If you want to break free from the standard lifestyle that everyone else is leading, then writing is one of the most important skills you can cultivate. Whether you want to pen the next Great American novel, communicate effectively with your clients, or write good advertisements and sales copy, learning to communicate effectively with words will always increase your demand and your pay. The good news is that hardly anyone is a natural born writer – it is a skill that can be developed, cultivated, and continuously improved over time. Here are 10 tips to improve the quality of your writing.
1. Read More Books
Don’t read just any books; read great books. Read books by Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Steinbeck. Even if you don’t deliberately pay attention to the style and grammar that they use, their words will seep into your mind and affect your writing.
2. Join a Writing Group
Writing groups are great because you get to read the writing of others and you’ll get feedback from other writers. When you begin hearing the same recommendations over and over, you’ll gain valuable insight into where your most problematic areas may be.
3. Write More
The more you write, the more natural it will come to you. Like any skill in life, practice is key. If you want to become a better writer, then you should write everyday.
4. Suspend the Critic
A lot of writers sound stilted because they try to write while being critical of their writing at the same time. Instead, let your creativity blossom by allowing the words to tumble from your mind onto the page as they form in your mind.
5. Turn the Critic Back On
After you have finished writing a piece, turn your critical mind back on and relentlessly edit for style and grammar. Your first draft should never be the final product.
6. Read Out Loud
When you are editing your work, read your sentences out loud. This is one of the easiest ways to catch grammatical errors. If your writing doesn’t sound like people talk, then there is probably something wrong with it. Are you using the same word over and over? Are the sentences too long? Is there a rhythm and a flow to your words?
7. Sleep On It
If you’re having trouble finishing a story or an article, get some sleep.Your unconscious mind will do a lot of the work for you. If you have already finished writing and are ready to begin editing, a day or two break can help a great deal. When Stephen King finishes a book, he puts it in a drawer and doesn’t touch it for months. He wants his mind to completely forget what it wrote so that he can revise it with fresh eyes.
8. Read in Reverse
A major problem when editing our own work is that we will miss errors that are obvious to others. Our mind sees what it expects to see, so we’ll only see what we meant to write, rather than what we actually wrote. When you read each sentence backwards, it can be easier to spot errors.
One of the greatest powers of the human mind is its ability to focus on one thing for an extended period of time. Avoid writing when you are distracted by other things. Turn off your cell phone and resist the urge to check your email. When you multi-task, you lose the power of focus.
10. Keep it simple
Resist the urge to showcase your vocabulary. You can usually express yourself just as effectively with simple words as you can with more difficult ones.
Implement one or two of these tips, and your writing is sure to improve. Implement all of them, and one day you’ll wake up and find that you’ve become a great writer.
Barista Jones says
I think #10 keeping it simple is so deceptively important. A lot of people myself included sometimes can out-think themselves when writing a post. The best version usually ends up being the most concise/simple one.
Thanks for the valuable inputs. One thing that I am not good at is focus. Not focusing for extended period of time on one thing causes harm to quality of your draft.
John Komatsoulis says
Wonderful post James, your 10 tips are very easy to follow and implement.
Can I share this on my blog?
John Komatsoulis – Business Development Consultant
I wholeheartedly agree with #10. Many people seem to forget that an important part of writing is having your audience understand you.
Rock solid post James. I am particularly fond of your first suggestion. As I look around me and point out the strongest writers, they are invariably also those who read the most. And quality of literature is of paramount importance to them; Dickens, Austen, Shakespeare, and many Victorian-era authors write nothing less than pure language.
You also get the added benefit of having that knowledge and wisdom in your head. Reminds me the quote by Dr. Seuss – “The more you read, the more you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
Stacyann Forrester says
Write more is my favorite. It so simple yet in my opinion, the hardest to do on this list. There is a battle with the white screen that I have every time I sit down to write. Lately I’ve been experimenting with trusty pen and paper before going in front of the computer screen. I also find that during the time that I’ve set aside for writing, nothing comes but as soon as I’m ready to go to sleep lots of ideas come rushing out. Quite annoying.
David Crandall - Heroic Destiny says
I love the combo of turning off the critic and turning it back on. It’s a discipline you have to work at to be able to do, but so effective.
My favorite tip, by far, is the last one. I can tell when someone is trying to assert their superiority over me by using gigantic words. It’s worse when I know these people offline and they couldn’t remember half of those words if their life depended on it. 🙂
Very useful post!
Migration Mark says
I also love to turn off the critic and let the ideas flow. I am beyond passionate about indulging in foods from around the world and when I write about them, I just let my emotions, exaggerations, and thought, take control. I then go back and edit, but it does really work when you are passionate about a certain subject.
Jordan Shirkman says
James, thanks for this article. As a blogger, I’m always looking to improve my writing. I’m a huge fan of sleeping on it–I hardly write any posts without a night of rest in between starting and finishing. I think one additional tip that has helped me is to write down every idea for a post/article/book chapter I have. It’s significantly easier to write when you have a plethora of ideas on hand, especially ideas you’re passionate about. Writing from the heart brings everything together.
Mars Dorian says
Sleep on it and keeping the focus are kick-ass skills.
And yeah, reading out lout is also useful for checking the overall flow of your message.
I also don’t censor myself during the first draft, makes it easier to continue.