Great writing doesn’t happen by accident. Like any other art or trade, it requires lots of discipline, careful study, and a great deal of time. If you find yourself struggling every time you sit down at your laptop (or, if you’re more old fashioned, with a pencil and paper), you’re not alone. Every great writer struggles from time to time, but the ability to push through the rough spots usually helps you emerge better at your craft. Here are seven tips to help you improve your writing.
1. Do it Often
Think of writing like you’d think of running. You wouldn’t just wake up one morning and expect to run a marathon — you’d need to train and practice for a long time before you were able to go a long distance without difficulty. The same holds true for writing. You’ve got to write frequently — every day if you can. The more you do it, the more natural it feels, and the easier your thoughts will transfer to written (or typed) words. If you need inspiration or a prompt, there are many books and even more websites full of prompts for creative writers. Pick one and get going.
Your first draft is never your best. Your second draft isn’t much better. Read, re-read, and carefully examine your drafts, using hard copies if you can to physically cross things out and write down comments. If you can, leave some time between writing and revising; you’ll have an easier time reading what’s actually there instead of what you want to be there.
3. Keep Reading
Read great writing — as much as you possibly can. Think of yourself as an apprentice learning a sacred craft. Look at the masters and see how they do it. Plot, sentence structure, character development, dialogue — you can learn a great deal about all of these things by reading great books on a regular basis.
4. Nouns and Verbs
Great writing typically means strong nouns and verbs rather than long strings of adjectives and adverbs. They’re often more specific and get right to the heart of what you’re trying to say. Remember: quality isn’t always quantity. If you find yourself using lots of adjectives and adverbs, see if you can replace your qualified noun or verb with a stronger, unqualified one. For example, you can run really super fast, or you can spring. You can eat a big whole lot, or you can gorge. For pithy writing with few adjectives and adverbs, try some short stories by Ernest Hemingway or Gertrude Stein.
5. Do it Properly
English is your tool, so it’s essential to use it properly. There are zero excuses for poor grammar, misspelled words, or improper usage. If you’re unsure of something, look it up. Lots of reading will help you learn how to use English properly, but if you want to go one step further, get a copy of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style and read a few pages each day. It’s a favorite reference book of many writers, and it explains the rules of the language in an easy to understand manner.
6. Intelligence and Honesty
Many beginning writers try to make their writing cute, trite glib, or flippant. Others go in the complete opposite direction and come across sounding pretentious. Any of these approaches is a mistake, however. Instead, show respect for your subject matter, and offer your true voice to your reader. Be smart, and be honest. It’s always the right thing to do.
7. Know and Learn
Regular reading will help you with this, but make a point to learn as much as you can. In our look-it-up society, there’s no good excuse for not having an answer, not knowing about a topic, or not doing your research. Trust your senses and be inquisitive. It’s a characteristic that will serve you well as you embark on your journey as a writer.