3 Simple Tips for Becoming a Remarkable Writer
You want to be a better writer.
Well, that’s great, because according to Josh Bernoff, “bad writing costs American businesses over $400 billion every year. Yep, you read that right. $400 billion.
What in the world?
Bernoff says, “Think about it. You start your day wading through first-draft emails from colleagues who fail to come to the point. You consume reports that don’t make clear what’s happening or what your management should do about it. The websites, marketing materials, and press releases from your suppliers are filled with jargon and meaningless superlatives.”
So, what can you do to guarantee that you won’t join the overabundance of mediocre writers?
The good news is that here are things that you can do. And even better, these things are backed by science and research.
So, let’s dive right in.
1. Read. Voraciously.
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time to write. Simple as that.” -Stephen King
If there were a magical solution to ensure good writing, this would be it.
Reading is essential to good writing. There’s no way around it; if you aren’t a devoted reader, you’re never going to be a good writer.
Think about an opera singer who didn’t listen to music. Could she still sing? Of course. But, would she ever be a great singer? That would be pretty tough.
If you are going to be great, you need to study your craft.
And it’s no different from writing.
When you read, you begin to notice the difference between poor writing and great writing through the subtle nuances of language.
Reading exposes you to a variety of forms, styles, voices, tones, and genres. It broadens your horizons and expands your literary world.
When you read, you encounter a variety of writers, many who will challenge you to improve your writing skills.
What’s more, reading makes you a better communicator as you make connections between your own emotions and experiences.
And if all that isn’t enough for you to jump in your car and drive to your nearest bookstore, here’s some more food for thought:
Studies suggest how reading has an extremely positive effect on your brain that includes improved functioning, higher connectivity, and increased blood flow that lasts for days!
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Other beneficial impacts of reading include:
- Keeping your brain fresh
- Relieving stress
- Increasing compassion
- Expanding your horizons
- Enhancing your empathy
- Broadening your imagination
At this point, you’re probably wondering, what should you read?
The best advice comes from William Faulkner, “Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write.”
The simple act of reading something, anything, 30 minutes every day, will make you a better writer.
2. Practice. Relentlessly.
“The only way to learn to write is to write.” Peggy Teeters
It’s pretty safe to say that to master a skill, practice does make perfect. Few people are “born with” a talent.
Of course, some people have a natural aptitude for sports, music, or art.
Are there people who have a natural, born ability for writing? Probably. But that isn’t all that important at the end of the day.
Think about Michael Phelps. Even with his natural-born talents that include physical strength and height, Michael Phelps still practiced vigorously never missing swim training for 1,800 days in a row.
Writing isn’t much different than swimming. It’s a skill that must be practiced. And if you’re willing to put in the time, you will get better.
Even if you believe (or have been told) that you’re a poor writer, you can still learn to be a good writer. In fact, you can even learn to be a great writer.
The idea that only certain people can learn to write is simply a lie. It’s just not true.
And if you’re one of the people who believe this lie, you need to let it go. Right now.
All it takes is the commitment of putting in time and energy practicing the craft of writing.
And practicing writing, just like practicing any skill, is the act of repetition. If you practice the skill, over and over, day after day, you will get better. To be a great writer, you need to develop a wide range of skills, including coming up with ideas, choosing the right words, and improving your voice and tone.
When you practice writing, you’re building the muscles in your brain, just as an athlete would build the muscles in their body.
However, don’t make the mistake of only going through the motions of writing. It’s not about mindless repetition.
For instance, a piano player isn’t going to slam out random notes on the piano mindlessly. When she practices, she is going to focus on a specific skill that will make her a better pianist. She might run through scales or practice her timing with a metronome.
That same idea should apply to your writing practice. Writing, like playing the piano, is a complex skill. Therefore, before you sit down and write, decide what skill you want to improve. Perhaps you want to eliminate your passive voice or get rid of most of those useless adverbs.
Writing practice doesn’t need to be complicated. Anyone with the drive and motivation can do it.
Just remember that any skill is going to take practice.
As Ernest Hemingway once said, “It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.”
3. Revise. Mercilessly.
“I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.” – Truman Capote
Unfortunately, most writers spend a limited amount of time on revision.
Many writers admit to spending no time revising their writing. Yikes!
But revising is where the magic happens. It’s where poor writing is modified, fine-tuned, and polished until it shines. As Emma Hill said, “Editing gives the story color.” I couldn’t agree more.
Loads of studies also stress the importance of revision. A study from the University of Albany found significant differences between skilled and unskilled revisers.
Skilled revisers were able to improve the overall quality of their writing by spending more time in the process of revision. However, unskilled writers often don’t revise at all.
Unskilled writers only spend time on surface-level changes like grammar, spelling, and punctuation that don’t noticeably impact the overall quality of the writing.
On the other hand, skilled writers spend their time on more profound changes that influence not only the content, but also the structure and meaning.
Many writers don’t realize that there are three aspects of revising: proofreading, editing, and rewriting. And all three are separate and distinct forms of revising.
Here’s a quick guide:
- Rewriting involves looking at your content on a structural level. Is everything organized appropriately, is there content that needs to be removed or added? Does the piece make sense?
- Editing is all about prose and style. Are the tone and voice consistent? Do the sentences flow logically?
- Proofreading looks at the technical details of the content. Are the spelling and grammar correct? Is the formatting right? How about subject-verb agreements?
The rewriting process can be pretty brutal, and it’s probably why so many writers shy away from it.
Stephen King advises, “When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.”
Another problem with revising is that it’s challenging for us to be objective about our writing.
The best revising involves feedback from an objective source. This helps us understand what is working and what is not working to the reader.
However, even if you don’t have an outside reader to give you editorial feedback, don’t throw in the towel.
The best way to revise your work is to look at it with fresh eyes. That means once you’ve completed the first draft, you should put it away for at least a day.
When you take it back out, you’ll be reading it with new eyes, and that’s going to make a huge difference. The work that you thought was so creative and ground-breaking as you wrote it may now seem a huge and utter embarrassment. (We’ve all been there!)
Or, on the other hand, the work that you thought was beyond repair, may now have potential as you look at it with fresh eyes.
The bottom line is that if you put the time into revising your work, you will become a better writer.
There you have it! Three simple tips that are guaranteed to make you a better writer.
Read. Practice. Revise.
Now it’s up to you what to do about it.