Mike Connell

The Spin Sucks Question: How Can You Improve Your Writing Skills?

By: Mike Connell | October 19, 2018 | 
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Improve Your Writing SkillsWe’ve fielded questions around the best online courses, and I’ve written about writing tools for communicators.

It’s not easy. Writing. Even for those who are “good” at it (sidenote: qualifying what “good” means in writing can be super subjective, so take that with a grain of salt or like-minded additive), writing isn’t easy.

Most importantly, whether you consider yourself a writer or you just have to do a lot of writing in your field, it’s a skill that requires practice.

In some cases, it requires coaching. Lessons.

Recently, Laura Petrolino asked me what courses I would recommend for someone trying to improve their writing.

My answer? No idea. Our very own Modern Blogging Masterclass? Maybe.

Typically, I take creative writing courses. Fiction writing courses.

That’s the type of writing that keeps me interested in the craft and prevents me from using too much marketing-speak.

So, as NaNoWriMo approaches, we wanted to know how the rest of our community works on their writing, and/or how they are going to!

What courses, tools, or tips would you recommend to someone hoping to improve their writing skills?

Improve Your Writing Skills: Soul Ripping?

Out of the gate, one of our respondents gave what I feel is one of the most overlooked practices for improving your writing: Letting someone edit your work.

This is easier said than done, IMO, however, if you can find someone who can review your material it can be invaluable.

Perhaps even more valuable? Knowing that you’re writing for someone changes the process.

A little more thought goes into your phraseology (we really need to start gamifying The Spin Sucks Question. I’ve been trying to work in the word “phraseology” for ages) and diction.

Anyway, that was a long introduction to Ty Belknap’s response:

There are two quick ways to improve your writing skills: Hire an editor and take a writing class.

There is no feeling quite like the one of a stranger going through your precious manuscript and tearing it to pieces. But it needs to be done if you want to get better.

Rather than waiting for a publishing house accept your manuscript, hire an editor to go through it.

Give that person freedom to edit it critically, then rewrite it with their changes in mind.

The other option is to take a writing class. Rather than an editor ripping apart one piece of your soul, you get to let a teacher rip apart several.

A good teacher will read every paper with a critical eye and give you hints and tips on how to write better.

And, once you stop daydreaming of tearing that person’s eyes out, you can take a real look at their ideas. You may (grudgingly) find that they are right after all.

Read. A Lot.

From Jennifer Glover:

Books on writing. And not just how-tos or writing prompts. But also memoirs from authors that know the pain and joy of a writer’s life.

Recommended Reads:

Trade Publications like The Writer magazine – My dad has started reading my old copies of The Writer.

He started blogging a few years ago and has said since he’s started reading the magazines he’s posting more content and actually enjoying the writing process.

Those magazines turned my dad—who hated writing—into an avid blogger.

Don’t write in a vacuum – The writing process can be daunting, exhausting, and sometimes defeating.

Finding a critique partner AND a writers circle is important.

You need a critique partner who will hold you accountable to your word count and give you super specific feedback on what’s working in your story and what’s not.

Writers circles will immerse you in a community of folks on the same journey as you, will give you constructive feedback, and generally be your cheerleader to keep on writing. Meetup.com is a great source for finding writers circles in your area.

Read often and widely – If you’re an avid reader, you more than likely have specific genres you gravitate towards.

This is fine—in actuality, writers start off mimicking their author’s voice and style until they veer off and find their own. But reading other genres will give you more inspiration as you’re refining your voice and style.

So if you’re a die-hard Sci-Fi fan try reading some Paranormal Romance for inspiration on world building and characterization. If you’re a hopeless romantic, try reading some Mystery & Thrillers for inspiration on pace, plotting, and building tension.

Writing Courses

Interestingly, few respondents recommended writing courses. I can see why, to a degree.

They take time. Money. There are so many different courses available catering to different styles and writing objectives.

That said, taking a writing course has to be one of the best things you can do to improve your writing… if only to ensure your foundation is as strong as it can be.

From James Pollard:

I have to say the best writing course I’ve ever taken is John Carlton’s Simple Writing System.

Because I’m a marketer, I’ve taken a lot of different copywriting courses and John’s stuff is top notch.

Another amazing resource is a book called The Elements of Style by Strunk and White.

Even though it was written 100 years ago, it can still help you become a better writer.

I keep a copy on my desk at all times and re-read it from cover to cover every few months.

Improve Your Writing Skills: The Never Ending Story

Dann Albright is a professional writer constantly trying to improve his craft. He provided some tips that he finds useful:

1. On Writing Well by William Zinsser. It’s a fantastic book that’s packed with advice and examples on how to improve your writing. It’s especially useful for bloggers and content creators. You need to build your own writing voice. Before you do, though, it’s important to start from a solid mechanical base. That’s what On Writing Well teaches.

2. A narrative non-fiction course at a local writer’s workshop. It was all about crafting a story from introduction to conclusion, drawing readers in, and evoking emotions. It was focused on journalists, but it was phenomenally useful. Anything journalism-focused will help writers improve their craft.

3. Anything from Copyhackers. Their Tutorial Tuesdays, articles on their site, the Copy School course . . . any of it. Joanna Wiebe is fantastic.

4. And, of course, the most boring answer, practice. It really, really does take a long time and a lot of writing to develop a strong voice and high-quality writing. Just read and write as much as you possibly can.

The Psychology of Writing

It’s easy to say that you need to practice, practice, practice your writing. It’s a lot harder to put that into, well, practice.

If it isn’t part of your daily routine or professional responsibility, writing can be a difficult thing to fit into your schedule.

Nick Hobson shares his thoughts:

As a former psychologist-turned-digital-marketer, I can’t seem to escape writing—no matter how hard I try.

It’s a love-hate thing at this point.

So the biggest pain point for me (and for a lot of other writers, I gather) is staying motivated and keeping up a good solid writing routine.

Writing doesn’t come naturally in the same way that spoken language does. The reason being, we have an ancient neural system dedicated to speaking, but not for writing.

What that means is that writing can only improve with frequent, consistent practice.

Steven King has a wonderful book, called On Writing, where he lays this thesis out nicely.

So, for me, I need to offload my writing to external systems and processes in order to set up that consistent practice.

For years I did it through manual tracking (excel spreadsheets, simple analytics of word count, etc.).

But now there are automated tools that do most of this coaching and tracking for you.

So far the best I’ve come across is a digital platform called Prolifiko. It’s an online ‘coach’ that allows you to set writing goals and to track them through the use of behavioral nudges and subtle reward incentives.

I believe their user data is quite compelling, with people making some serious leaps and bounds in their writing productivity.

Writing Bots

Following the theme of automation and software designed to improve your writing, Rohan Gupta has a recommendation.

Full transparency: he’s the COO of the company, but I still love exploring the potential AI can play in content creation:

I recommend using QuillBot to help improve your writing.

It provides creative suggestions on sentence structure, and operates as a full-sentence thesaurus.

Perfect for professionals looking to refresh their writing.

Up Next: AI’s Role in Content Creation

So, that last response got me thinking.

Well, more accurately, it got me to DM Christopher Penn, who was already thinking. Specifically, about AI and its role in content creation.

Shocking, I know. Right?

In short? AI has a role to play in content creation, but what that role is, can and/or should be is still a question waiting to be answered.

In many cases, the answer is tied to what you’re trying to do.

As Chris explains, AI’s role is all about three goals:

  1. Acceleration
  2. Accuracy
  3. Automation

What is it you’re trying to get more of or improve?

A big question (not the #SpinSucksQuestion, in this case), could be “where does your content currently sit on the quality scale?”

That’s a hard question to answer. Or own up to, depending on what you really think about it (note: If it sucks, luckily we just provided a number of amazing ways to improve it).

In the absence of that, the question becomes a little broader. And, as a result, it’s next week’s Spin Sucks Question:

Where do you think you should use AI in the content creation process?

Where shouldn’t you use it? 

There are some areas, in my (and Chris Penn’s) opinion, where AI is/can be very helpful.

Curation, for instance. That can be a very time-intensive task, best left to our bot minions (binions? Bonions? Botions? Or would that sound like “bohshons”?), right?

In editing, though, I insist we need a human eye.

How about you?

You can answer here, in our free Spin Sucks Community, or on the socials (use #SpinSucksQuestion so we can find you).

About Mike Connell


Mike Connell is the director of client services at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. He is also a contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks, the leading source for modern PR training, trends, and insights. Find more of Mike's musings on his blog, Communative. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

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