Now more than ever, writing is an important skill that will benefit anyone who takes the time to master it. This powerful form of communication allows us to shape the thoughts of others without even being in the same room. However, becoming a great writer is a long process that requires lots of hard work and self-discipline. Whether you write for money, pleasure or both, here are some tips on how to improve your writing skills.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Becoming an expert writer, just like becoming an expert in anything else, takes time and effort. The book Outliers argues that to become an expert in something, one must practice it for 10,000 hours. While most of us do not have the luxury to spend all day every day writing, we generally have some downtime during the day that we waste. Instead of filling free time with passive activities such as watching TV, use it to write something. Even just 30 minutes per day will add up in the long run. In today’s information age, there are always things to write about and locations to post our work. If you are just starting out, you could try rewriting old blog posts or newspaper articles, attend workshops, or participate in writing prompts. Whether it is your own blog, a revenue sharing site like Info Barrel (sign up here), or even a personal journal, find a place for your writing and just keep at it.
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Act the Part
Lots of people claim they are or want to be writers. However, they are often unwilling to put in the time and effort it takes to develop their writing skills. If you aspire to become a writer, then simply become one. Of course it is not an overnight transformation but the key is to get in the right mindset. In his memoir, On Writing, Stephen King emphasizes this approach. Every day he sits down and writes no less than 2,000 words regardless of outside circumstances. This tactic has allowed him to become one of today’s most prolific writers. While many aspiring writers claim they are waiting for inspiration, they never really get anywhere. Inspiration comes to those who seize it and work proactively. There are several techniques you can employ when you think you have nothing to say. You can begin by brainstorming settings, characters, phrases, situations and titles. Then take those and create a story map and eventually an outline that you can fill in later. The important thing is that you remain active and do not fall into lazy habits.
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Brush Up on Your Grammar
You can never become a great writer if you do not have a solid command of language. This does not necessarily mean you must memorize every grammar rule and part of speech by name. However, you must have at least a conceptual understanding of the rules and knowledge of the parts of speech and how they interact with each other. The best way to solidify your grammar skills is not necessarily studying grammar books but rather becoming an avid reader. To paraphrase Stephen King, people who lack the time to read, lack the skills and mindset to write. Just like with learning a foreign language, exposure is the key. Read lots of material from multiple authors on multiple subjects to get a feel for different styles. It is extremely difficult to become a great writer if you are not a prolific reader.
Be Active and Get to the Point
Effective writers use a simple style that conveys their messages in a minimum number of words. It is better to keep your prose simple than to use flowery language that can distract your readers (think Hemmingway). There are several methods for consolidating your writing. First you should avoid using the passive. Instead of saying “the book was read by him,’ say “he read the book.” This simplifies your writing and makes it more interesting for the reader. Next, consider using strong words that carry precise meanings. Use words like “assuaged” instead of “made feel better” or “infuriated” instead of “made angry.” However, when it comes to writing dialogue, stick with the word “said” instead of words like sputtered, yelped, or grumbled that will distract you readers. Finally, avoid overusing adverbs. For example, it is redundant to say that someone cried sorrowfully because generally people cry when they feel sorrow. Remember, these are mere guidelines to improve writing and not rules.
Regardless of your genre or motivation, remember that your readers will know if you have invested yourself into a piece of writing. If you are bored writing it, your readers will be equally as bored reading it. You put a piece of yourself in every work. Make sure that work represents you in the best way possible by improving your writing skills to the best of your ability.