Mailbag #15

Anonymous asks:

How can I get my writing skills as good as yours? English isn’t my mother-tongue although I mostly write my fictions using that language and almost all of my work turns out boring and just lacks creativity. I guess I have a trouble way of framing sentences in a suitable form.

This is a great question, anon. Thanks for asking it.

I’m incredibly impressed that you’re writing fiction in a language you didn’t grow up speaking. Learning a new language is challenging. Writing can be a challenge  as well. Doing both at the same time can’t be easy!

The first thing I’d recommend is to read a lot of books from the genre that you want to write about. Pay close attention to the authors you really admire. If they write amazingly realistic dialogue, for example, try to figure out what it is about their dialogue that is different from how you’d write that scene. Do they chop up their sentences into fragments? Do they use much more (or less) slang than you’d normally write? If you can figure out what they’re doing differently, you may be able to apply it to your own work.

My second suggestion is to start writing down things that you find interesting. Before I owned a cell phone, I used to carry a little notebook around with me everywhere. I’d write down story ideas, funny things other people said, or how I felt when I saw something strange or beautiful in my daily life. Some of these ideas sat in that notebook for years before they were finally used, and a few of them are still waiting!

You also need to practice quite a bit. I’ve gotten out of the habit of it lately, but I usually write something every single day. First drafts are almost never any good, but you can find parts of them that are worth exploring in the next draft. Never compare your first draft to someone else’s finished product. I’ve done that in the past, and it simply isn’t fair or reasonable.

If you have the time, I also recommend writing reviews of books in your genre. There are a lot of review sites out there looking for volunteer reviewers, but you could also simply leave reviews on or This has really helped me to figure out what I consider to be a good, unique story. It might also give you an idea of what topics haven’t been covered much recently in your genre. I know I love it when science fiction authors write about aliens who want to help humanity or when mystery writers have their detectives take on cases that don’t involve pretty, young women being violently murdered.

I hope my advice was helpful for you. Let me know how it goes!

Do you have a question for me? Submit it through the contact form, in the comment section, or by emailing postmaster AT on-the-other-hand DOT com. 

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