. I leave notes and comments explaining the why for corrections, and will coach the nitty gritty nuance of tense and point of view as well as structure, in the hopes that they can not only correct the mistakes in this manuscript, but forge their writing path through the next story more easily, recalling rules. In one-on-one conversations, my corrections are peppered with examples, explanations, and choices, so the writer can see the corrections actively strengthening their storytelling and the mechanics of delivering their stories to readers in compelling, readable and absorbing ways.
I received the greatest compliment in a note the other day: I heard your voice while I was writing. The writer had internalized my advice to the point where they heard it in their head when a situation arose where it applied.
That, to me, is evidence a writer is growing. And it felt wonderful to find out I was a part of that.
If you can’t get an editor, use a beta reader with substantial writing skills of their own. Also, find quality stories and pick apart those authors’ techniques, taking notes on how they constructed and revealed character traits, unveiled plot points and twists, and created mood through word choices and sentence structure.
If you are working on a NaNo novel right now, find a beta reader and use these questions for it in December (swap with a writer friend). Then in January or February, find an editor like me to clean it up for you.