5 Simple Ways to Improve Your Writing
Jan 13, 2014
Writing isn’t easy. From diction to character development, everything that goes into a work has to fit together. It’s a daunting task; and even the best of writers end up writing at least one story or book that doesn’t turn out as well as planned!
As both an editor and writer myself, I have been asked on at least a few occasions: “How can I improve my writing skills?” There are a few essential, simple, and (best of all) free ways to improve that I have picked up over the years which I would like to share with all of you writers out there. No matter who you are or how long you’ve been writing, all of these methods, while simple, are great ways to build your talents:
1. Plan, plan, plan: I’ve lost count of the number of writers I’ve encountered who either say things like “I just go with what comes to me,” or “I already know what I want to write.” While this may be true, planning is an essential part of writing (especially for large works) that is easily overlooked. Characters need to be given interesting personalities, and need to have interesting motivations and interactions. You will need to consider the audience you are writing for, and decide on appropriate style and diction. You will need a specific direction for the narrative and/or plot if you don’t already have one (I would recommend having a list of important events, a start, and an ending for your book). And, of course, you will need to describe what is going on to your reader—how things look, feel, smell, sound, and taste. Even if you already have a story in your mind, planning out details like these in advance can help you focus more on your writing and give life to your work through adding details which you might otherwise not have considered. While an extemporaneous piece may be very good without a lot of planning, even the best ideas can easily become disorganized when you start writing a lengthy piece. Planning can turn good novels into great ones.
2. Improve your vocabulary: Although this is a simple piece of advice, it is very important. Having a greater grasp on the English language allows you to find just the right word or phrase for your sentences. A great way to start building your vocabulary is looking up the word of the day, often featured on websites like M-W.com or Dictionary.com. If just one word at a time won’t do it for you, Freerice.com allows you to build vocabulary in English (and other languages) while helping charity. Of course, using a thesaurus to find new, similar words to ones you’re already using is an excellent way to learn—just make sure you’re using them correctly!
3. Read: One of the best ways to improve your writing is to look at the works of other authors. By examining what they did well, and what they could improve on, you can learn lessons about how to write without making the mistakes yourself. This is particularly useful if you want to write a book in an unfamiliar genre; it may help you address how to write a particular scene which you are having trouble with. It may also clue you in to what challenges writing a similar book might present if it fails to deliver in various aspects. There’s a whole wealth of information to be gleaned from others’ books by seeing what works and what doesn’t. Of course, your work needs to remain your own; don’t copy others’ work, but do learn from it.
4. Practice: This is perhaps the most overlooked method of improvement that there is out there. Many people seem to think that great writing is something that you are either blessed with at birth, or completely lack. This simply isn’t true! Even Shakespeare (a classic example) noticeably developed his writing abilities over time, gaining skill as he worked more within a genre or play structure. Many people do not write because they feel that they lack the ability to do so. However, a little effort and a few practice pieces may go a long way in building your skill up, until you feel you’re ready to tackle something larger. Try writing a few short stories. Look up some practice writing exercises or prompts online. Even if you don’t end up creating the next best seller on your first try, I guarantee that if you keep at it you’ll see an improvement.
5. Get Feedback: This is something that terrifies many writers. Getting your writing “out there” may cause you to feel nervous, especially if you’re not yet confident in your ability to write. But it’s important to have others examine your writing. Many habits (good and bad) may not be obvious to you when you’re looking at your own work. Consider this: It may be intimidating to hear what mistakes you have made, but it doesn’t necessarily mean your writing is bad—only that it can be improved (and we all have room for that). With a little outside help, you can pinpoint exactly what needs work. Asking family and friends to review your writing can help pick out some of the more obvious kinks. However, keep in mind that if you really want thorough examination and feedback, you may need to have a professional work with you to help develop your writing and correct many of the more subtle, easily missed mistakes.
Just like any other skill, excellent writing is not something that will develop overnight. It will take some hard work and dedication. But these tips provide an excellent foundation for you to develop your abilities. I hope that they help you as much as they’ve helped me.