A Guide to Becoming a Better Writer: 15 Practical Tips
Use simple and concise language
In many industries, communicating information as quickly and efficiently as possible is a priority. Before submitting a report or sending an email, try to eliminate any unnecessary words or sentences. Adding excessive adjectives or repeating similar information can distract your readers and lessen the impact of your message. If you find yourself using complex vocabulary or technical jargon, try to simplify your message and make it easier to understand.
The most effective way to increase your vocabulary and improve your use of grammar is to read often. Find well-written books, articles or essays that appeal to you and are enjoyable to read. If you dedicate time to reading skilled authors, you will find it easier to internalize and imitate their skillful use of grammar, syntax and tone.
Often at work, you will need to take notes. Whether this source is a meeting, a written report or a phone call, taking notes will help you reformat the information quickly and effectively. Additionally, when you are experimenting with ideas for a new written project, it may be helpful for you to write out your ideas in a notebook or on a whiteboard. The act of writing down bullet lists or keywords can help you organize your thoughts before you write.
When it comes to writing, the key to genuine improvement is practice. The more you write, the easier it will become. As you continue to write, you will begin to develop your own unique style and writing process. Try to set aside time to write a little every day. Even if it is just a short journal entry, status update or conversational email, writing daily will help improve your writing skills.
A Guide to Becoming a Better Writer: 15 Practical Tips
If you’ve always dreamed of being the next Hemingway or Vonnegut (or even Grisham), or perhaps if you just want to write better essays for school or posts for your blog … you need to sharpen those writing skills.
It takes hard work. But it’s worth the effort. And if it seems like an insurmountable task, there are some concrete things you can do today that will get you on the road to improvement.
Personally, I’ve been a fiction, newspaper, magazine and blog writer for 17 years now, writing for a variety of publications … and I’m still trying to improve. Every writer can get better, and no writer is perfect. I think I’ve grown tremendously as a writer over the last couple of decades, but it has been a painful journey. Let me share some of what I’ve learned.
No matter what level of writer you are, there should be a suggestion or twelve here that will help.
1. Read great writers. This may sound obvious, but it has to be said. This is the place to start. If you don’t read great writing, you won’t know how to do it. Everyone starts by learning from the masters, by emulating them, and then through them, you find your own voice. Read a lot. As much as possible. Pay close attention to style and mechanics in addition to content.
2. Write a lot. Try to write every day, or multiple times a day if possible. The more you write, the better you’ll get. Writing is a skill, and like any other skill, you have to practice it to get better. Write stuff for yourself, write for a blog, write for other publications. Write just to write, and have a blast doing it. It gets easier after awhile if you practice a lot.
3. Write down ideas, all the time. Keep a little notebook handy (Nabokov carried around index cards) and write down ideas for stories or articles or novels or characters. Write down snippets of conversation that you hear. Write down plot twists and visual details and fragments of song lyrics or poems that move you. Having these ideas written down helps, because they can inspire you or actually go directly into your writing. I like to keep a list of post ideas for my blog, and I continually add to it.
4. Create a writing ritual. Find a certain time of day when you can write without interruptions, and make it a routine. For me, mornings work best, but others might find lunch or evenings or midnight hours the best. Whatever works for you, make it a must-do thing every single day. Write for at least 30 minutes, but an hour is even better. If you’re a full-time writer, you’ll need to write for several hours a day, as I do. But don’t worry! It helps you get better.
5. Just write. If you’ve got blank paper or a blank screen staring at you, it can be intimidating. You might be tempted to go check your email or get a snack. Well, don’t even think about it, mister. Just start writing. Start typing away — it doesn’t matter what you write — and get the fingers moving. Once you get going, you get in the flow of things, and it gets easier. I like to start out by typing things like my name or a headline or something easy like that, and then the juices start flowing and stuff just pours out of me. But the key is to just get going.
6. Eliminate distractions. Writing does not work well with multi-tasking or background noise. It’s best done in quiet, or with some mellow music playing. Do your writing with a minimal writer like WriteRoom or DarkRoom or Writer, and do it in full-screen. Turn off email or IM notifications, turn off the phone and your cell phone, turn off the TV, and clear off your desk … you can stuff everything in a drawer for now until you have time to sort everything out later … but don’t get into sorting mode now, because it’s writing time! Clear away distractions so you can work without interruption.
7. Plan, then write. This may sound contradictory to the above “just write” tip, but it’s not really. I find it useful to do my planning or pre-writing thinking before I sit down to write. I’ll think about it during my daily run, or walk around for a bit to brainstorm, then write things down and do an outline if necessary. Then, when I’m ready, I can sit down and just crank out the text. The thinking’s already been done. For a great method for planning out a novel, see the Snowflake Method.
8. Experiment. Just because you want to emulate the great writers doesn’t mean you have to be exactly like them. Try out new things. Steal bits from other people. Experiment with your style, your voice, your mechanics, your themes. Try out new words. Invent new words. Experimentalize everything. And see what works, and toss out what doesn’t.
Remember Done Is Better than Perfect
No piece of writing will ever be perfect – you have to know when it’s time to let it go. This is especially important in content marketing, because you’ll rarely (if ever) have the luxury of crafting agonizingly beautiful blog posts full of poignant sentences and evocative imagery. As you become more confident, the “writing” part of writing will become easier and faster, but never lose sight of the fact that deadlines, or editorial calendars, are just as much your masters as any boss or manager.
Summary: How to Improve Your Writing Skills
- Brush up on the basic principles of writing, grammar and spelling.
- Write like it’s your job and practice regularly.
- Read more so you develop an eye for what effective writing looks like.
- Find a partner. Ask them to read your writing and provide feedback.
- Join a workshop, meetup, or take a writing night class.
- Take the time to analyze writing you admire.
- Imitate writers you admire.
- Outline your writing.
- Edit your writing.
- Accept that first drafts are often bad and revise.
- Find an editor who demonstrates patience.
- Eliminate unnecessary words from your writing.
- Review your earlier work and see how you’ve grown.
- Don’t be afraid to say what you mean in what you write.
- Make sure you do adequate research on your topic.
- Don’t delay writing. Get it done now.
Meet The Author
Originally from the U.K., Dan Shewan is a journalist and web content specialist who now lives and writes in New England. Dan’s work has appeared in a wide range of publications in print and online, including The Guardian, The Daily Beast, Pacific Standard magazine, The Independent, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and many other outlets.
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