Writing is one skill that you can always improve. Even the best authors are continuously improving as they keep working on their craft.
Some aspiring writers might have this unfounded dream of publishing their first novel and already being the best they can be.
But professional writers commit to growing through the years. Improving will take some effort, but you will look back and thank yourself for putting in the time and energy.
How to Become a Better Writer
Here are some practical tips to help you become a better writer:
1. Master the basics.
If you want to become a better writer, it’s important that you have the basics down.
2. Write daily.
Writing is a skill that improves with constant practice. Schedule time every day to write, even if it’s just one paragraph. Just 15 minutes each day can do wonders for your writing skills.
If you are having trouble thinking about what to write on a daily basis, consider brainstorming some topics and listing them down in a notebook, so you have a week or two of ideas before you have to ponder what to write again.
Having a list of things to write about will allow you to jump right in every day. Alternatively, you can also check out a list of writing prompts for added inspiration, start journaling, or try writing morning pages each day.
3. Read daily.
Writing is output, and reading is input. Your output will improve as you improve the quality of your input. That said, make sure you read quality writing, because the things you read will indirectly (but significantly) influence the way you write.
Read books in the genre you are writing in to learn how others have succeeded in that arena, but also read books from other genres. The wide variety will not only broaden your perspective, but also expose you to diverse vocabulary, sentence structures, and ideas.
4. Keep a record of ideas as they come.
Some writers go to bed with a notebook, so that anytime an idea comes up while they’re sleeping, they can jot it down quickly. With the advent of smartphones, you can do just as much with your phone.
Whichever recording method you prefer, start keeping an idea notebook and make sure your recording tool is easily accessible at all times. Remember, some of the best stories came from a single “germ” of an idea.
5. Use all your resources.
Although these days they’re mostly accessed in digital form, there’s still a place for dictionaries and thesauruses, and you should definitely be using them.
If you’re constantly using the same words for “irritable,” pick up (or google) a thesaurus to discover creative alternatives.
And when you’re reading and come across a word you’re unfamiliar with, reach for a dictionary and look it up immediately. You’ll learn something new, expand your vocabulary, and enrich your writing with new words.
6. Get moving.
Sometimes writing can be a challenge, because we can get so attached to our work that we never want to leave its side. But it’s important that you schedule time out to move around, whether for a walk or some other form of exercise.
A great way to relax and recharge your creativity is to get outdoors and spend time in nature. Find a nearby park or woods to spend an hour in, or if you’re feeling adventurous, drive out to a lake or mountain for a few hours. You will come back refreshed and ready to start writing again.
7. Tune out unnecessary noise.
Today, we are all constantly bombarded with news alerts and social media notifications. While access to so much information can be a good thing, whether you realize it or not, being inundated with too much information can numb your writing ability.
In his book Deep Work, Cal Newport emphasizes the importance of “deep work” versus “shallow work.”
Shallow work is what most of us are used to, as we try to multi-task around all the notifications we receive from everyone we know. Deep work is being able to fully concentrate on a task for a set period of time, which leads to more creative output.
Be proactive about eliminating distractions and limiting your exposure to needless newsfeeds. Some writers use tools to turn off social media alerts. This can help you focus on your work when you’re on your computer.
8. Learn from a mentor.
One of the best things you can do if you want to improve your writing learn from someone who’s been there and done that. In his book Master of One, Jordan Raynor describes two ways of learning from a mentor: direct apprenticeships and indirect apprenticeships.
He defines direct apprenticeships as actually learning from a person face-to-face, where you can get direct feedback.
Indirect apprenticeships also involve learning, but without a personal relationship with the mentor. This is much more common these days thanks to the amount of information available on the Internet.
You can find a mentor by joining a local writer’s group, connecting with writers on Facebook or other social media platforms, and of course, setting clear goals.
If you are able to find someone you know whose writing you respect, be humble enough to seek out their feedback on your work.
9. Take online writing courses
If you don’t know anyone and would prefer the indirect route, consider checking out some of the best writing courses online.
This is a great use of your free time, and an investment will pay off in the long run.
10. Practice writing across genres (and platforms).
While most writers tend to gravitate toward one genre and stay in their comfort zones, it’s important to practice writing across different genres, styles, and platforms, if only for a creative exercise.
For example, if you usually write fiction, challenge yourself by applying some of your creative techniques to a work email, or try your hand at writing an informative blog post.
There are new opportunities to become a better writer every day, so think outside the box of just your manuscript or published books.
11. Turn off the editor in your head.
Practice writing without constantly going over what you’ve just written and wanting everything to be perfect. There’s a time for everything, and that includes editing! The middle of your first draft is not the time to be editing, because it will cripple your creative flow.
It takes time to get used to not editing while you go. Develop the habit by forcing yourself to write forward and not backtrack until it’s your scheduled day to edit.
12. Schedule editing time once or twice a week.
Although writing and editing are not the same, editing will teach you how to use words efficiently and effectively.
When you edit, pay careful attention to unnecessary words, or what writers call “fluff.” Sometimes you might be writing many of these words out of habit, so editing them out will call your attention to what you can improve in your writing next week.
13. Practice creating powerful sentences.
Powerful sentences are concise. While you might remove “fluff” or unnecessary words during the editing process, using strong verbs is another way of making your sentences powerful.
Verbs, or action words, can be weak or strong depending on how clearly they communicate the action. For example: stand, run, talk, and walk are all verbs, but we consider them “weak” verbs. They need a qualifier to describe fully how they are being done.
Strong verbs are verbs that give additional information to the action, such as emotion, intention, speed, significance, or direction. Using strong verbs removes the need for unnecessary descriptions.
Compare the following sentences:
After his mom lectured him, Samuel walked to the kitchen.
After his mom lectured him, Samuel stomped to the kitchen.
After his mom lectured him, Samuel sidled over to the kitchen.
As you can see, the two strong verbs used to replace the verb “walk” (set in bold) gives more clue into what is going on in Samuel’s mind.
Stomping gives the impression that he resented his mother’s correction, whereas sidling away tells us he’s meekly accepting it.
14. Practice writing for yourself.
Practice writing about your passions. If you’re a professional writer, you might be constantly churning out content on a different range of subjects. But taking time off to write about your own interests will help recharge your writing skills.
List some of the topics you’ve always wished you could write about, and start writing them. Don’t worry at this point whether or not you will share them with others—for now, write them for yourself.
15. Read the best books about writing.
Reading up on your craft and studying some of the most successful authors is always a great idea if you’re looking to improve your writing.
Here are a few good options to start with:
This classic is like an intense training program packed into a concise book that will help you expand and upgrade your writing toolbox.
Plot and Structure is one of the best-selling books on fiction writing because it walks aspiring authors through the process of crafting a strong plot and story structure without plot holes or major developmental issues.
This book is the perfect guide for anxious creatives who struggle with procrastination, writer’s block, self-doubt, self-criticism, or low self esteem.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Better Writer?
Becoming a better writer will not happen overnight. Daily practice will bear fruit after many weeks, months, or sometimes years. Even the best writers took years to keep improving their craft.
Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea that in order to master a skill, you need to spend at least 10,000 hours on it. Considering a typical 40-hour workweek, that will take about 5 years of dedicated practice to master a given skill.
However, some studies set out to prove the 10,000-hour rule wrong, particularly for less skill-driven tasks like entrepreneurship.
Others believe that the 10,000 hours is not set in stone, but rather a figurative way of saying that it takes effort and determination in order to master a skill.
Since it will likely take you some time, consistency and persistence are two important traits to have in becoming a better writer.
Improve Your Writing
Whether or not you intend on publishing your writing, taking the time to develop these daily and weekly habits will pay off tenfold.
Improving your writing skills will lead you to be a more effective communicator, a critical thinker, and, maybe someday, a published author!
What do you do to improve your writing skills? Share your ideas in the comments below!