Good writing doesn’t just happen. The most successful freelance writers work at their craft, recognizing that their success depends on communicating well with their readers no matter what they are writing.
Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to improve your writing, and that improvement can happen quickly.
Here are 13 tips that will improve your writing. I know because these tips help improve mine.
- Read lots - Reading lots and widely will improve your writing. Reading improves your vocabulary and expands your knowledge which you then draw on when you write. We also pick up cues about good writing even if we aren’t quite conscious of the fact, and we emulate those. 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.” There’s always a way to squeeze reading into your life.
- Write lots – It’s really hard to get worse at something you do a lot. When you write a lot you’re practicing your skill, just like a musician or a runner.
- Give yourself permission to write shitty rough drafts – Hemingway (may have) said it first, “The first draft of anything is shit.” The point is to write that draft, not write a perfect draft or even a good draft. They are called rough drafts for a reason. Turn yourself lose on the first and even second drafts. Get it down – anyway, any how.
- Active voice is usually better than passive – The active voice (I love my cat) has an immediacy that generally is way more engaging than the passive voice (My cat is loved by me). I find that reading a piece out loud is a good way for me to hear when I’ve moved into the passive voice. Which isn’t to say you should never use the passive voice – again, the goal is to communicate clearly and in a way people will find easy to read.
- Strong words are better than week words – this gets fairly subjective (adding ‘fairly’ weakens the clause). Eliminating qualifiers will strengthen your writing. It’s often a case of showing rather than telling that brings the strength. Consider: she ran a long ways vs. the longer she ran the more she sweat or after the first mile the runner’s high kicked in. Again, reading the piece out loud will help you eliminate weaknesses in your writing. And notice, qualifiers aren’t all bad.
- Eliminate very - Pet peeve warming. You could eliminate every use of very and see an immediate improvement in your writing. It’s a weak, weasel word in my not so humble opinion on the subject.
- Be careful of cliches - the problem with cliches is they are anything but original, at least now, but at one time they were cutting edge. They’re overused because they express an idea clearly. Sometimes a cliche is the best way to express something; often it’s lazy writing.
- Vary the length of your sentences – this one seems obvious, except it isn’t. We can get into a pattern of always using short sentences or always using long ones, just by habit. Make it a practice to scan your work with sentence length in mind; this will let you catch and correct a pattern you might not have noticed.
- Start with your strongest idea – particularly in articles. Readers want to know what they’re getting – strong headlines and strong openings reassure readers it’s worth their time to read what you wrote.
- Don’t depend on your muse – it’s wonderful to write when you’re inspired but you won’t be inspired every day. Learn how to write well even when you’re bored. You’ll be amazed at your increased productivity.
- Define your reader – knowing who you’re writing for will help you target your writing for that person. You’re not writing for everyone and that idea only dilutes what you want to say.
- Short paragraphs work best on the web – Screens are hard to read. Short paragraphs make it easier for your web reader to stick with you.
Consciously working to improve your writing will not only make your writing better, but you’ll be more engaged as well. When you’re enjoying the writing process, chances are readers will like your writing.
Which tip do you like the best? What did I leave out? How do you keep improving your writing? Let’s talk about it in comments.
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