The profession of writing is one of the most underestimated and underappreciated on the planet. How many times have you heard someone say writing is easy? It’s equated with the simplicity of throwing words about a page with the intent of sounding smart, but writing — real writing — is so much more!
Writers must see two pictures; the finished masterpiece and every small detail creating it. They are tasked with turning otherwise senseless material into something perfectly understandable to the masses; something with purpose and meaning. Today’s professional writers are found in the halls of copywriting, technical writing, and paid for by the client writing. They must excel at their craft, perhaps more so than even the greats of literature.
It’s tough work. It’s downright maddening at times, whether writing marketing copy, non-fiction, creative client ordered content, or fiction. It’s the sort of work that makes you question if Alzheimer’s disease is in your future as you whittle away the hours, immersed in insane brain cell stimulation coupled with the kind of creative frustration that threatens to knock your IQ down a few notches.
The craft isn’t stagnant. It is continually evolving, fluidly rushing, and even the greatest of the great are constantly learning ways to improve their writing. How can you jump into the rush and actively grow your writing skills and techniques?
Tip #1: Read More
One of the key tools wielded like a weapon by every writer is inspiration. We need creative fuel. We need to find our inspiration and keep it, no matter the cost. Without the roar of muse firing our work, we might as well be a blacksmith laboring to shape a horseshoe with no fire — futile.
Reading is the foremost means of sparking creativity. Now, there are two forms of reading:
1: Recreational Reading — Every writer loves to vanish inside the pages of a good book. We can’t help but pick up a novel and plan a short-term vacation inside it. Recreational reading can spark our imagination, offer new prescriptive, and refill our creative fuel store.
2: Reading to Learn — The second form of writing sometimes overlooked by the working writer is reading to learn. Educational reading is crucial to learning new skills and improving upon our growing foundation. For example, if you’re venturing into the world of copywriting, you could be tasked with writing anything from a landing page to an informative article for national distribution. You learn the tone, style, and format behind each type of project by actively finding similar published writing and reading to learn. Analyze everything, from the tone and writing style to the format.
Tip #2: Push beyond Your Comfort Zone
According to LifeHacker.com, there’s a science to breaking out of your comfort zone. As writers, we have rather black and white comfort zones. Certain topics and writing styles are comfortable because we know them well. We’re confident in our abilities to create specific types of writing, and sticking to our comfort zone can crush our attempts to improve our writing.
If you want to gain new and improved writing skills, you must push beyond your comfort zone. You need to experiment with new types of projects, different styles of writing, and try your hand at the tasks that scare you the most. Remember Winston Churchill’s advice:
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill
Tip #3: Think Outside the Box
What is creativity if not the ability to think outside of the box? Says Dictionary.com, “[Creativity] transcend[s] traditional ideas, rules, patterns, [and] relationships…to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, [and] interpretations.”
Grabbing a project by the figurative horns and taking the chance to think outside the box is another way to improve your writing. It grants the opportunity to try something new, something crazy, and learn from the outcome. There’s a 50/50 chance of failing, but there’s a 100% chance of learning and improving.
Tip #4: Use an Editing Program
We’ve talked a good deal about the creative side of writing, but what about the technical side? If you’re an English writer, you need at least a basic understanding of the technical aspect of English in order to write well. As your knowledge and skills grow, you’ll begin to understand when and where you can break the rules to drive home a point, capture attention, or add creative flare.
How can a writer grow in technical writing knowledge? Believe it or not, a computer can be your best friend. An editing program can mechanically catch possible technical errors, and then you can learn how to improve your writing by fixing those errors.
One of the best editing programs we’ve found is Grammarly. The grammar checker by Grammarly is almost an interactive editor, but it lacks the human touch. It’s free to use and there are benefit packed paid options available for the professional writer. The program can be accessed via webpage or through a Microsoft Word Plugin (for paid accounts only). Each error comes with a detailed explanation, which aids in expanding your knowledge.
Tip #5: Brave a Critique
The final tip we have to improve your writing is perhaps the most frightening. If you really want to find your weaknesses, brave a critique.
Do not ask an adoring fan (family, friend, or otherwise) to critique your work. They will see only the positives and be too blinded by admiration to point out the negatives. In contrast, don’t ask someone who has no writing background to critique your work. They will likely be overly critical, creating unneeded frustration as you attempt to explain and argue the points they misunderstand due to their impression that writing is easy.
Brave a critique from someone in the industry. Any number of online and offline communities stand poised to offer critical reviews of your work, and most of the folks in these groups have some amount of experience. For the truly professional critique, seek out an experienced editor.
So there’s your quick guide to becoming a better writer. How about it? Are you up for the challenge?