Writing is a skill that is often overlooked and undervalued by most people. Despite my fondness for writing, I did not appreciate it as a skill until I started working.
To this day, I can count in one hand the number of people I know who can write a decent letter. I wish people would ask often, “How can I be a better writer?”
Writing, in my opinion, is the most valuable medium of communication in business, because the probability of misunderstanding is greatly reduced when what you want to say is properly written. Verbal communication often gets lost in translation, but when you put ink on paper, everything that you need to know gets encapsulated in black and white.
Another overlooked benefit of writing is that it allows you to articulate thoughts and ideas effectively. This improves the level of understanding and competence in a subject matter, which eventually translates to how you act upon these ideas.
Writing requires discipline and structure—qualities that allow one to develop a good feel and approach toward learning new concepts and principles.
Business writing is one thing, professional writing is another. When you are paid to write, the stakes increase because there is an expected return on the investment made in your skills.
Professional writers used to be those who finished courses and acquired degrees specifically related to the field of writing, such as journalism, English, or literature. But over the past few years, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of people entering the writing industry without having taken up formal instruction in an institution. And they have become widely successful too!
The online job platform Elance has more than 341,500 writers, and not all of them are professionally trained. This does not mean that anyone can become a professional writer. You should have a solid foundation in writing, which includes proficiency in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and most of all, the ability to craft content in an engaging manner.
If you believe you have the tools and the skill set to write professionally, by all means, pursue it. Enrolling for advanced writing courses would always be a good idea. However, if you ask yourself “How can I be a better writer?”, here are 20 ways you can take your writing to the next level.
20 Tips and Ways on How to Become a Better Writer
1. Read works of great writers
Writing and reading go together like John Lennon and Paul McCartney or Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. One complements the other.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a good writer who is not a voracious reader. When you read a good book, you are subconsciously picking up bits and pieces of the author’s writing style.
Evidently, it will influence the way you write. Reading also improves your comprehension and carries over to the way you construct ideas when you write.
2. Write a lot
Speaking of Michael Jordan, how do you think he became NBA’s greatest player?
He had to work hard at his craft, that is, shooting endless baskets everyday and running drills every night. Becoming a better writer is the same thing.
You cannot expect to become a better writer by writing once a week. You have to write every single day. I would suggest to initially allocate 4 hours a day to just writing.
If you don’t have a professional writing job, blog from your website or in social media. If you’re interested in small business writing, open a LinkedIn account then blog from there.
It’s all about repetition, that is, honing your skills through constant practice and application until it becomes second nature and automatic.
3. Write down ideas all the time
Sometimes writing is a consequence of a “spur-of-the-moment” genius.
Ideas can come at any time without notice or warning. If you have come across a great idea, don’t let it go. Write it down immediately.
I’ve often found myself scribbling ideas on napkins when I’m at a restaurant or coffee shop when inspiration hits.
4. Have a writing ritual
If someone would come up to me and ask “How can I be a better writer?”, the following would be one of the preliminary steps.
You should have a ritual to develop structure and gain confidence in the way you write. It’s all about setting the stage for creative ideas to flow.
When you have a ritual, you are integrating writing as part of your routine. Everything then becomes natural.
5. Just write it
Once you have set your mind to write, do not hesitate. Just write.
Procrastination is one of the worst enemies of writers. A moment of hesitation could mean inspiration lost, never to return.
If you feel sluggish or unsure, start scribbling or tapping away; write headers or explore titles. Whatever it is, get the writing juices flowing.
Soon, everything will come together.
6. Eliminate distractions
The experience of writing is like driving a supercar down Germany’s Autobahn; once you’ve hit top speed you wouldn’t want to slow down.
Do everything that you need to attend to, and then find a quiet place to write, thereby removing all possible distractions in the work place. Put your mobile phone in another room and check up on it every 90 minutes.
If you have children, tell them to give you 90 minutes of alone time.
7. Organize before you write
While there are writers who are gifted enough to write on the go, it is always a good idea to organize before you commence.
Organization includes going over references and creating an outline in order to put structure in your ideas. This is an efficient way to write, meet deadlines and minimize mistakes.
Even if you have developed your own style or have grown accustomed to the approach of your favorite writers, feel free to experiment. Just like musicians who like to explore and discover new genres in music, feel free to test new techniques in writing or write in other fields.
Who would have thought that Norman Mailer, who wrote about Marilyn Monroe, could also write one of the greatest books in sports, “The Fight”? Although I’m associated with small-business blogging and marketing, I’ve written articles for health, travel, finance, and other industries.
In addition to procrastination, complacency is another enemy of writers.
I’ve come across writers who dislike the idea of reviewing their work to make revisions. I have to remind them that nothing says “sloppy” more than grammatical errors and misspelled words.
It’s like finding hair in the food served to you in a restaurant. It is simply inexcusable. Take the time to review your work, read it back, and find ways to make it read and feel better.
10. Be concise
How would you react if JK Rowling wrote “Harry Potter” the same way a lawyer drafted the provisions of a contract? Chances are, Rowling would still be waiting tables in the United Kingdom.
When you write, be concise. Establish your point without giving your readers a migraine. Short sentences are effective, and they deliver the message better than long, drawn-out sentences.
When you conduct a review, edit the sentences and paragraphs by removing nonessential elements. Your readers will thank you for it.
11. Find a subject you care about
No less than the great Kurt Vonnegut advised writers to write on subjects they cared about. “It is this genuine caring, not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.”
When you write about your passion, it manifests itself in how it reaches out and connects with your readers. I enjoy reading the books of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. He writes about cooking and travel in a way that clearly reveals his love for both passions.
12. Get feedback
Writers themselves are subject to blind spots. Even if they review their work 5 or 10 times, it’s always possible they could miss an error.
It’s sometimes better to ask another person to review your work because you will be coursing it through another filter; one who does not have vested interests and therefore no biases.
You will be able to gain valuable perspective and perhaps find new ways to improve your content.
13. Be open to criticism
Believe it or not, not everyone likes the chicken at KFC or the coffee at Starbucks. People have different tastes and preferences and this includes writing styles.
You should not enter into an endeavor with the purpose of pleasing everyone because you will fail. When you encounter criticism, view it as an option to consider and a way to improve.
14. Be a storyteller
The best writers are the best storytellers.
Keywords are great and important for search rankings but what’s the good of keywords if people can’t connect with what you’re trying to relate. And the keyword is “trying.”
Good storytellers do not even need to try because they have the ability to enthrall their readers and pull them in. They become part of their world and see events unfold before their eyes.
Storytellers have the ability to allow us to live vicariously in their world.
15. Start and finish strong
If your opening line or paragraph fails to hook a reader, chances are, you never will.
In writing, you have to write a strong compelling opening. It has to grab readers and to entice them to explore the body of the content.
You should also finish strong with a statement that ties the entire content together. When you are strong from start to finish, your work becomes memorable.
16. Write without fear
I know people with the talent to become good writers but choose not to out of fear of being ridiculed and criticized.
I also know people who are writers but have routinely underperformed or turned in substandard material because they worry too much about issues they have no control over.
Fear is the greatest inhibitor. If you learn how to overcome your fears, your talent will have no limits!
17. Be true to who you are
This is another mainstay answer to the question, “How can I be a better writer?”
Write according to who you are. When you are writing, it should become an extension of who you are as a person.
The author of American Splendor, Harvey Pekar, writes about the most mundane subject matters, but he can connect with many people because he writes in a manner that is 100%.
18. Be a part of a community of writers
If you want to improve, find other writers, build a community, and share experiences. Bourdain himself said chefs love to get together at their favorite watering hole to talk about the day’s events.
It’s a great way to unwind, relieve you of pending issues or problems, learn new techniques, and remind oneself that it’s normal to make mistakes.
19. Do not hesitate to take a break
If you somehow find yourself in a rut or can’t get ideas flowing, take a break. Even if there are deadlines to meet, it will not benefit you if the end product is seriously flawed.
According to personal development coach Steve Pavlina, 90 minutes is the optimum level to achieve productivity in one seating.
Once you’ve hit a wall or gone past your threshold, find another activity to do. Take a nap, walk, or spend time with your loved ones. It will reinvigorate you and move you further along once you get back to writing.
20. Believe that you can improve
This is my best answer to the question, “How can I be a better writer?”
Unless you believe with all your heart and soul that you can become a better writer, it doesn’t matter if you are writing alongside Leo Tolstoy, you will not improve.
People fail in achieving dreams because at the outset, they allow their fears and belief systems to set barriers on their personal growth.
If you believe that you can be a better writer, then there is nothing you would not do to become one.
The fact is you can become a great writer if you want to become one. Reading this article is a good way to get started; thank you by the way. However, unless you work on your craft, you will remain exactly where you are.
So, if you ask yourself “How can I be a better writer?”, what are the other ways you can do to take your writing to the next level?