Three years ago when I quit my investment banking job to write, I was a beginner writer. (I am still a new writer.)
The high-altitude Andean landscapes took my oxygen away. Chileans stared at me until I was gone from their view. My host mother fed me pyramids of bread and cheese. Spanish dumbfounded me. But during the chaos, I managed to write most days.
In the past three years, I have written (almost) daily, published regularly on my blog, earned by writing for clients, published poems in a book, contributed to many Medium and other big and small publications, published stories in magazines, and become a top writer on Quora and a top Travel Writer on Medium. [Update 2022: Four+ years on, I’ve more achievements to list. But the fact that I write daily remains the same.]
Are you joking?
Insider Tip for beginner writers: Answer your readers’ questions. Don’t throw a rhetorical question at them.
As I sit at my desk in my room alone and write for hours, I realize a writer walks a long, lonely path. Like all solo journeys, a writer’s voyage is also scary. I never know if my travel memoir is believable or if the twenty-one-year relationship of the protagonist can be broken up now. Did readers appreciate my life inspiration ideas or they were bored out of their guts?
But these narrative doubts came much later. When I was a novice writer, I struggled with the basic matters of having the discipline to write, finding the right stories, choosing the most impressionable words, and creating meaning out of mumble-jumble.
As a beginner, writing felt like driving in the mountains at night on a curvy road bereft of street lights. Watch them hairpin bends. Switch to first gear. Trust the angle. Push the accelerator. Switch to high beam. No. Low beam. Now. Switch off the ac. You fool. Phew.
But then why do we continue writing? Shouldn’t we just drive in the morning? Or let us not go to Ooty hill station at all. Damn them thirty-two hairpin bends.
No. You can’t leave writing.
Writing is liberating. Writing is rewarding. Writing is breathing. All solo journeys are. Every late-night drive in the misty mountains becomes a celebrated memory. Once you know how to make your readers laugh or cry, you get addicted to writing. This sounds right. Let us continue this train of thought.
Now when I don’t write on Diwali or while trekking in the Malaysian jungle, my fingers feel itchy. A clattering sound escapes my brain as if unscrewed parts are being thrown around. I daydream myself giving lectures on art and creativity and sacrifice and so on.
Where does all this noise come from? The words I didn’t write that day are finding a way out.
Throughout the past three years, either I have struggled to write or words have gushed out of me like spaghetti slips off a fork. Either way — I excavate one or two secrets about writing every day.
Writing will not become easy if you follow the below creative writing tips for beginners. But I can vouch that these ideas will help you write when you scratch your head but find nothing worth saying about. And then these tips on writing will walk with you on that lonely journey that won’t seem so solitary after all.
This is my promise as a fellow novice writer who is still learning.
Here are my 27 writing tips for beginner writers
1. Write honestly
Some nights I weep and tell my partner my writing won’t take me anywhere. He places his hand on my heart and reminds me that writing oozes straight out of my heart. How can my writing be bad if it is honest?
When I read Jhumpa Lahiri’s stories, I crave to create a labyrinth of human emotions. Ruskin Bond’s short stories make me want to live in Landour, plant cherry trees, and write about a boy Suraj who peeps through my window on his way home. In my articles, I debate the arranged marriage culture in India, favor creative practices, and push people to achieve their goals and dreams. When I am doing travel writing, I lose track of time.
All these ideas matter to me, so I write about them. If I write on themes I care about, words rush to me. For a two-thousand-word piece, sometimes I have a five-thousand-word draft.
Some of you beginning writers want to become the best copywriters. Many want to write novels. Others are short story writers. A few are poets. We have travel bloggers. The rest share personal growth advice.
Whatever we write, all of us want to do good writing.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. Start by writing what you have to write. Instead of expecting your writing to be the perfect plot you have in your mind, first let her be a living character who frets, shouts, and parties until noon. Write what comes out. That’s all.
My partner suggested I write about my year-long South-American trip this week. Though I am following his advice, today morning my fingers started typing this article on writing better, and I let them.
Allow your creative juices to flow. Be yourself. Words will shower in abundance.
2. Don’t be shy to write about your childhood
In the book Letters to the Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke suggested the doubtful poet write about his childhood. Rilke said his growing-up memories will make his poems powerful.
Childhood is a heap of innocent memories. A collection of events that happened thoughtlessly.
You know your childhood. You remember yourself as the kid with a runny nose who waited for the Amul ice cream truck to pass her street. When she heard the truck honk, she dashed out of the house only to flutter back to ask her mother for two rupees.
You have lived those stories. Now write them.
Childhood and art hold hands and walk and play. They dance and sing. They laugh and cry. They run and hide. They are fearless and frightened.
Write about that childhood that is long gone but has made you who you are. Let art happen. Let life flow.
3. Push through the first drafts (perhaps the most useful advice on writing for beginners)
When I started writing, I didn’t know when to stop. Should I continue writing even though I have written a thousand words or should I fix the spelling errors staring at me? I tried both — correcting while writing and leaving the editing for later.
I realized that typing incessantly and first emptying my mind helped me write better and faster. If I edited or spellchecked while writing, I lost the creative flow.
One of the best ways to improve your writing is to first write. Treat your first draft as a mind dump. Write it out. Let it be long. Let it be awful. Let it embarrass you.
In Bird by Bird Anne Lamott says, “The only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts. The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later.”
A long, tedious first draft shows that you care. Write on, soldier.
4. Let the Ganga of the first draft flow out of you but follow a few best practices
Imagine you are new in a multinational firm. You don’t know the culture of the company. But while walking out of a room, you still hold the door so it doesn’t slam into the face of the person behind you. You need not be experienced to follow basic etiquette.
Like real life, the writing world, too, has a few basic rules. I follow these guidelines even while writing first drafts to restrict myself to a minimum benchmark. Thus, I minimize my editing time later.
Never use words that would have to be deleted later: “I am
very hungry.” As soon as I wrote this sentence I had to cut the “very” out of it. My brain pops up another word from the queue to replace the weak verb. “I am famished.”
Use correct grammar.
You are wondering I asked you to write freely but now you have to practice rules and write carefully? My friends, like everything else, writing is also a game of habit. If you develop a habit of filling your first drafts with rubbish (as you are lazy), your writing won’t bloom into golden marigolds. It might, but once you spent hours weeding out the weeds.
So instead of cleaning up the whole garden later, start with one or two of these basic writing etiquettes. But don’t compromise on the story you want to tell.
5. Let your writing sit
When we start writing, we can’t publish frequently. But we are impatient to put out the blog posts and memoirs we are almost satisfied with. We crave social media likes and shares. We rush to edit what we wrote yesterday.
Don’t give in to the publishing pressure. When you are new to writing, this anxiety to write and publish every day would make your stomach growl. But remember: as a novice writer you are climbing a steep path. You are learning the foundations of writing. Don’t hurry. If you rush now, your basics won’t be strong.
Let the draft rest for a day. Look at it the next day or in two days with a fresh mind. You would notice awkward words and broken sentences that you might not have seen with a saturated brain.
The process of learning is more important than the outcome. Let the writing sit and ferment.
6. Read Aloud
When you read your writing aloud, you distance yourself from it. Now you are a listener. You hear your story. Awkward words and phrases startle you. Highlight them. Edit later.
While reading my articles and short stories out loud, I always catch redundant words and over-ambitious dialogues. Always read out your drafts to edit them.
Insider Tip: You can also try the speech option on MacBooks and other laptops.
7. Shift-delete the boring parts
I was a lazy beginner writer. Whenever I read a draft, I neither deleted the lines that had made me yawn nor erased the paragraphs I had skimmed. Editing meant more work.
If you are bored by your story, would others enjoy it? Delete the uninteresting parts.
I will now share some technical tips we can employ to strengthen our writing.
8. Write proper nouns
As a writing beginner, I used to write a lot of category names instead of using proper nouns. So red car, food, dress, instead of crimson-red Hyundai, butter-toasted glistening buns, a black jumper suit. My pieces read boring. They didn’t even make me laugh.
Now I write proper nouns with descriptions. Who cares about a plant? But everyone wants to admire the medley of pink, purple, and yellow bougainvillea hanging off the courtyard wall.
Don’t throw the category nameplate at the reader. Hold the item in your hand and show her. Else the reader would try to imagine the details you have left out, and you would lose her. Or worse — she wouldn’t believe you and move on to the next story.
9. Don’t tell but show (One of the most effective writing tips for beginners)
He left me. I was sad so I cried.
Now read this.
As I was about to bite into the avocado toast, I remembered how he used to peel the ripe avocados for me. The toast fell from my hand. My swollen eyes were brimming with tears, again.
Show the story to the reader rather than telling it plainly. Instead of talking about an object, action, or scene, describe it using your senses. How you feel, what you see, how it smells, what sound it makes, et cetera.
Let us say you begin a travel memoir with this line, “San Pedro was a beautiful town, and I fell in love with it immediately.”
Now read this.
Stars crowded above us, the snow-capped volcanoes watched us from a distance, and folk dancers whirled in the moonlight. Indeed, San Pedro was stunning.
I had to think more and put more effort to write the second description. And the hard work shows, doesn’t it?
You can write an article “10 best things to do in San Pedro Chile“. But to show the readers the city through your writing, you would have to bring it to life. And once you have sent them to the other end of the world on the wings of your words, they will never forget you.
Show, don’t tell.
Insider Tip: As long as the writing reads like writing, and not a real story, your work is not done. Edit. Cut. Delete. Rewrite.
10. Use powerful adjectives to stir readers
Read the following pairs of sentences and choose the stronger one in each.
I was very upset. I was heartbroken.
She looked really beautiful. She looked gorgeous.
This samosa is too tasty. This samosa is delicious.
The second sentence in each couple was more impactful. Right?
Words such as very and really precede weak adjectives. Replace the frail adjectives with their stronger alternatives and see the change.
11. That Being Said, don’t overuse adjectives
I walked by the beautiful, golden sunflowers swaying with the cool breeze. The blue sea was silent like it is before a storm.
I walked by the golden sunflowers swaying with the breeze. The sea was silent like it is before a storm.
In the second option, I cut out the redundant adjectives “beautiful”, “cool” and “blue”. Sunflowers are always beautiful, the breeze is always cool and the sea, if nothing said, is blue.
The rule stays the same: show what you have to say rather than putting in another word to convey the feeling.
Consider this: I walked by the golden sunflowers swaying with the breeze and couldn’t keep my eyes off them. The sea was silent like it is before a storm.
12. Don’t hide behind redundant words and phrases (most novice writers do)
Words such as — at least, absolutely, just, things, aspect, as a matter of fact, in fact, as far as I am concerned — dilute a piece of writing.
I didn’t worry if Jamie would show up at the opera or not. In fact, I knew he was coming. — I knew Jamie would show up at the opera. (Let the reader figure out if the protagonist was worried about Jamie’s absence.)
Things to remember as a beginner freelance writer … . — Tips and tricks to remember as a beginner freelance writer … .
As far as I am concerned, I don’t care if Anushka joins us for dinner. — I don’t care if Anushka joins us for dinner.
Redundant words and phrases are the breaths and pauses you take while writing. But take them out in the final draft. Else the reader would also pause, and you would lose her.
Imagine your story as a tightrope. If the rope slacks, the reader will fall right off. Keep the rope taut and readers hooked.
Don’t diminish your writing with redundant words. No stammering. No hiding. No playing from the fence. Jump right into your writing field and fight those battles. You have no other choice.
13. Don’t let the pronouns confuse the reader
Ravi loved Akshara. Akshara fantasized about Aditya. He told me he couldn’t love her as his best friend loved her.
Who is he here? The closest antecedent rule makes Aditya the “he” but we can’t be sure.
If the pronoun can refer to two antecedent nouns, use the appropriate noun or rewrite the sentence.
Rewriting the above sentence – Ravi loved Akshara. Akshara fantasized about Aditya. Aditya told me he couldn’t love her, as she was in love with his best friend.
14. Make sure you don’t fall for the dangling pronouns
When I began to write, I was lazy and it showed in my writing.
What showed in my writing? That I was lazy? “It” is a dangling pronoun in the above sentence without any antecedent noun.
Consider this: When I began writing, I was lazy and the lack of effort showed in my writing.
Don’t leave your pronouns hanging. Point them to their rightful owners. If you can’t, name the fellow.
15. Get rid of the ghost nouns now
It is a privilege to have you here versus We are privileged to have you here.
There is a cat in the cafeteria versus A cat sneaked into the cafeteria.
There are many Hindu houses on this street versus Many Hindu houses fringe this street from both sides.
The ghost nouns — it is, there is, there are — sneak into beginners’ writing and haunt the newbie writers the most. But popular authors are also guilty of letting the ghost nouns take the stage from the protagonist.
Even if you feel that beginning the sentence with “it is” makes your dialogue better, rewrite.
16. Don’t overuse a noun or a verb in a paragraph
I love hiking. Hiking energizes me, and when I arrive at the summit, I feel at the top of this world. Hiking is one of the best adventure activities you can do on a trip.
The snippet above reads more like an essay written by a student in grade 6 and less like an adult’s reason to travel.
I love hiking. Climbing energizes me, and when I arrive at the summit, I feel at the top of this world. Trekking is one of the best adventure activities you can do on a trip.
Practice using variations of a word.
17. Don’t let the auxiliary verbs overshadow the action verbs (one of my favorite tips for beginning writers)
If you can say what you want to say in five words, never use ten. Let me show how we stuff our writing with auxiliary verbs (to be, have, do) when we can write better.
I was walking down the aisle looking at him — I walked down the aisle looking at him.
I am in love with her — I love her.
Apart from the auxiliary verbs, we use many other feeble verbs.
Here are some examples:
Auxiliary verbs (Was, is, am, are: the forms of “to be“) make the main verb weaker versus Auxiliary verbs (Was, is, am, are: the forms of “to be”) weaken the main verb.
I have to go to the doctor versus I have to visit the doctor.
I am thinking of a plan to increase my income versus I am planning to increase my income.
Proust had the understanding of human beings versus Proust understood human beings.
Verbs show action and move the story forward. Don’t let them limp when they can run. Use powerful words instead of weak ones.
18. Avoid writing in the passive voice
You can use the passive voice when you don’t know the doer of the action.
I was pushed on the railway platform and fell flat on my face.
But if Ritika pushed you, you should rewrite the sentence.
Ritika pushed me onto the railway platform, and I fell flat on my face.
You should use passive voice if you want to emphasize the object on whom the action was done.
For example, Lady Gaga was stunned by the overwhelming response of the audience to the song Shallow.
If you say, the audience stunned Lady Gaga with their overwhelming response to the song Shallow, you focus on the audience here instead of Lady Gaga, though she is the focus of the write-up.
The action moves the story ahead. If you use passive voice, you throttle the action and weaken the story.
Avoid using passive voice when you know the doer unless you want to focus on the object.
19. Write in short sentences
I was listening to Maria Popova’s podcast when Hari walked into the room, threw his keys on the coffee table, and dashed straight to me for we had fought yesterday and hadn’t seen each other since the fight.
I was listening to Maria Popova’s podcast. Hari walked into the room. He threw his keys on the coffee table and dashed straight to me. We had fought yesterday and hadn’t seen each other since the fight.
Every author has her own writing style. Some write short sentences. Many like to write long lines. I write both, short and long.
If writing long sentences comes to you naturally, go ahead with long ones. But make sure to punctuate it well. A misplaced comma in a long sentence is like a drop of lemon in milk.
Also, the reader shouldn’t have to reread the sentences to understand them. If you have cozied many actions in one line their effect might be diminished. Break the sentence to give each action its due space.
Try the writing tool Hemingway Editor. It highlights the long, extra long, and complicated sentences in the text.
20. Break your writing into meaningful paragraphs
As a new writer, I penned down long, arduous paragraphs. Even I didn’t read those monotonous paragraphs without a single white space to breathe in between. (Research says more white space in an article ensures a higher read ratio.)
A lengthy paragraph demotivates readers. When they don’t find any white space, they scroll away without feeling ashamed.
The dictionary meaning of the paragraph is: “a distinct section of a piece of writing, usually dealing with a single theme.”
Break your ideas into paragraphs. Introduce the theme in the first sentence. Explain the idea with one or a few more sentences. Close with a conclusive line.
If a theme needs more space, cover it in a few paragraphs instead of putting it all in one.
21. Always check the grammar before publishing
Proofread every piece of writing at least a few times and run it through online Grammar tools.
I’ve used both free and paid versions of Grammarly and I’m mostly satisfied with the tool. It helps me with misplaced commas, complex sentences, and other grammar mistakes.
If you are just beginning to write, think about a paid editing tool for at least a year.
22. Don’t forget background noises
To avoid the background noises, we should close our protagonists in a dark basement. But then also we would have to write about the cockroaches sneaking out of crevices, the eery silence echoing through the basement, and the stuffiness in the air.
Like every painting needs a canvas, every story needs background noises and a setting. As beginner writers, we are so focused on the main characters we ignore where they stand, who is looking at them, and the trees swaying right in front of them.
Read your writing carefully to see if you have forgotten the background noises. If you have, rewrite the scene including what you see, feel, hear, and taste.
This rule applies to all kinds of writing. Include the sensory details of the place to make your writing better and believable.
To tell a unique story that only you can tell, you have to write about the tiny things that only you can see and sense.
23. Read your drafts multiple times to make sure they have a story
I proofread a draft many times to see if it tells a story. If a sentence is out of place or a paragraph should have been further down or a scene is taking the focus away from the main theme, I edit.
Every writing piece should have a (striking) beginning, a believable end, and a connecting bridge. A story is necessary for all forms of writing — even if you are copywriting, writing blog posts, publishing travel articles, or giving writing advice.
Word your thoughts seamlessly in a story.
Read how the travel blogger Jodi from LegalNomad talks about why travel blogging also needs more storytelling.
24. Write and improve (probably the most underrated beginner writer tips)
Now I am giving the cliched advice that writing more is the best way to improve your writing skills. When writing feels hard and I want to give up, I remind myself I have to write to get past the fear of writing. Otherwise, I will never make it to the other end.
Write, my friend. With time, the words you write hold each other’s hands and climb up the walls of your beautiful garden. There red roses of stories blossom and honey bees buzz on the marigolds of poems.
The mathematics of writing is simple: If you write more, you write better. (fight on even if you bleed is the only way to succeed)
25. Have a friend or a writing colleague read your drafts
You might be scared to show your writing to a friend or a partner, but you cannot improve your writing without listening to readers’ feedback.
As Stephen King says in his book On writing, write in a closed room. But when you feel happy with a draft, open the room and let your most trusted readers in.
Your first readers could be your partner, blogger friends, or writers you met in a monthly meetup in Cubbon Park. Pick one or two readers you want to write for. Those will be your ideal readers. Let them read your story once you are ready. Listen to what they have to say without interrupting them by justifying your stance. Ask them if the character was believable or if the essay read boring. Edit the story to weave in the feedback that makes sense to you.
Don’t take the feedback personally.
Even if you don’t have time to write, read. When you read, your writing improves.
By reading you are introducing yourself to a myriad of writing styles, new words, interesting stories, various voices, a plethora of genres, and more. Like a chef cannot cook without tasting the ingredients, a writer cannot write without reading other writers’ work.
Books on writing that motivate me to write and help me write better (and write at all),
Most of your writing would be the essence of your living. Don’t shut yourself in a room away from friends and family to write. Go to a bar. Meet friends for coffee. Call them at home. Bake bread. Fire a barbeque. Marry. Divorce. Love. Get hurt. Wash laundry. Sweep the floor. Join a writing club. Run with a group. Take a walk in the woods. Swim at the community pool.
When you are enriched with experiences, close yourself in a room and write it all out. When the brain is flushed out, go out again.
If you want to write well, live like there is no tomorrow. (I write while I travel.)
As a writer, you cannot cry or weep or fight or blame or get buried in bed over the misery in your life. As a writer, you have to write. You have to find the experiences that sadden you and treat them as your prompts. Everything that makes you cry or laugh is a cue for you to write. You write.
Discover the power of words. Use them wisely. They trust you. Compete with yourself. Try to overdo yourself. When I started writing full-time, I wrote for a few days, and then I was lost for the next few days. When you start writing, a gush of emotions hits you. But our job is not to get swept away by them, but to hold onto our path and onto our pen and keep writing.
Though I have written since childhood, I never tried to improve my writing. I didn’t write for anyone else; I was writing for myself.
But now I look back and repent — why didn’t I try to improve my writing when I was younger? Why did I write for months in my journal when I could have published online and had a larger audience by now?
We may think about the past and wonder why didn’t we know better back then. But we needed to pass that time the way we did to reach where we are. That invisibility was crucial to arriving at this transparency.
Our life is our unique story. So don’t think about what you didn’t do. (letter to my younger self.)
Write, edit, read aloud, cut, delete, and repeat. That’s all you need to do.
“Consume all impediments and become incandescent.”
Do you have any other ideas on how to improve writing skills? Please let me know in the comments.
If you like this guide to how to start writing for beginners, please pin it and share it with the world.
Want similar inspiration and ideas in your inbox? Subscribe to my free weekly newsletter "Looking Inwards"!