Great writing requires an extensive skill set. You have to understand language, syntax, and context. A firm grasp on grammar is essential. The content you write must be organized so it reads smoothly. A vast vocabulary, a talent for puns, and a knack for storytelling are all skills that will benefit any writer.
Sure, some people are born with a talent for word craft. But nobody’s born knowing how to write. We all have to work at building and growing our writing skills, and this is especially true for anyone who wants to have a career in writing.
Better writing is not something that happens overnight. It’s a long-term commitment but the payoff is great. If you make a choice every day to improve your writing, then your work will get stronger, become more compelling, and you’ll drastically increase your chances of getting published.
How to Build Better Writing Skills
This list could keep you busy for years. There’s an endless supply of tools and resources to help writers build skills. Below, you’ll find the core activities that lead to consistently better writing over the long term.
- Read. Listening to audio books and surfing around the Internet do not count as reading. Curl up with a well written novel, brush up on your nonfiction reading, flip through some poetry collections. Reading is the single best way to naturally acquire writing skills.
- Write every day. My music teacher says that it’s better to practice for fifteen minutes every day than to practice for two hours three times a week. I think the same is true for writing. Even if you can only dedicate a few minutes to writing every day, it will become an ingrained habit. Writing will become an integral part of your life.
- Proofread, edit, and revise. It’s blatantly obvious when a piece of writing has not been properly proofread. Typos, grammatical errors, and other crimes against language will assault anyone who attempts to read your work. So fix it.
- Know your strengths and accept your weaknesses. You will come to learn that some aspects of writing come easily to you (maybe you’re great at dialogue) but other aspects are a challenge (your plots are full of holes). Once you accept your weaknesses, you can work on eliminating them through practice and study.
- Brush up on grammar. It’s rare for a piece of writing to be so amazing that readers are willing to ignore bad grammar. Many writers are lazy in this area because learning grammar is a lot of work and it’s academic work rather than creative work. The good news is that once you learn the rules, they will be with you forever.
- Get to know the style guides. Style is all about consistency with writing issues that aren’t addressed by grammar rules. Make sure you know which style guides are pertinent to your chosen field of writing and make sure you include them in your own collection of writing resources.
- Experiment with different forms. Every fiction writer can learn a thing or two from reading and writing a little poetry and vice versa. Nobody’s asking you to start rooting for a different team; just dip your toes in different waters so you know you’re swimming in the right body of water.
- Share your work and invite feedback. One of the quickest ways to improve your writing is through feedback. Get a real, live, well-read person to review your work. Embrace the feedback, even if it hurts, and then put it to work for you by ironing out all the wrinkles that your friendly reader found.
- Offer to give feedback on others’ work. When you edit or critique another writer’s work, you’ll see a piece of writing from the editor’s angle as well as the reader’s. This will give you a better perspective on your own work.
- Conduct thoughtful research. If you work in the nonfiction arena, then make sure you’ve got your facts straight. Even in fiction, there has to be some alignment with reality for a story to be believable. Resources are abundant. Use them (and be sure to check their credentials).
- Cultivate creativity. Have fun with your writing. Fill it will color or scale it back to a minimalist style. Try new words and off-the-wall images. Creative writing keeps readers interested!
- Make a conscious commitment to strive for better writing every day.
Better Writing Isn’t For Everyone
Improving your writing is hard work. If you love to write, then the work will be fun at times. Other times, you’re just going to have to grin and bear it, knowing full well that the ends make the means completely worthwhile. Some people love to write every day. For others, it’s a drag and they’d really prefer to just write when the mood strikes.
What separates a hobby from a lifestyle or a career is that we take it seriously and we have made a serious commitment to follow our passion, even if there’s a lot of hard work involved.
Some people are perfectly content with being mediocre, and that’s fine too. But if you want to shine, to be the best writer you can possibly be, then make that commitment and keep on writing.
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