I've learned a few things on my journey and I like straight forward rules, especially if I know why they are rules. So I thought I would share some of the straight forward steps I learned to help better improve your writing.
1. Avoid Exclamation points
I got this from my editor and I thought she really had a point. She said that exclamation points are ambiguous. I mean what did you want to achieve. Someone yelling or emphasis? For either of these there is a way to get this across without the need of a exclamation point. Italics for emphasis and caps for volume. Taking out the exclamation gives more detail. There might be an argument to put in when someone is shocked but then only if they didn't raise their voice or put emphasis on the word and frankly when people are shocked they will probably have that in their tone.
2. Get rid of filter words
You can find lists of filter words all over the place. My suggestion is to make your own list. Now here is the definition of filter words as I know it. They are words that show the action through the eyes of your protagonist. I know what you are thinking. Isn't that the point. No, you are actually supposed to be there with your protagonist experiencing everything at the same time as them. Words like knowing, feeling etc are filter words.
3. Get rid of filler or redundant words
These are different to filter words and the first thing I learned about. I have these all over the place. Most people use the word that and but without really needing them but ask yourself if I take this word out and the sentence still makes sense do I really need it. The more concise your writing the better.
4. swap 'ly' for stronger verb
Though this isn't always possible go through and find every word that ends with ly and see if you can get rid of it by changing the sentence. Instead of saying they had lovely hair say their hair was waves of mahogany. It gets across that it was lovely without the insipid word. This also helps with the showing. But that is another tip for later.
5. Names or He/She
Most people are one or the other. Either they have their character names all over the place or they have whole chapters with only hes and shes. The rule of thumb I go with is that I should mention the name once a paragraph if I have more than one character in the scene. No more and no less.
6. Speech tags
Get rid of them when you can. If you mention someone in the line before we can figure out they are the ones talking you don't need to spell out they said something. On the other hand don't replace said with cliche or overdone phrases. Apparently my characters like to nod before they speak or they smile. In that case I replace them with said. Don't get imaginative, said is what I call an invisible word. We don't even see it when we read.
7. Swapping Names at the start of a sentence
Many of my sentences start with the character's name or he she. I found swapping it out with a verb and placing the word later where there is usually an and changes up the way I start a sentence. This is mostly about making sure your sentences are varied.
8. Don't let your sentences be eaten by zombies
If you can place 'by zombies' at the end of the sentence and it makes sense you should consider changing it up. You have most likely used passive voice. I still don't understand passive voice but basically it is like the filter words and instead your character is being acted on instead of doing the acting.
9. Be cautious of adverbs
I find I use adverbs instead of showing a scene. For instance I'll say they approached cautiously. What does cautiously look like? Exactly! I should have said they stuck to the edge of the room and shuffled their feet to keep down the sound. I lean on the adverbs to hide the fact I'm not showing anything. I find lazy adjectives are just as bad like the word sexy. I've had rants before about why this is an awful word in books
10. Contractions are your friend
People like to shorten their speech so when people talk they often talk in contractions. It is an easy way to improve the flow of your dialogue to make it seem more natural. Don't change out every possible combination for contractions as again people don't talk constantly in contractions only what is easier. So read out your dialogue out.
11. Have word read to you
I never know where to put in commas. People say read your work out loud and you will know. Unfortunately because I'm dyslexic I find I'm concentrating on writing so much I don't notice so I have Word read it out to me. The mechanical voice reads exactly what is there and not what you want to be there.
12. Exposition disapation
Exposition is when you fill in the reader about the bigger world or something else that happened. This is not needed. You will eventually get to it when it becomes important, leave it out till you need it. Think of your writing as a puzzle that slowly reveals itself as the pieces are placed into the picture.
13. Put the strongest word at the end of your sentence
Heard this somewhere and I have to agree. I'm dyslexic so I don't read every word in a sentence I will start at the start, skip a bit then either read the beginning or the end of the sentence. So go out strong with your sentence. Don't bury the lead in the middle of your sentence.
14. Beware pet words
I have words I use all the time like moment. Make a list as each writer has their own pet words. When you are finished writing use the find button to seek and destroy as many of these as possible. Don't worry about them while you are writing. That is an easy way to let the dreaded Editor in your head in while you should be writing.
15. Don't time travel
If you are writing in past tense check every ing word with a magnifying glass. You might have accidentally slipped into present tense without realising. Always be on the watch out for mixing your tenses. The trick is to start strong, decide what you write in the most anyway. Whether this is first person, third, past, present tense. Then write everything in it. You are stronger writing what you know. Later when you have some writing chops try strengthening your skills by writing in something that is not your usual go to.