By Allison VanNest, Grammarly.com
New Year’s resolutions usually fail because they aren’t specific enough to be actionable. If your New Year’s resolution is to be a better, faster, and more productive writer in the coming year, here are ten specific things you can do to help you reach your goal:
1. Write every day. This is the standard advice given to all novice writers, but it’s worth repeating. When you incorporate writing, even for 15 or 20 minutes a day, into your regular routine, it will eventually become a habit. Train your brain to expect it at a regular time—with your morning cup of coffee, or right before bed—to maximize the habit-building benefits.
2. Expand your vocabulary. Visit a “Word of the Day” blog (The New York Times has a particularly nice one) and use the day’s word in writing or conversation as many times as you can…without sounding crazy, of course.
3. Be informed. You can’t write what you don’t know, so stay current with news, world events, and trends in your niche. Just don’t confuse research with writing; unless new words are on your page, it doesn’t count.
4. Read widely. In his book On Writing, Stephen King said “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Make a commitment to read daily and explore work outside your comfort zone.
5. Improve Your Grammar. Check out Mignon Fogarty’s Grammar Girl podcast for biweekly updates from the world of words. You can also improve your grammar while you correct it with Grammarly, which explains errors and tracks your progress over time.
6. Wage war on the passive voice. While the passive voice isn’t technically incorrect, it’s often the result of careless writing. Instead of saying “The pen was left on the table,” let the reader know who did the leaving. “Jenny left the pen on the table,” is a stronger sentence because it eliminates the needless mystery.
7. Decimate adverbs. Like the passive voice, there’s nothing wrong with adverbs. Modifying verbs and adjectives, adverbs answer questions about how, where, and when something happened. However, -ly adverbs are often used in place of a more robust verb. For example, instead of writing “Martin walked quickly,” let him run, dash, trot, gallop, or race.
8. Vary your sentence structure. There are four basic types of sentence: simple, complex, compound, and compound-complex. Writers tend to subconsciously stick with their favorite structure, but too many of the same type of sentence in a row can lead to static writing. Try using different colors to highlight the sentence types in a page of your text; you might be surprised at the results.
9. Listen to the masters. Great writers tend to be vocal about the art and craft of writing, so listen to what they have to say.
10. Don’t edit while you write. The first draft doesn’t need to be perfect. Whether you’re writing a blog post or a novel, you still need to get the words down before you can start polishing them. As John Steinbeck advised, “Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on.”
What are your goals as a writer for next year? Let us know in the comments!
About the Author – A self-proclaimed word nerd, Allison VanNest works with Grammarly to help perfect written English. Connect with Allie, the Grammarly team, and more than 875,000 Grammarly Facebook fans at www.facebook.com/grammarly.
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