Gini Dietrich

Ten Tips to Improve Your Writing

By: Gini Dietrich | July 13, 2010 | 

Guest blog written by Susan Hart, APR, the founder of Hart Public Relations

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?”
  5. 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”.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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?
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • I’m a sucker for rewriting. I think I pulled my PhD (on writing, duh!) to pieces again and again. My head says I’m with you on the proof-read / edit suggestion, but my heart will always go for the rewrite when necessary.

    Great post!

    • Jon, I’m like you – I want the rewrite, as well. And we always ask, during interviews, “what is the last book you read” to see a) if people read and b) what kind of books they like to read. It usually tells us what kind of writer they are so I agree with Susan’s #3.

      • I’m with Susan: I’m not a rewriter! I’m a believer in going with your first instinct. You’ll usually write what you want to write on the first go around. Start to get too fancy and you’ll often lose the original focus.

        So I write it the first time and then go through mostly to delete the fat. I find I can often do away with the first couple of paragraphs because it takes me a while to get to the point!

  • Nice tips! One I would add – edit it down. No matter where you start, it’s typically too long. Remove words that aren’t vital and you’ll have a much more readable piece, IMHO.

    I’d also recommend “Keeping A Journal You Love” by Sheila Bender. It’s really a book of simple writing exercises for those who are practicing. It keeps you writing even when you don’t have a true assignment.


  • Great tips. I like read aloud and move around. Although common sense, I would have never thought about it. I also like to “write in 1st draft” but when I have the time I like to cull my topics/research and wait (ideally overnight) before writing.

  • Susan. Thank you SO MUCH for this.
    In my personal writing, I’ve recently hit a huge block. I need to listen more, move more and, most importantly, allow myself to THINK instead of running myself ragged and expecting the words just magically to appear in the midst of it all.
    Thanks for finding another wonderful resource for Spin Sucks, Gini and Dan.

    • Thanks, Paige! If a writer of your talent can learn from a post like this, we can feel very good about the content we’re putting out there. Good luck breaking out of your funk!

  • Great stuff…as always a fine guest post. (Or is it “fine guest-post?”)

    The “what was the last book you read?” question is highly dangerous, though. Would a Gen-Y or Millennial really answer that honestly? Heck, I wouldn’t even answer that honestly; saying that I’m on my 5th re-read of “The 4-Hour Workweek,” which I am, probably paints me as lazy.

    Great stuff, though!

    • Well, if you’ve read it five times, Dave, then you’re at least up to 20 hours, right? 😉

  • Great tips. I would add this, if it feels right to you? Then don’t let the negative opinions of others drive your rewrite. However, if more than two people have an opinion about a particular portion of it, pay attention to it.

  • Eduardo Mórlan

    A really useful collection of tips. I teach English and German and when my learners are trying to create complicated sentences, I tell them: “The one thinking loses the game”. Language should flow: follow your instincts.

    Recently I am writing for an online cinema website and for a magazine. It has always been easy for me to write in a clear way (I am 50 and Mexican). That was the result of my ancient perception: I heard the radio and imagined situations and stories (I watched our 1st. own TV when I was 12), and since I was always alone, the best companion I had was a book.

    The terrible problem is the one with the new generations: people neither read nor write and when they write, they do not follow any kind of logical routine connected with common sense. Of course there are exceptions, but they are scarce examples. Even if people are literate, they do not use (written and spoken) language in a proper way.

    May this article shine some light for many and congratulations for your help.

    • Eduardo Mórlan

      I say that there are no coincidences.Reading the German philosopher Georg Christoph Lichtenberg’s Aphorisms I have found this:

      “This is a fair warning: the same way that famous French author did, from now on I will print nothing if my cook does not read it before”.