Jane Mitchell

Award-winning writer of books for young people

Writing Tips

I'm often asked what new writers could do to improve their writing skills and to tell better stories. Here are the main things I believe you need to work on to really strengthen your writing.

1. Write

You have to keep practising, every day if possible. Writing is like any skill—the more you practise, the better you will become. Think of great footballers or musicians or dancers. They practise for hours and hours, with drills and exercises and routines. Writing skills are the same—you have to become ‘writing-fit.’ Try to put some time aside every day to practise your writing. Homework time or school work don’t count!

2. Read

Read anything and everything — books, short stories, essays. Good books, bad books, okay books. long books, short books, exciting books, dull books. Read them all and see what works and what doesn’t. Try to see how experienced writers write about something exciting or sad or emotional or active. If you can’t read fluently and critique what doesn't work, you will never be able to write well.

With your favourite books, try to work out what you like about them and why. What makes the writing good? Why do you like it? What does the writer tackle well, or badly? If something is not good, try to understand why. This will help you write better, because you will understand what makes good writing. You will also learn how other writers tackle difficult or challenging subjects.

3. Rewrite

This is something many new writers struggle with. You must look critically at your own work. Nothing is perfect the first time round. Everyone’s writing can improve when it is reviewed and rewritten. This might sound boring and hard work and tiresome, and yes, it often is. But it makes a big difference to your final work.

When you rewrite your work, think especially of the following:

1. Verbs

Make your verbs stronger so the reader knows exactly what you mean. For example, gasped is stronger than breathed, shuffled is stronger than walked, sprinted is stronger than ran.

2. Senses

Include how your character’s world looks, smells and sounds. This gives readers a better feel for your descriptions. Don’t just say: Liz looked inside. The room was dark. Instead, try The room was dark and smelt of old socks and stinky cheese. There was a strange shuffling noise in the corner. Something wet and damp trailed over Liz’s face. Makes it scarier, doesn’t it?

3. Show, don't tell

Don’t say how a character feels: Mike was scared. Instead, show the reader what your character is going through: Mike’s heart pounded and his hands felt clammy.