I doubt there’s a freelance writer in the world who wouldn’t benefit from improving their writing. Although taking continuing education classes or workshops on writing help, there’s a more consistent approach that I like.
Essentially it involves four steps or actions: read more, write more, rewrite more and proofread more. I guess I could call it the Four Mores, or package it with chocolate… oh never mind.
So if you want to improve your writing, do these four mores. In fact, make them a habit.
Is it possible to become a good writer if you don’t also enjoy reading and read lots? I may be wrong, but I doubt it. Reading and writing seem to feed each other nicely and easily.
Read enough, my theory goes, and by osmosis you’ll pick up words, ideas, sentence structure, and a sense of how grammar works even if you can’t ever diagram a sentence. If you read widely you’ll read stuff that’s excellent and stuff that’s pretty awful and everything in between. Your mind will begin to be able to tell the difference which will inform your own writing in ways that will make your own writing better. And yes, reading the backs of milk cartons counts – so do signs, comic books, blogs and, of course books of all types.
It’s really hard to get worse at something you practice and this includes writing. As a general rule, the more you write the better your writing will become. This assumes, of course, that your taking reasonable care with your writing. Reasonable care doesn’t mean an unreasonable drive for perfection. There’s no evidence procedure for achieving perfection, so give it up and just write.
Chances are the more you write the faster your writing will go, until you reach a point where you’re being sloppy. That doesn’t work either. That’s one of the problems with content mills – you have to write so fast to earn any sort of living you end up writing poorly.
Writing well does take some thought and some time. Be willing to give it that and don’t get stuck polishing. Just write.
Not so by the way, Write to Done has a good article on both these mores. I was tempted to use the opening quote.
Rewriting, aka editing whatever it is that you wrote is crucial. One of the things I’m certain of is that there is no piece or writing that has ever been written that couldn’t be improved. Which isn’t an argument for perfection – just the recognition that writing needs to be edited and rewritten.
It’s in the rewriting that the piece, however long or shot, begins to sing. My favorite rewriting tip is to read it out loud. Your ear will hear what your eye misses.
The fourth way to improve your writing is to proof it closely. Also known as copy editing (or copyediting – both are correct it seems), this is where you make sure everything is spelled correctly, the punctuation is correct and the apostrophes are all in the right place. Although you may pick up a sentence that isn’t right in this process the intent is more to make sure all the nit-picky details are right.
If you’re a creative speller like I am, the best tip I can give you is to read the piece backward, word-by-word. It helps.
There you have it – the four best ways to improve your writing.
Do you have another favorite way? It would be great if your shared it with us in comments.
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