No one is born a perfect writer. Everyone has to learn and improve their skills. Even after you’ve finished school, you should still work to improve your writing skills. Fortunately, there are plenty of easy and accessible ways to improve your skills. Note that I didn’t say quick. Any sort of improvement requires a time commitment. However, if you’re willing to put in the time and effort, and learn to curb procrastination, the result can be clearer, better work that attracts publishers, clients, and additional work opportunities. Here are sixteen ways you can boost your writing skills.
Take a class
There are online and offline classes. Some are free and some charge a fee. They may be offered by community colleges, extension agencies, libraries, or you may be able to audit a college course. You don’t have to go for a full degree. Identify the areas in which you need help and sign up for some instruction.
Join a writer’s group
Good writer’s groups give you constructive feedback on your work (and give you the chance to offer the same to other writers). They can point out mistakes and things that aren’t clear, as well as help with structural issues.
Find a mentor
If you can find another writer who is willing to act as your mentor, this can be a valuable relationship. He or she can offer suggestions for your work and help you through the publication process.
This is the best way to improve your writing. All artists get better with practice. With every new work, work to address the things that gave you problems the last time. The more you write, the faster you’ll improve and the more you’ll grow as a writer.
Master revision and editing
The freedom of writing first drafts is fun but the work isn’t finished until it’s been revised and polished. You cannot be a good writer unless you master revision and learn how to edit your work.
Read your work out loud
When you read aloud you see mistakes that your eyes just glanced over. You also hear if your dialogue sounds real or stilted, or if your work flows smoothly from sentence to sentence and topic to topic.
Learn the rules
Some writers claim that their work is “groundbreaking” and that they don’t have to follow the rules, much less bother to learn them. The most successful rule breakers are the writers who first learned the rules and then learned how to break them for effect. They aren’t ignorant of the rules and their knowledge makes them stronger writers, even when it seems like they threw all the rules out the window. Consciously breaking the rules is different from not knowing them.
Reading exposes you to different styles of writing and lets you see how a good writer constructs their work. You’ll also benefit from reading bad writing. (Plus it gives you that, “I can do better than this,” boost.)
Don’t rely on your spelling/grammar checker
These are helpful tools, but they aren’t always right. A spellchecker won’t tell you if you’ve used the word correctly, only that you’ve spelled it correctly. A grammar checker may be too overzealous, leading to constructions that might be technically correct but which ruin the tone of your work. Or it might miss something altogether. Use an old-fashioned dictionary and thesaurus and learn how to edit your own work.
Rewrite old work
Take an old piece and rewrite it. Not only is this practice, it gives you the chance to see how you’ve improved since you first wrote the piece.
Rewrite the work of other writers
You don’t want to do this for publication because you’re teetering close to plagiarism. However, rewriting good work lets you deconstruct the sentences and construction so you can better see how it all works together. You can also experiment with forms (turning prose into poetry, for example), or turn a tragedy into a comedy. It’s also good writing practice.
Attend a writer’s conference/workshop/retreat
Conferences, workshops, and retreats can offer seminars, quiet time for writing, critique groups, or classes. When looking for events to attend, look closely at which ones will offer you the most benefit before you spend your money.
You don’t have to outline like you did in school with Roman numerals and headings, but it can be helpful to organize your thoughts before you begin to write. This may be as simple as writing, “This happens, then this, then that,” on a sheet of paper, or you might want to write some scenes or topics on index cards and fit them in the correct order before you begin. A little organization before you begin can lead to a cleaner draft and a story that makes more sense.
Invest in your writing
There are plenty of free resources to help you improve your skills, but at some point you’re likely going to have to be willing to put forth some money. Good reference books, conference fees, and tuition all require money. Set aside some savings and invest in your work when necessary.
Expand your vocabulary
Take the time to improve your vocabulary. The more words you know, the more tools you have to work with. Look up a new word every day or use a “Word a Day” calendar or screensaver. If you run into a word you don’t know while you’re reading, or if a speaker uses a word you don’t know, look it up.
The more informed you are about your industry, world events, or writing in general, the more choices you have about what to write and how to write it. This will keep you from writing the same things over and over again. You’ll also be able to write more authoritatively.
Improvement is always possible. Even if you think you can’t get better, you can. To get the most “bang for your buck,” identify which areas of your writing are giving you the most trouble and look for resources that will help you correct them.
(Photo courtesy of Prashanth dotcompals)