7 Tips for Becoming a Better Writer
By Stephanie Conner
Are some people born better writers? Maybe. But regardless of whether you have a natural gift, you won’t become better without making a conscious investment in honing your skills. So, what can you start doing to strengthen your writing skills? Try these seven things.
- Read. A lot. I know of no good writer who doesn’t read. When I taught college students, I constantly stressed the importance of reading. Yes, I wanted them to read newspapers and news websites because they were journalism students. And I wanted my magazine writing students to read magazines and long-form journalism. But really, I wanted them to read anything they could get theirs hands on. If you want to be a good writer, read great writers — great essayists and novelists and nonfiction writers. Read them all.
- Start a blog. Writing something — anything — every day is sure to make you a better writer. A blog (whether you share it or not) is a great device for encouraging daily writing. If you’d rather keep a Word doc or a paper journal, that’s fine too. But never let a day go by that you don’t write something … even if it’s just a couple hundred words. Need a prompt to help you get going? Find a book of writing prompts (or blogs that feature them) to get your juices flowing.
- Be more mindful of your audience. Unless you’re journaling for personal use, you want what you’re writing to be read. Your audience ultimately determines if what you’re writing is good, right? They’re the ones who will buy your book or share your essay on Facebook or be compelled to act as a result of reading your marketing copy. So, before you write, stop and think about your audience. What can you do to make their experience with your words better and more relatable?
- Use an outline. The word outline probably conjures horrific Roman numerals (and the indents and the formatting, ugh!) from your high school term paper days. Relax. Outlines don’t have to be so formal. You don’t need to outline three supporting points under each argument, etc. What an outline enables, though, is invaluable: direction and organization that you may not be able to get from freeform writing. Some people can absolutely write without an outline. But most of us get off track if we don’t have a road map. So, for better, clearer writing, start from a place of organized thoughts.
- Try different kinds of writing. My mom wants me to be the next J.K. Rowling. Why can’t I just write the next great series, she wonders? I could take care of my family in perpetuity with the movie rights! But alas, fiction is not my bag. Some people are great at long-form nonfiction. Others should stick to blog posts. Some people couldn’t do light, airy, comedic copy if their lives depended on it. Experiment to better understand your strengths, and regardless of what you’re best at and where your passions lie, trying different kinds of writing helps build skills.
- Work with an editor (or two). Seeing what an editor does with your words can change your perspective on your writing in magnificent ways. And every editor has different areas of language they focus on, so if you can work with more than one editor, you’ll glean so much more. If you don’t know a professional editor and don’t want to hire one to help coach you, find a few colleagues whom you trust to be honest, and solicit their feedback on your writing.
- Study up. The “rules” of grammar and language are always evolving. And every writer has his or her own approach to the craft. Seek out resources — blogs, books, magazines, podcasts — to keep learning about writing and communication. If you haven’t read On Writing Well, pick up a copy. Oh, and Bird by Bird, too. Make sure there’s a copy of Strunk & White The Elements of Style, an AP Style Guide, Garner’s Modern American Usage and a Chicago Manual of Style on your desk. Read Robert Bly and Roy Peter Clark. Check out Grammar Girl’s Quick & Dirty Podcast. And so, so many more. (Shameless plug: I have some pretty cool educational materials in the works for 2017 myself that I can’t wait to share.)
Writing is an art and a craft. And just like an athlete or musician or actor, we can be born with great gifts and never fully maximize our potential — or we can have average inherent skill but a desire to improve and a work ethic that’s second to none. Either way, we can all get better.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you do to improve your skills. Please share in the comments section and keep the conversation going.
ABOUT OUR GUEST BLOGGER
Stephanie Conner is an award-winning writer and owner of Active Voice Communications, where her team focuses on content strategy and development. She also provides training and education on copywriting and content marketing. She’s a former associate faculty member at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, her alma mater. When she’s not writing, she’s playing with her toddler son, cooking, eating, drinking wine or doing yoga.
Originally published at paulbartonabc.com on August 22, 2016.