These 5 tips can instantly improve your writing!
I’ve taught writing for many years, mostly to middle school age kids and teenagers, and I’ve seen a lot of writing over the years. Some of it good, some of it bad, and some of it very, VERY ugly.
No one is born a writer. It’s not a natural ability that some people just have and others don’t. Writing is a skill like any other than can be developed, practiced, and, over time, greatly improved upon. The fact is, the more you write, the better you become at it.
Stephen King said, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” There is no short cut or magic trick that can develop the skill of writing like doing the thing. If you want to write well, you must spend a lot of time writing. There is no other way. But there are some practices that can help you grow and improve as a writer–that can take your writing from ugly to bad to good. It’s not easy, and it requires time and practice, but if you apply these tips in your writing, you will see an instant improvement.
Do NOT Write the Way You Talk
This is my number one rule. And number two rule. It is the first thing I try to get across to all of my students. Writing is not just taking the words you think or speak and putting them on paper. Writing is communicating, but it is a more structured, thoughtful, and organized way of communicating than merely speaking. (I’m talking about speaking in the day to day sense, not on stage.)
This is where reading comes into play. The more you read, the more you glean and observe how writing works. Words are chosen carefully for their connotation and clarity, sentences are structured for greatest impact and meaning. Even dialogue is not a product of “how we talk.” John Truby said, “Dialogue is not real talk; it is highly selective language that sounds like it could be real.”
Combine Your Sentences
I’ve done an entire blog post on combining sentences, so I won’t go into too much detail here. (If you want to know more, check out this post.) But essentially, learning how to take simple sentences and combining them into a variety of sentences types and structures can make short, robotic writing into beautiful writing that sings.
Omit Needless Words
This one might just be my favorite. The clearest and most impactful sentence is the one that says the most in the fewest amount of words. William Strunk Jr. said, “Vigorous writing is concise.” You can’t treat words like they are sacred and fill your page with everything. You need to be ruthless in your writing and editing, slaughter the words that do not serve you, and be highly selective in the words you choose to use.
From a practical standpoint, let me share the needless words I (almost) always eliminate from my writing: so, that, seemed to, there are, almost all adverbs, and you.
Choose Active Voice
Active and passive voice refer to the action in a sentence. In active voice, the subject of the sentence is performing of completing the action. For example: Harry kicked the ball. In passive voice, the object of the sentence is being acted upon: The ball was kicked by Harry. The meaning is the same, but the action in the reader’s mind is different. Once sentence is alive and showing action taking place–the kicking of a ball. The other is a dull and stuff version where the hero of the sentence in an inanimate object. (Yawn.)
It’s tempting to use passive voice because it sounds academic, scholarly, or professional, but in reality it is dull and flat writing. Show the action. Always make the subject the hero of your sentence. Create life and movement with your words by using active voice.
Use Literary Devices
Once you get to this point, the real fun begins. Literary devices are what take writing and turn it into a work of art. They breath life into your words, and make them sparkle. It might be my favorite thing about writing is creating images with words that sound beautiful and make something come alive.
Literary devices like imagery, similes, metaphors, word choice and vocabulary, personification–everything you learned about in English class takes the flat words on paper and gives them life through comparison and word selection. I have an entire blog post with a list of my favorite available for download here.
Adding these elements to your writing willing instantly improve it, but nothing will help you become a better writer than sitting down and writing. A lot. Everyday. Practicing and improving with each click of your keyboard and scratch of your pen.
Go forth and write, good friend.
Is there any you would add to this list?