This Is What Great Writers Do to Get Even Better

What are some things writers do to continuously improve their writing skills? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Catherine McKenzie, bestselling author of HIDDEN, SMOKE and FRACTURED, on Quora:

The most important thing writers can do to continuously improve their writing skills is to read. In order to be a great writer, you need to be a great reader. Read in your genre and out of your genre; the best books can teach you things that translate into any genre. For example, I don't generally read fantasy, but the Harry Potter series is an excellent example of great writing: how she builds the complexity and thoughts of the characters as they age, her world building, how she explores important themes, how the mysteries of each book unravel.

A related way to improve your writing is to read a novel as a writer. For example, I read Gone Girl for the first time as a reader, racing through the pages until I got to the end. Then I turned back to the first page to try to figure out the mechanics of the book. How had she created distinct voices for the characters? What tricks had she used? How did she dole out the story so that we were constantly surprised by the twists and turns?

Another important thing to do is to set challenges. Don't set out to write the same book over and over again. What is going to be different about your next story? If you always write in first person, try a third person narrative. Choose a challenging setting or profession. Try writing a story with a compressed timeline. Or alternating timelines. Once I had written my first novel, I did this for each one of my books. These challenges don't need to be obvious to the reader, they are for you, to push you to do your best work.

Finally, I can't stress enough the importance of good beta readers and editors. Whenever it's right for you in your process, you have to bring them in. No writer is an island, the best work is collaborative. My rule is that I take all comments seriously and if two people say the same thing (in almost all cases) then I make the change because they are right.

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