12 Most Stupidly Simple Ways to Improve Your Writing
So many people see writing as a fearsome, loathed task — sort of like a root canal without freezing.
I don’t attribute this attitude to a lack of writing talent in our society. Instead, I think it stems from an inadequate school system. Did you ever have a teacher address the writing process with you? I thought not.
So, here are 12 incredibly easy ways to improve your writing.
1. Spend more time thinking before you write
It’s idiotic for us to sit in front of our screens and stare at them until beads of blood form on our foreheads. This is no way to write!
Instead, step away from your desk. Go for a walk or a bike ride. Go to a coffee shop. Give your mind the time and space to think about what you want to say before you try saying it.
2. Make yourself a mind map
Mind mapping is a magic bullet for many writers. It’s not about organizing; it’s about inspiring yourself. Mind mapping, which is far superior to outlining, gives you access to the deepest, most creative part of your brain. Learn how to do it. (It’s easy!)
3. Start small
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! Writing is like that too.
Don’t scare yourself with the size of your project. Instead, start with a teeny tiny bites. The Japanese call this the “kaizen technique.” Use a timer to challenge yourself to write for only five minutes. Then congratulate yourself for defeating the blank page.
4. Write five days per week
If we do something infrequently, we’re likely to become a bit scared by it. Instead of writing infrequently, in marathon-length sessions, produce a little bit every working day. Make writing like brushing your teeth — something you do automatically, without thinking about it.
5. Stop editing while you write
Editing while you write is such a seductive habit! But it makes about as much sense as washing the dishes while you’re still eating dinner. Always write a rough draft first; edit later. If you have difficulty doing this, hang a dish towel over your monitor so you can’t even see your words. Seriously!
6. Write shorter sentences
Today’s readers prefer sentences that are an average of somewhere between 14 and 18 words. The good news for you? It’s easier to write shorter sentences than longer ones. As well, when the sentences have fewer clauses, you’re less likely to wrestle with sticky grammatical problems.
7. Copy others
Take a published work — written by an author you respect and admire — and copy part of it word for word. Don’t pass it off as your own work; this isn’t about plagiarizing. The purpose is to help you absorb the voice of another, more experienced writer. You don’t have to do it in your own handwriting, although some will argue that you’ll feel a deeper connection with the writer if you do. Me? I use my computer.
8. Schedule “incubation” time
Before you can edit your own writing you need a break from it. Have you planned time for this? Without scheduling, it will never happen! Be sure to allow your writing one full day to sit alone, undisturbed, on your hard drive. Once you’ve had this break, you’ll be in far better shape to edit.
9. Take advantage of readability stats
Whenever I’m ready to edit a piece I’ve written, the first thing I do is run it through readability statistics. This handy tool is available (at no charge) in all versions of Word — consult your Help menu to learn how to activate it, or use this online version. I always try to write at a grade 7 to 9 level. (This column is at grade 7.42 on the Coleman-Liau index.)
10. Read your writing aloud
Reading your own writing — aloud — at least once, is essential. It not only allows you to hear and improve the rhythm of your writing, it also ensures that you’re reading slowly enough to perform a meaningful edit. When we’ve written something, we know what we intended to say. It takes a slow, careful read to ensure our execution matches our intent.
11. Edit more than once
You’ll do a better job of self-editing if you go through your piece many times, looking for something different at each pass. Try one edit to eliminate clichés. Another to wipe our jargon. A third to check for rhythm. It’s easier — and more effective — to concentrate on one task at a time.
12. Read more good writing
Writers I coach are often surprised when I ask them what they’re reading. This isn’t just friendly chitchat. I want to ensure that they’re reading excellent writing — of the sort they’d be proud to produce themselves. This is important because we all unconsciously emulate the style of the writers we read. Read bad writing and you will write badly. Read top-notch work and your own writing will inevitably improve.
How can you make your writing better? Any other tips for us?
Featured image courtesy of Cynthia Ahrens licensed via Creative Commons.