Writing is no walk in the park. And whether you're writing the next great American novel or writing emails at your desk, it's not as inconsequential as a walk in the park, either. There are a million reasons to improve your writing, but how can you become a better writer? As a writer of various mediums and methods, that's a question I seek to answer everyday. Here are 17 ways to write better, according to writers.
Writing is like flexing a muscle; it's something that should be done consistently in order to see results. Writing is a skill that can only be improved with practice and writing even a paragraph each day can teach you something new, bring about a great idea or just make it easier to start the next time you pick up a pen.
One of the best ways to become a better writer is reading work from great writers. Reading a bit each day — actively paying attention to things like structure and style — can help you identify what works in a piece of writing and what doesn't, while also exposing you to the practices of whatever format you're writing, what content is already out there and where you want to fit into the writing world. Not to mention, reading is proven to exercise your brain and spark creativity, making the mechanics of writing easier over time.
Like other artists, many writers develop their voices by first emulating the greats, then finding their unique perspectives over time. If you're reading actively, you're sure to come across writing techniques or language that you really enjoy. Find ways to incorporate these into your own work; you already know they're successful devices.
Beyond what you read, take note of the things in everyday life that inspire you. Whether it's a snippet of a conversation or presentation that will fit well into a work report or it's a smell that will fit well in a short story, keep a notepad or note on your phone where you keep the parts of everyday life that you want to incorporate into your writing. Good writing is authentic and conscious of what's going on around it; incorporating details like this will only improve your writing's credibility.
Tapping into your creative potential requires a fully-charged mind. Studies have shown that higher dopamine levels in the brain are associated with creative thoughts and that we produce the most brain activity when we are idle or doing leisure activities. As a result, relaxing and doing things that make you happy are important parts of the writing process. Make time in your daily routine for exercise, rest and relaxation. This won't only pay off when you're writing, but can make you more productive in every part of your life.
Making your writing effective requires focus. You're often juggling multiple considerations (and doing so with great grammar). Think about it: you have to remember what you've already said, what you're trying to say, how you're going to say it and who your audience is. To keep the required focus, eliminate distractions. Keep your phone out of reach, turn off notifications on your computer, find a quiet environment away from your coworkers or friends and get going.
Not to be a cliche, but starting is often the hardest part of any writing project. There can be a lot of self-doubt involved when you're getting an idea on paper for the first time. Try to remove pressure from your first draft by reminding yourself it's a first draft. Prioritize getting your thoughts down on paper over having the perfect product and write with reckless abandon. In that same boat, never try to edit at the same time you are writing. This causes many people to obsess over the details and delay the draft from getting done. Tell yourself you can go back and perfect everything later.
Writing can get frustrated. If you hit a mental block or get bored, it's often not worth it to try to push through. You'll feel uninspired and negative about the work you're doing, resulting in a less-than-prime product. Instead of obsessing over getting as much work done as possible, practice kindness for yourself and leave the project on a positive note. It will be easier to start when you come back to it. If you're someone who gets very caught up in a project — or in the minute details while editing — it may be worth setting time limits for yourself so that you don't poke at your project in search of some non-existent "perfection."
The best writing explains complex ideas in simple terms. When you're writing, prioritize short sentences with strong verbs. Avoid using jargon and cut any vocabulary words you aren't sure you're using right — you probably aren't.
No one wants to read something without substance. The key to good writing is sifting through and selecting the details that paint the perfect picture, then spending most of your time on those details. Convey as much information as you can in the fewest words possible, then cut the rest. Your audience will be thankful.
The key to correcting clunky sentences and awkward language? Read everything you write out loud. You may be surprised at the mistakes that you catch.
The only thing better for catching your mistakes than reading your work aloud is having someone else read it. Getting feedback is an important part of the writing process. Other people present an outside look at what's working in your writing and what's not. And getting their opinions can not only help you identify mistakes or place to improve in a certain piece, but also help you identify your chronic weaknesses.
Speaking of chronic weaknesses, keep a running list of yours. If you get repeat comments from your editors, make note of those and keep them with you when you're writing so you remember to address them. You may even want to do personal writing exercises to address them. Similarly, make note of struggles or blocks you come across during the writing process and, at the end of a project, brainstorm how to make those parts of writing easier next time.
Let's all be honest: the beginning of a piece of writing — be it an email or a 1,000 page book — is the part that will decide whether or not your reader continues. As a result, it's the most crucial piece of anything you write. Focus on making your first few sentences extra enticing. Zero in on who your audience is, what they want out of your piece and what you will give to them if they keep reading. Then, make sure your introduction addresses all of those findings.
Like most things in the world, one of the keys to good writing is diversity. While reading through a piece, identify if there are certain words and phrases, sentence structures or other characteristics that you use over and over. Then, switch them up. Otherwise, your piece can read as unedited, awkwardly stunted or longwinded, or strangely repetitive. None of those are the descriptors you want.
There's nothing more satisfying than finding the perfect word for something. You can make this happenstance much more likely — and make your writing much more succinct and accurate — by taking the time to learn more words. Whether you take notes of words you love in readings or play games on Vocabulary.com, dedicate thought to expanding your vocabulary.
If you're having a difficult time getting things down on paper — or getting your ideas to connect — remember that outlining is never a waste of time. While outlines can make some people (me!) feel caged, they are amazing organizational tools. Outlines can help fill logical holes, ensure adequate detail and improve overall structure. Plus, outlines can serve as important motivational tools. I always get excited when I identify a section of a piece I'd like to write and how it will strengthen my overall project.
The best part of writing is that there's no right way to do it. Every writing voice is unique and no one is better than another. While these tips can help improve your final product, there's no wrong way to start or to publish. You've got this.
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