Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Five Tips to Develop Your Writing Skills

by Sarah Sally Hamer @SarahSallyHamer

Every writer started somewhere. 

Well, let me rephrase. 

There may be one or two people in the universe who were amazing, best-selling writers when they were born. But I honestly can't name you even one. All of those "over-night successes" probably had been writing for years, if not decades, before someone finally saw their brilliance, because over-night really doesn't happen all that often. 

What is much more common is writers who write and hone their skills, developing themselves story by story, learning their craft and morphing into an amazing writer.

What's the best way to do that? Here are five tips:

  • 1. Write. Often. A lot. I had a student years ago who told me that he wasn't going to write at all until he learned everything he needed to write perfectly. I totally disagree with that philosophy. Practice. Practice. Practice. It's the best way I know of for sure to help you learn. What practice really does is allows you to find your voice. When I first started writing for profit (as such!), I wrote like my favorite writers did. I mimicked their phrasing, their pacing, their style. It was meant as a compliment but it covered up my own voice, and I almost lost it. But I finally found who I was and how I wrote. Think about your favorite author's books. Once you've read a couple, you'd recognize their voice in almost any book. (In fact, J. K. Rowling was discovered to be author Robert Galbraith by her linguistic fingerprint – some of her books were scanned by a software program that searches for similar characteristics and found her fingerprint to match with Galbraith's. When asked about it, she confessed.) Bottom line, the practice of writing can help you to find your own fingerprint and use it for success. I think Jo Rowling wanted to branch out and was "caught" doing it her strong voice certainly helps build a readership.
  • 2. Read craft books. A lot of really good writers have explained their processes, helping newbies and experienced writers alike. Thank goodness! We all can improve our writing, no matter how many books we write. I suggest that, instead of buying every craft book out there, although my friends think that's what I've tried to do, find four or five that resonate with your weaknesses. I have an amazing library of craft books but find I only use a few of them very often. One of my favorites is about character building, another about setting scenes. I also have one about how structure and theme work hand-in-hand. I'll put a couple of them in the comments below. What are your favorite craft books?
  • 3. Craft books are a good start but I highly recommend you also read books of all kinds. The more the better. A depth of knowledge of how different genres work helps immensely to broaden your own writing. For instance, almost every genre ever written has some sort of a relationship—romantic love or not—between characters. So, even if you never plan on writing a romance, understanding how romances work can add to your own tool box. Almost every book also has a mystery. It doesn't have to be a murder in your own story, but we always want our readers to wonder what's going to happen next. Seeing how a mystery or suspense writer puts clues in the story can help you to keep your audience guessing.
  • 4. Get help. I don't usually recommend critique groups, even though I've been involved with two or three strong, helpful, encouraging, wonderful groups. I've also had experiences with soul-sucking writers who are willing to destroy you. So, if you decide you need help, you might want to take a few writing classes, whether local or online, and see if you connect with anyone. Several of my own students have found a critique partner in class. And sometimes those people become good friends. 
  • 5. Never stop learning. I pulled a ten-year-old manuscript out from under my bed last year and asked a friend/critique partner to look at it. She read all the way through, marking what she saw needed work, and handed it to me. It was VERY red with all the corrections and edits. She said, "You've improved your writing a lot in the last decade." I had to laugh. She was right in everything she marked. And I'm glad I have worked on being a better writer over my writing life and that she noticed it.

At the end of the day, we all can make our writing better by taking a class or reading a craft book or finding a good critique. I promise you, it's very worth it.


Sarah (Sally) Hamer, B.S., MLA, is a lover of books, a teacher of writers, and a believer in a good story. Most of all, she is eternally fascinated by people and how they 'tick'. She’s passionate about helping people tell their own stories and has won awards at both local and national levels, including two Golden Heart finals.

A teacher of memoir, beginning and advanced creative fiction writing, and screenwriting at Louisiana State University in Shreveport for over twenty years, she also teaches online for Margie Lawson at Sally is a free-lance editor and book coach, with many of her students and clients becoming successful, award-winning authors. 

You can find her at


  1. Sarah,
    Thank you for your tips. I do most of them, but I must jump into reading different genres.
    Two of my favorite craft books are The Fiction Writer’s Workshop by Josip Novakovich and Crafting Novels &Short Stories from the editors of Writer’s Digest.
    What are some of you favorite craft books?

    1. Hi, Art!
      I love craft books and have lots and lots, so I'll just name a few resources:
      1. Goal Motivation Conflict -- Deb Dixon
      2. Anything by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi
      3. Alex Sokoloff -- Three Act, Eight Scene Structure -- that's not the name of the book but she has one you can purchase
      4. The Writers Journey -- Chris Vogel
      5. Theme and Strategy -- Ronald Tobias -- may be out of print
      6. Anything on archetypes, even if it's not specifically for writing. Caroline Myss has a really good Gallery of Archetypes -- you can Google to find it.
      7. Fiction is Folks -- Robert Newton Peck -- another old one but priceless
      8. The First Five Pages -- Noah Lukeman. Eye-opening!

      I could go on and on and on. LOL!
      Thanks for asking.

  2. Sally, I'd love to see those books you recommend.

    1. Thanks, Ane. I've posted some in Art's reply -- let me know if you can't find it.

  3. Excellent tips! Thanks for sharing, Sarah!

  4. You're very welcome, Crystal. I hope it helps you on your writing journey!