While it might seem as easy as sitting down at a desk, cracking your knuckles, and flipping open your laptop, becoming a better writer is hard work. Sometimes the words don't come, ideas come out messy, points get lost or bogged down, information comes out dry, anecdotes fall apart — so much can go wrong! But the one thing to keep in mind is that to be a writer, you don't have to be one of those romantic types that was born with the gift of storytelling. You don't need a background story where you've been writing novels ever since the second grade and that you're a closet maverick when it comes to picking out and stringing words together.
Writing is a skill set, and just like with any other hobby or skill you want to learn, all it takes is practice, dedication, and a willingness to mess up for the sake of learning. If you write every single day like you would practice a sport or an instrument, then you will get better. Fact. But now the question is: How do you practice? Below are seven tips on how to become a better writer — everything from how to better organize your structures while practicing to how to perfect your voice. Now grab your pen, and go!
1. Always Have A Goal In Mind
When you write, you always have a point you want to get across. You're not just attacking the paper with a stream of consciousness, rather you're approaching the task with the intention of inspiring, educating, or rousing some sort of emotion. First suss out what you want to do with your words, and then let that color the structure of your work.
Business writer Jeff Haden at entrepreneur site Inc. offered, "It sounds selfish, but when you write you want something: To educate, to instruct, to convince, to sell, to build a relationship, etc. (If you don’t want to accomplish something there’s no reason to write.) Determine exactly what you hope to accomplish. That drives everything." Figure out what the goal of your piece is, and let that dictate what type of voice you'll put on through your work.
2. Organize Your First Draft Into Bullet Points
Rather than diving in with a handful of thoughts and letting them arrange themselves as they may, first get your thoughts down into bullet points. That way you can see what points you're trying to make written out clearly, and it will help you tighten up your thesis. Once you have everything written down in structured sections, you can weigh what helps support your goal and what veered too far away from it, letting you cut it.
Haden explained, "Roughly speaking, use lists (bullets or numbers) when you have discreet points to make. Lists make the process of writing a lot easier." This will help you avoid sounding like you're all over the place.
3. Channel One Of Your Favorite Writers
This doesn't mean to copy their style or try to use their voice. Rather, read a couple of articles (or chapters, or poems) of your favorite writer and channel what makes them so great. Do they seem excited about their subject? Do they have a very personal, conversational way of delivering their information? Do they introduce topics in an off-beat manner that grips you? Do they offer points that are ingenious and have you coming back for more? Nail down what it is that you love about them, and try to offer up your own version of that to your readers.
Alexandra Franzen, communication expert and contributor to career development site The Muse, recommended, "If you’re struggling with a sensitive piece of writing where hitting the right emotional tone is essential, try channeling one of your personal heroes." A little inspiration from the greats will have you thinking and perfecting.
4. Keep Your Audience In Mind
Who are you writing for? Millennials, young professionals, people who are looking for inspiration, people looking for a laugh? Depending who your target audience is, your piece will come out differently, so keep them at the forefront of your mind at all times. Give them what they were looking for (or would hope for) when they started reading your publication, and try your hardest to connect with them through your words.
Author and columnist Steve Tobak at Entrepreneur advised, "Everyone makes a big deal out of storytelling these days, but it’s just a means to an end — a way to relate to folks. When you genuinely connect with people, they remember what you said ... or wrote." Write with the reader in mind and try to satisfy what you think they need from you. That way you'll focus on connection just as much as the structure of your words.
5. Get Feedback
Scary right? But you have to do it — hand over one of your pieces to another professional and prepare yourself to hear the good and bad, but mostly the bad. You want to hear the bad! That's the only way you'll learn how to improve and what you need to strengthen and work on. Ask them what they think about your voice, your structure, how you organize your thoughts, and how you connect with readers through your paragraphs.
Lifestyle writer Leo Babuta from Lifehack suggested, "Get someone to read over your stuff — preferably a good writer or editor. Someone who reads a lot, and can give you honest and intelligent feedback. And then listen." You're not allowed to feel offended, hurt, or miffed at the answers — this is for your self growth!
6. Write Every Single Day
Writing is just like any other skill you're trying to learn, and it takes constant and deliberate practice. Would you learn the piano if you tinkered with the keys once every two weeks? Nope. Be diligent with it and write every day, whether if it's for three hours or a quick 30 minutes. Don't let yourself become rusty.
Career writer Maggie Zhang from Business Insider explained, "If you fail to write consistently, the excitement for your idea may begin to fade." Don't give yourself breaks from this routine, no matter how tired, lazy, or uninspired you feel. Even if you sit down and just write straight crap for 20 minutes — at least one sentence in that stream will be a winner.
7. Become An Avid Reader
How are you supposed to know what good writing is if you never read? The more pieces you consume, then the more ideas you're exposed to, the more styles you come across, and the more techniques you learn. That will help shape your own style and teach you how to grow and become better.
Business Insider quoted Stephen King and said, "Read widely, and constantly work to refine and redefine your own work as you do so." You learn about how to polish up your own style when you read other people's works, so get to it. Turn off the TV and dive into a book.
While it takes diligence and commitment, becoming a better writer isn't something that's impossible or reserved for a certain type of creative. You can totally do it, too. So grab your notebook and get started!