Read a lot. But don’t just read for enjoyment; take a book you know is well-written and study how the author constructs the sentences and paragraphs. Also examine how he or she gets readers emotionally involved—whether through use of an engaging style, the characters’ situations, or a combination thereof.
Write about what you love the most. This will inspire you to write your best and keep working if you temporarily lose confidence. Take the ideas and feelings that are important to how you live and use them as the basis of your writing. If, however, the prospect of weaving your own story doesn’t make your blood burn with excitement, find an easier profession. Writing is for the obsessed.
Know the craft intimately. Part of this comes from reading widely and seeing how other authors use the English language, but the rest involves studying grammar to learn what is and isn’t appropriate. Pick up a copy of a good grammar book, such as The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr., E.B. White, and Roger Angell. And use a thesaurus to expand your vocabulary.
Avoid clichés. Simple, but tough. When writing description, dialogue, and characterization, the first phrase that pops into your head may be a hackneyed line that you’ve see so many times it’s become burned into your brain. Try to state what you want to say using your own words.
Avoid passive voice. Instead of “The deadline was missed by the applicant.” Write “The applicant missed the deadline.” The noun should direct the verb in a straightforward manner. There are few exceptions.
Be conscious of your point of view. Unless you’re using omniscient POV, stick with whatever character the reader is experiencing the book through, and don’t write about anything that character wouldn’t hear, see, or know. If you do switch viewpoint, whether in first or third person, make sure it’s clear you’ve done so and that there’s a good reason for it. To help with this, I recommend Orson Scott Card’s book Characters & Viewpoint.
Learn how to plot a story. Things have to actually happen in a book. In order to make sense, events are usually arranged in a linear manner that builds from the least to the most important. I recommend Robert McKee’s book Story—though intended for screenwriters, it covers the basics of how to structure a great story.
Avoid excess words. Say only what you need to convey your point.
Don’t be afraid to edit heavily! No one gets things right the first time. Ask an author, English teacher, or other knowledgable person to read and edit your manuscript. Because he or she is not emotionally tied to the book, they will be able to point out ways to improve your work. Don’t take the comments personally, but try to learn from them.
Read your prose aloud. Read it clearly, paying attention to missing words and listening to the flow of the words and sentences. Do they make sense? Can they be improved? Remember that you are trying to get what is in your head onto the page and into your reader’s head.
Persistence. This is the hardest point to master. Writing consistently is the best way to improve. Write, write, write until the words no longer seem jarring, until you have confidence in dealing with various parts of the craft—dialogue, description, action, grammar—and until you can achieve whatever effect or emotion you want. As President Calvin Coolidge said:
“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”
Best wishes on your adventure!