I am learning Chinese (not student, just private interest) and my Chinese is somewhere between HSK4 and HSK5 (half part of HSK5 finished). I am not focussing to improve my vocabulary as when I speak, I am only using very simple sentences. I thought now to improve by writing small texts now. What do you recommend how to improve writing? Any book recommendations? Also wondering if you know a list with common Chinese expressions for me to check (e.g. 在我看来 ... , 从的来说...)?
Read, read, read. It might seem strange to focus on reading when what you want to do is improve your writing. Reading more ofter will allow you to become more familiar with Chinese writing style and sentence structure. At some point you will be able to start emulating the style and structure you have encountered in your reading. You will still need to practice writing though.
Something you might want to give a try is to read books, articles, blogs, news etc. Then write something about what you read. Maybe write a summary or give a point of view on the content or its philosophy. Doing this will give you a chance to practice writing and will also let you reference whatever it is you have read, making it more likely that you will pick up on its style/structure.
I would say, however simple sentences are constructed from basic grammar... The difference between simple/complicated, in my opinion, is mostly in the vocabulary used in and the length of the sentences. So the best way you can take, is learning Chinese grammar, and then make your own sentences, communicate with others or post in this forum to get them reviewed. But if you just want filling-blank style handbooks, there are plenty of them on the Internet. (●°u°●) 」.
To improve writing without a teacher, then there really is only one feasible option: read Chinese books, etc., and adopt their writing into your skill set. (See: Is it true that improving the reading skill also enhances the writing skill and improving the listening skill strengthens the speaking skill? at LanguageLearning.SE.)
Without a teacher, progress is surely going to be significantly slower. (Part of my motivation to get a teacher was the realization that native Chinese speakers have spent considerable hours with Chinese teachers (many more hours than me). The other part was Nankai students going from nothing up to my level very quickly.)
Study methods vary with one's goals. E.g. wanting to pass a HSK test vs. wanting to use Chinese for conversations. With respect to writing...
To improve writing, we need a way to get feedback; a book cannot do this. Simple sentences are feasible to get right most of the time, but more sophisticated sentences is challenging:
How do you know if a metaphor works in Chinese? (My experience is that if I take an instantly recognizable metaphor in English, and translate it into Chinese, nobody "gets it".)
How do you know if there's a better choice of words or sentence structure?
How do you know if an idiom is recognizable? (E.g. I recall using 有嘴没舌 and 一字不改, and my teacher couldn't figure them out.)
I sometimes ask questions here using the writing-critique tag, but I can't just flood the site asking about every single sentence in Chinese I write.
In any case, many Chinese textbooks are listed at Chinese textbook grammar index at the Chinese Grammar Wiki (but they're much cheaper on e.g. Jingdong).
The HSK Standard Course books are incredibly boring, but are good for passing HSK tests.
I'm currently going through 发展汉语-高级口语 with my teacher; it's challenging, but more interesting.
Actually there is one technique that might help, which I asked about on LanguageLearning.SE: Translating paragraphs then comparing with an existing translation: is this technique used to improve writing skills?. The idea is to
- Obtain a copy of a Chinese book and a translation your native language.
- Proceed paragraph by paragraph, and translate it into Chinese.
- Compare the paragraph with the Chinese version.
It's not going to point out errors, but it might help indicate smoother ways of writing (e.g. better word choice and sentence structure).
(See also How to improve writing fluency at LanguageLearning.SE.)
My advice is to read and memorize as many 成语, (idioms) as possible.
The reason being that the Chinese language, (beyond the beginners' level), is highly idiomatic because the Chinese language, or rather its stylistic beauty, thrives on an economy of words, and idioms, especially Chinese ones need only 4 simple words to summarize and convey a whole market place of ideas. Perhaps the language's scarcity of prepositions has something to do with it.
Coming back to idioms, when you hear educated native speakers speak among themselves, they either quote some well worn idioms a lot of the time or actually make up idioms on the fly. I mean why spout a whole ten worded sentence when 4 tiny words would do and do it with style, especially one concocted on the spot?
You will find that as you use idioms often, (when the idioms could just roll off the tongue effortlessly), your mind begins to think in a certain way; (like mathematicians always think in terms of equations), and always constantly trying to express even complex ideas with as few words as possible.
Good Luck on your journey which, hopefully, begins with 4 little words.