You already know that having writing skills has the power to change your life and the lives of those who read your work.
So, it makes sense that writing better — more clearly, more fluidly, and more beautifully — has even greater power for both you and your reader.
How do you improve writing skills?
How do you improve to become the kind of writer whose work other people read aloud — because it sounds so good in their heads, their vocal cords get jealous?
It’s both easier and harder than it sounds to develop new writing skills.
It’s easier because once you learn tips for better writing, you’ll find it easier to improve your writing; it’s harder because it takes commitment, butt-in-chair time, and discovering ways to practice writing. It’s real work.
There is no magic bullet that will instantly transform you into a highly-skilled and emulated writer.
When it comes to learning to write well, you’ll cover more ground in less time if you implement these steps on how to get better at writing.
So, dig in and see how even small changes to your writing skills can make a huge difference.
- Why Learning Basic Writing Skills Is So Important
- 1. Improve your writing every day.
- 2. Increase your word power.
- 3. Pace yourself with punctuation.
- 4. Respect your reader’s time (and energy).
- 5. Write once, edit twice (or more).
- 6. Let your writing breathe.
- 7. Read great writing.
- 8. Copy great writing.
- 9. Avoid unnecessary adverbs.
- 10. Kill those clichés.
- 11. Keep it simple.
- 12. Cut out redundancies.
- 13. Deliver information in small doses.
- 14. Stick with one idea per sentence.
- 15. Learn the rules — and learn to break them when necessary.
Why Learning Basic Writing Skills Is So Important
Effective writing that hooks and holds onto your reader’s attention takes conscious effort. It takes an appreciation for the rhythm and nuances in the words you use.
And it takes a commitment to ruthless editing. You need to know what stands in the way of improving your writing.
But why bother? Why put in the effort?
Unlike the textbooks you had to read in school, no one has to read your writing. And there’s plenty more to choose from — and plenty other claims on your reader’s attention.
If you want readers to go beyond the first sentence, you’d better make it as easy as possible for them to do so.
I don’t mean that you should dumb down your writing. Good writing respects your readers’ intelligence as much as their time.
Good writing also leads the reader effortlessly from one sentence to the next.
By learning to write well and applying these writing tips shared in this article, you can make your writing kinder to your reader — and harder to put down.
And what can that do for you?
If you’re at all interested in writing books and reaching an audience hungry for your message, your commitment to writing better (for your reader’s sake) is what will make that possible.
Self-publishing has made it both easier and more difficult for writers. It’s easier to make your words more accessible to your target readers but harder to compete against a larger selection of books written on the same subjects.
So, learning how to be a great writer is critical to your success.
15 Ways To Improve Writing Skills
1. Improve your writing every day.
If you’re serious about improving your writing, you make time for it every day — even if it’s only fifteen minutes at a time.
You show up for it even on the days when it feels as though the words are jammed inside you and nothing wants to come out.
Not sure what to write?
Try using any of the following questions as writing prompts:
The human mind likes to reach out and know things.
Give it a chance to explore, and write about what’s going on in your head or in the head of one of your story characters.
Just keep showing up — one day at a time. Keep getting the words out and then taking the time to edit them.
2. Increase your word power.
While you shouldn’t force ten-dollar words into your writing to impress your readers, it can only do you good to increase your vocabulary.
The more words you know, the more likely you’ll find just the right ones to evoke the images you want your reader to see — without relying on overused modifiers (like “very,” “really,” etc.).
The games and dictionary at Vocabulary.com test your knowledge of English vocabulary and help you improve your word power by exposing you to other words, as well as other meanings for the words you already know.
3. Pace yourself with punctuation.
Varying your punctuation and sentence length creates a certain cadence for your writing, which helps keep your reader’s attention.
No one wants to read a series of short, choppy sentences.
And few of us have the time or inclination to read stream-of-consciousness sentences so long we’re no longer sure each one is grammatically correct by the time we get to the end of it.
And reading it again to check would take too much effort.
Sometimes, you’ll want to link phrases with commas, other times with semicolons or colons, and other times, you’ll separate them with a period to create two distinct sentences.
If you’re a fan of the dash, it’s all too easy to overuse it.
Respect your reader’s attention and mental energy by varying the rhythm of your sentences, using punctuation to create pauses and full stops where you need them.
4. Respect your reader’s time (and energy).
Don’t waste your reader’s time with sentence after sentence of verbal throat-clearing.
There’s setting the stage, and then there’s killing time before the main act finally wanders onto the stage. The audience knows the difference.
Gently but quickly lead your reader to the message at the heart of your writing.
Cut out sentences and phrases that are little more than pointless digressions from your message.
If it’s fodder for another book or article, save it for that.
5. Write once, edit twice (or more).
Writing is rewriting. You’ve probably heard this before, but it’s worth repeating.
To make your writing as enjoyable to read as possible, you’ll need to edit it at least twice.
This is why professional editors tend to make at least three editing sweeps of their clients’ work before returning it.
The final sweep may be mostly about proofreading, but their eyes are always open to other details that may need fixing.
As a writer, yours should be, too. Take the time to carefully edit your work.
6. Let your writing breathe.
Before you dive into editing, though, give yourself and your work in progress (WIP) some time apart.
Here are some ideas for what to do with yourself during the break between writing and editing:
You’ll come back to your work with a clearer head and fresher eyes.
7. Read great writing.
If you want to learn to write well, read exceptional writing. Read the kind of writing ability that makes you think, “Man, I wish I could write like this!”
Make a list of books and other publications that immerse you in high-quality writing – writing so good you want to read it aloud – and spend time with them every day.
The company you keep includes what you read. And the strong writing skills you read shows up in what you write.
8. Copy great writing.
I mean this literally. Take something written in language that clears your mind and makes your heart swell, and copy it by hand into a notebook.
You can also copy by typing, though handwriting engages your reticular activating system (RLS), making it more likely that you’ll internalize the vocabulary and writing style of the passages you copy — particularly those that make a strong impression on you.
It may seem like mundane and pointless busywork but think of it as a way to ensure that you’ll receive the greatest benefit from the book you’re reading.
Not only will you remember the message and its articulation more clearly; you’ll also be better able to articulate that message in your own words while learning to express your ideas with more clarity and elegance.
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9. Avoid unnecessary adverbs.
If you really, truly, honestly want to firmly keep your reader’s attention, cut all the adverbs that aren’t strictly necessary – starting with the ones in this sentence.
Result: “If you want to keep your reader’s attention, cut all the adverbs that aren’t necessary.”
I don’t mean you can never use adverbs. They have their place. But use them as sparingly as you can. Find verbs, nouns, and even adjectives that create the right mental picture without the extra dressing.
Check your work for repeat offenders like the following:
There are others. They’re everywhere because they’re easy to use.
Writing the way you talk has its advantages — particularly with blogging — but also its pitfalls. This is one of them.
10. Kill those clichés.
You’ve seen them everywhere. That’s how they became clichés.
But they’re so, so easy to use. They come into your head and appear on the page almost before you realize what you’re doing. They’re insidious.
And just as you want to avoid unnecessary adverbs and anything that slows your reader’s progression from one sentence to the next — distracting them so they roll their eyes or crinkle that space between their eyebrows — you want to mercilessly cut every cliché you find.
11. Keep it simple.
You don’t want your writing to draw attention to itself.
So, take a hard pass on the purple prose and stick with language that conveys the idea with clarity, simplicity, and elegance.
It doesn’t mean you can’t get creative sometimes with your description.
But don’t try so hard to sound creative that you sacrifice clarity and flow.
For example, the odds are pretty good that the word “utilize” will make your reader think, “Why not just go with the word ‘use’ like a regular human?”
You don’t want your reader questioning your word choice. It interrupts the conversation.
12. Cut out redundancies.
Cut out any sentences or clauses that say the same thing you said earlier with different words.
Redundancies don’t add emphasis. Most of the time, they’re just a waste of words and your reader’s attention.
You’ll clean up most of these during the editing process.
13. Deliver information in small doses.
Shorter sentences are easier to read and process than long, rambling ones with multiple clauses strung together. This is why the Hemingway app flags sentences if they stray beyond the ideal word count limit.
Sometimes you’ll want to join a couple clauses, using the right punctuation.
But a series of compound sentences — with two clauses joined with a conjunction, semicolon, or colon — can be as stultifying to the reader as a string of simple sentences.
When you try to cram as much information into a sentence as you can, you usually end up sacrificing both clarity and your reader’s attention.
14. Stick with one idea per sentence.
Just as with clauses, you’ll want to be careful about stringing together too many ideas in one sentence. One is usually enough.
For example, you can write that A is B and is also C, but try to avoid linking two different ideas together in the same sentence.
Instead of saying “A is B and, by the way, C is nothing like D,” find a way to do justice to the “A is B” idea before moving on — in a different sentence — to “C is nothing like D.”
Don’t try to get two points across in the same breath. It doesn’t work, and your reader will probably give up and move on to something else.
15. Learn the rules — and learn to break them when necessary.
Grammar rules are there for a reason. But when it comes to creative writing, there are few absolutes.
With fiction, it’s pretty much the norm to see sentence fragments — especially in dialogue.
With blogging, it’s not unusual to dispense with the rule against ending a sentence with a preposition.
Because, in speech, we do that all the time.
And interrupting a conversation to point out someone’s grammatical errors is not a good way to make (or keep) friends.
This is one situation where it pays to read great writing and to take time to copy it. You pick up on current grammar use for the type of writing you want to master, and you’re less likely to compose your ideas in a way that sounds like you’re trying to please your high school English teacher.
Please your reader instead. Improve your grammar by keeping the rules that serve the purpose of your writing, and break those that don’t.
Write it Forward
If you found value in this article, please share it on your preferred social media platform to help fellow writers to strengthen and clarify their writing.
Think of all the students out there learning new things by reading. As we work to make education more person-centered — rather than industry-focused — the quality of the written content we give them has long-term ramifications.
What if the students of tomorrow read something you’ve written – or will someday write?
You’ll want to make sure to improve your writing so it is as clear and compelling as possible. You’ll want it to be so good teachers read it aloud – and encourage their students to do the same.
If you now have a better idea of how to hone your writing skills, this article has fulfilled its purpose.
And may your purpose and your creativity influence everything else you do today.