I knew I’d be a writer when my eighth-grade English teacher told me to read aloud my essay on her two-page assignment called “If I could go anywhere in the world, where would that be and why?”
While everybody else tried to stretch into two pages dreams of DisneyWorld, Six Flags, or the beach, I wrote about the religious and historic significance of Rome, and how that one-of-a-kind culture has affected every generation since its Biblical beginnings.
Yes, I was a nerd with a penchant for prose. I also easily sunburned. Throughout my career, my writing skills have always served me well. If you’re a writer or want to improve your writing, how do you hone your skills?
Here are 10 tips to improve your writing:
- Listen – If you’re saying anything other than “can you elaborate on that?” or “can I verify this?’, you’re talking too much. If you want to be a good writer, be a good listener.
- Move – Literally, get up and move. If you’re maximizing your brain’s endorphins and all those other chemicals that prompt the creative juices through exercise, then writing becomes more natural.
- Read – While I’ve no scientific research to support this, I strongly believe that readers make the best writers. Fiction, nonfiction, instruction manuals, food labels, whatever. Just read – and keep a dictionary handy when you stumble upon new words.
- Practice – If you dream of making a living by writing, you either better be writing or practicing writing until you get that dream assignment. Write about anything – your feelings, thoughts or memories. Heck, write an essay on “If I could go anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?”
- Think – We grew up on “Once upon a time” and “They lived happily ever after”. In general, good writing has a beginning and an end. Think about how to best connect the dots in your work. Use your analytical, logical and problem-solving skills. As one colleague puts it, “when you wrap it up, and put the prettiest bow on top, you’re done”.
- Diversify – Learn to write in different voices. Writing a speech for a corporate CEO is completely different than writing a satirical blog. Just as people are diversified in their vocabulary and inflections, so your writing should be.
- Timing – As my first newspaper editor taught me, write when you and/or the content is fresh. As soon as you’ve completed that interview, verified that research or thought of that million-dollar-making strategy, write about it right then and there.
- Read aloud – When you think you’ve completed the writing task, read it aloud. Does the article flow, make sense, capture your interest and have a point?
- Feedback – Depending on your time frame, confidence and/or type of content, you may want to get feedback from either an experienced writer or a subject matter expert. Make only those revisions necessary to clarify content or facts.
- Edit/Proof – After you’ve read aloud, make necessary edits, and correct grammar or spelling mistakes. DO NOT RE-WRITE (writers are notorious for “perfecting” their work). Put down the piece. Go to bed. Repeat the process the following day. Then press the Send button, and give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done!
What suggestions do you have for improving your writing skills?
Susan Hart, APR, has more than 25 years of journalism and public relations experience. She founded Hart Public Relations in 2001, began her EveryDayPR blog in 2009, and is a regular contributor to Fuel Your Writing.