10 Tips to Improve Your Writing Skills
Absorb information about writing, but don’t overwhelm yourself. I’ve been known to read a writing handbook or editing manual cover to cover, but I recommend reading one chapter or section at a time and absorbing information from online resources in similarly small doses as well. Our website is a good starting point, as it features thousands of posts about specific grammar, syntax, and style topics as well as vocabulary-building posts and more comprehensive posts about writing, editing, and language.
Work on your writing every day. Commit to a daily writing exercise, even if you have only five minutes to spare. If you write for a living, or writing constitutes a significant proportion of your daily tasks at work, still set aside time to practice other forms of composition. Style or subject matter can vary day to day, or you can decide to, for example, respond in writing to something you experienced with any of your five senses (including anything you watched or read by way of a form of media). Alternatively, find a list of writing prompts online, and use the next one on the list each day, or choose one randomly. (Encourage family members or friends—or even coworkers—to join you in producing their own responses.)
3. Engage with Others
Participating in a group learning activity is a great motivator. When you have paid for a class and/or scheduled time for attend classes or workshop sessions, you’re more likely to persevere, and completing assignments and projects will help you establish and/or maintain your writing discipline. If you’re intimidated by a group setting, consider finding a writing partner with whom you can exchange drafts and/or discuss concepts and practice skills, then graduate, on your own or with your partner, to a course or workshop. Alternatively, seek out online courses or groups.
Read for education, enjoyment, and enlightenment. For the most part, with recreational reading, just sit back and enjoy yourself. But consider devoting occasional sessions to analytical reading, in which you highlight particularly effective words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs and think about why they stand out, and apply the techniques to your own writing.
Use organizational techniques such as outlines and diagrams. Brainstorm keywords and essential ideas or plot points. If other forms of creative expression stimulate you, use them: Listen to (or play) music to inspire a certain mood, collect photographs or illustrations of people, places, and things that suggest elements you want to incorporate into an essay or a short story, or draw sketches of characters or settings to help you visualize them.
6. Research and Fact-Check
Whether you’re writing nonfiction or fiction, take care to write authoritatively. If you’re writing a short story or a novel, read about the historical background of the setting to make sure that you are not introducing counterfactual or anachronistic elements. When crafting a newspaper, magazine, or website article, or a blog post, educate yourself on your topic, and double-check quantitative information: proper names; affiliations and relationships; and dates, distances, dollar amounts, and so on.
7. Be Flexible
Write with an open mind. Be flexible about changing the focus of an article or essay or the protagonist or plot of a short story or a novel. Question your assumptions, and accept that your initial goal or message may not be the most effective or useful one, or the one that you are prepared to express just now.
Expect to be dissatisfied by your first draft, and don’t assume that your second draft is your last. Whether you’re writing a blog post or a book manuscript, the initial iteration may only slightly resemble the final draft—which, if you also submit it for editing, will differ from the edited version. Some writers have managed to produce an admirable piece of writing on the first try, but you will very likely spend as much time revising your first draft (and subsequent efforts) as you did producing it, if not more time. Embrace the opportunity to improve your baseline output by reorganizing, inserting, and omitting text; reshaping phrases and sentences; and replacing bland verbs and tired clichés and vague descriptions.
9. Hire an Editor
You’re free to post to your own blog or self-publish your novel without any further mediation, but you will be more successful as a writer if you accept that objective assistance enhances virtually everyone’s prose. Hiring an editor is a significant investment of time and money—editorial attention to a long novel, for example, can cost a couple thousand dollars and take several weeks—but if you find a good editor, the investment will be worth it. (And note that with any other service, you often get what you pay for, so when choosing an editor, focus on quality of results you will obtain rather than quantity of expense you will incur.)
If you can’t afford such an expense, at least ask a friend or acquaintance to go over your writing for you, and perhaps offer to edit something of theirs in exchange or to provide a service of similar monetary value (dog walking or pet sitting, clerical or organizational assistance, repair or construction, and so on) in return. Just understand that assistance from someone on the basis of acquaintance is less likely to be either objective or of professional caliber. Choose an editor who knows what they are doing and will not hesitate to provide revisions and critiques at the risk of damaging your ego.
10. Practice Humility
Perhaps you were praised at home and/or at school for your writing, or you have won one or more writing awards, or you have had articles or stories (or even books) published. Any or all of those achievements constitute a good start. But you are still developing as a writer, and you always will be. Continue to practice these habits and welcome other opportunities to grow functionally and creatively as a writer.