13 Keys to Improve Your Writing Skills8:28 PM
I t is possible to show someone the basics of WordPress in just a few minutes. Most blogging platfo...
It is possible to show someone the basics of WordPress in just a few
minutes. Most blogging platforms are just as easy as learn. Due to this,
anyone who can use the internet can technically write a blog post; however, as we all know, all content is not created equal.
1. Write Like It’s Your JobIf you want to get better at something, you have to practice – and writing is no exception. Unfortunately, there are few shortcuts that can transform you into an amazing writer overnight, and even the most talented writers had to learn their craft over a period of many years.
If you want to improve your writing skills, writing on a regular basis will not only diminish your fear of the blank page (or blinking cursor), it will also help you develop a unique style. So, even if nobody reads it, keep writing. Practice makes perfect.
2. Read Like It’s Your JobThe best writers are also keen readers, and reading on a regular basis is an easy way to start developing your writing skills. I don’t just mean blog posts, either – diversify your reading material. Expand your horizons to more challenging material than you typically read, and pay attention to sentence structure, word choice, and how the material flows.
The more you read, the more likely you are to develop an eye for what makes a piece so effective, and which mistakes to avoid.
3. Find a Writing PartnerIf you work at a reasonably sized company, the chances are pretty good that there is at least one other person who also secretly harbors a desire to become a better writer. Although writing is typically considered a solitary activity, the best writers know when it’s time to get much-needed feedback on their work.
Talk to your coworkers (or friends) and ask someone if they’d be willing to cast an eye over your work – they may spot mistakes that you overlooked. Finding a writing partner is also a great way to hold yourself accountable and keep going.
4. Join a Workshop or Take a Night ClassMost people balk at the idea of standing in front of a room full of strangers and baring their soul to the world, but joining a writing workshop can be immensely beneficial – and a lot of fun (if you manage to find a good one).
You don’t need to have an unfinished novel hidden away in your desk drawer to join a workshop. These days, content marketing meet-ups and professional development groups are becoming wildly popular. Join one of the many content marketing groups on LinkedIn to meet like-minded writers, or search for writing workshops near you on sites like Meetup. Pick a topic, write something, listen to the feedback of the group, and then revise it. Rinse, repeat.
5. Dissect Writing That You AdmireMost people read the same blogs or sites on a regular basis because the material appeals to them – but fewer people understand why their favorite blogs are so appealing.
Find a handful of recent blog posts you really like, then print them out. Next, just like your high school English teacher did, take a red pen and highlight things you liked: certain sentences, turns of phrase, even entire paragraphs. Examine why you like these elements, and see if there are any common threads in your favored reading material. See how writers take one subject and transition into another. Apply these techniques to your own work.
6. Imitate Writers You AdmireBefore we go any further, a disclaimer – imitation is not the same as plagiarism. Don’t rip off anyone’s work. Ever.
Just as you probably have a list of blogs you read often, you’ll likely also read the same writers on a regular basis. Identify what it is you enjoy about their work, and see if you can use it to improve your writing skills. Does a writer you like use humor to spice up dry topics? Try it. Do they use pop culture references to make their work entertaining and useful? Try that, too.
When I first started writing, I imitated some of my favorite nonfiction writers and essayists, such as Joan Didion, Truman Capote and Bill Bryson. I also attempted (and failed) to imitate writers such as Dave Eggers and Dan Kennedy, but soon realized that I wasn't funny enough and gave it up. Over time, I eventually developed my own style, but reading the works of these writers and seeing how they constructed their essays and books was immensely helpful to me as a writer (see tip #3).
7. Remember That Outlines Are Your FriendThe blinking cursor of a blank page is a considerable foe, even for the most experienced writers. Before putting pen to proverbial paper, sketch out an outline of what you plan to write. This will be your battle plan, and it will help you win the war. Very few – and I do mean very few – writers sit down to write anything without a solid plan in mind.
An outline doesn’t have to be complex. A simple framework of which sections should appear in a particular order, along with a few sentences about what each section contains, may be enough. If the topic you’re tackling is a little more complex, your outline might have to be, too – but having an outline before you write is like having a roadmap in the glove box of your car before a road trip. If you start to feel lost, refer back to your outline and get back to kicking ass and taking names.
Let’s take a look at a real example – one of my own outlines:
This outline eventually became my recent post about brand voice. I deviated from my initial outline slightly, but the overarching structure was always there to keep me on target.
8. Edit Your Work RuthlesslySo, you’re writing every day (or regularly, at least), and you’re feeling more confident about your work. Awesome! Now you’re going to become your own harshest critic.
Develop the discipline it takes to eliminate extraneous words (more on this shortly). Resist the temptation to wax lyrically and get to the point. Not sure if a paragraph works? It probably isn’t. Be tough on yourself, and know when to delete or rework something. Your work will be much stronger as a result.
9. Accept That First Drafts Are Almost Always CrapThe best writers make it look so easy. After reading a great post, it’s tempting to imagine your favorite bloggers effortlessly turning in incredible posts with minimal effort before spending the rest of their day reading obscure books in a quaint corner café somewhere. Take comfort in the knowledge that this isn’t how writing works.
First drafts are almost always crap, and that’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t create a masterpiece on your first attempt – chances are, you probably won’t, and that’s okay, too. Just get your ideas down on paper first, then go back and start cleaning up. Writing is an iterative process, and even the best writers have to spend a lot of time reworking material they were probably too embarrassed to show anybody.
10. Find a Good (Patient) EditorWhether you’re trying to make the case for a content strategy to your manager or want to start guest blogging on your favorite sites, finding and working with a good editor is one of the best things you can do to improve your writing skills. I’ve worked with dozens of editors over the years, and in my experience, the best are those who show you why something doesn’t work, rather than just telling you that it doesn’t.
11. Eliminate Unnecessary WordsAnother common mistake among beginner writers (and some more experienced writers who should know better) is writing overly complex sentences in an attempt to “sound” more authoritative.
In many cases, shorter sentences can have a greater impact. You may have heard of a six-word story that was supposedly written by Ernest Hemingway, which reads, “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.” Whether Hemingway wrote this or not is irrelevant – the power of these six words shows that brevity can be a powerful tool when used correctly, and not every sentence needs to be overwrought to get your point across.
12. Don’t Be Afraid to Say What You ThinkMost content on the web is bland and dreadfully boring. This is because far too many bloggers focus on regurgitating the same news as everybody else without bothering to add their own opinions. Obviously you don’t want to fall afoul of libel laws, but that doesn’t mean you can’t (or shouldn’t) say what you think.
13. Don’t Take Weeks to Finish a PostYou should definitely take the time to write as well as you can, proofread and edit your work thoroughly, and ensure that your piece flows logically from one point to the next. However, this doesn’t mean you should take weeks to write something.
No blog post (or any piece of writing, for that matter) will ever be perfect – you have to know when it’s time to let it go. This is especially important in content marketing, because you’ll rarely (if ever) have the luxury of crafting agonizingly beautiful blog posts full of poignant sentences and evocative imagery. As you become more confident, the “writing” part of writing will become easier and faster, but never lose sight of the fact that deadlines, or editorial calendars, are just as much your masters as any boss or manager.
As for me, I’m going to take my own advice and call this post done. I hope you find these tips useful, no matter how long you’ve been writing. If you have questions or want to share your own advice, leave a comment!