Writing is easier than you think, but if you're struggling, I understand. It does not come easy to me either. In fact, on some days, I find writing to be very hard.
That doesn't mean I can't write, and it doesn't mean you can't either.
So, let's begin by taking the can't out of I want to be a writer, but I can't write. You can write.
Think about everything you already write. For example, you may write emails, to-do lists, social media posts, notes to yourself and others, etc. You might write short stories, or maybe you're working on a novel.
Even if you write very little, you can read. So you understand the basics of writing, and you know what good writing looks like.
What you may not know, however, is that good writing rarely starts out that way.
British poet and historical novelist Robert Graves said, “There is no good writing, only good rewriting.” And Pulitzer Prize novelist James Michener once wrote, “I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter.”
Most of what you read is a finished product. It becomes less intimidating when you realize it has been rewritten multiple times, sometimes by numerous people.
For example, as a content publisher, many articles I publish are written by a writer and then sent to an editor. When I get them, they'll go through another review and potential edit before publishing.
It's also important to know that writing is a skill like any other. It's like playing an instrument or a sport. Indeed, some have more natural talent than others, but everyone can learn. So wherever you are right now with your writing, you can get better.
Here are 8 tips to becoming a better writer.
1. Write Something Every Day
The old saying, “practice makes perfect,” sums up this tip. Commit to writing something every day. One way to do this is just to write anything. And I mean anything.
When I first started journaling, I literally wrote out the internal dialogue that was going on in my head. It was a mess. But sooner or later, I'd land on some topics that obviously interested me even if I wasn't aware when I sat down to write.
Once you have an interest to write about, add trigger words like who, what, where, why, and how.
You can also write an email to a friend that you have no intention of sending. Tell them something you've always wanted to tell them, and then delete it. Or, if you're brave, hit send.
Writing is like a conversation on paper (or on the screen). The more you write, the easier and less scary it becomes.
2. Read More Every Day
Read, read, read! Whether you are on a journey to write the next bestseller, master social media posts, or become the best blogger out there, read more and read everything!
Read fiction and nonfiction, newspaper and magazine articles, posters, and other narratives. Reading will broaden your horizons and improve your know-how. It also expands your vocabulary, opens the door to writing styles, and gives you new ideas.
Read the backs of cereal boxes, recipes, scripts, emails, blogs, and more. Read everything you can because the more diverse you become, the easier it will be to write.
And you can do this deliberately. In the same way you would practice with a purpose (for example, repetitive drills in sports vs. playing a game or musical scales vs. jamming with friends), you can read with purpose.
Go to your local library and check out two books. One about a topic or author that interests you, the other about something you know nothing about. Write down what you liked and disliked about each book and why.
3. Journal Every Day
Start a journal and write in it for an hour each day or as much time as you can spare. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs and writers keep a journal to get things off their minds and onto paper.
Journaling will help you organize your thoughts, remember ideas and help you improve your writing skills. Write what you did that day, what you would like to accomplish, what you are grateful for, and any random thoughts.
Write about song lyrics that inspire you, a poem, or a memory that pops into your mind. Remember, a journal is for your eyes only, so be honest and personal.
You can refer to our journal entries for ideas, inspiration, and unexpected insights into your thinking process.
And consider that some authors (such as Anne Frank and Mark Twain) published their journals and became bestsellers. Maybe one day you'll do the same.
4. Learn A New Word Every Day
You're never too old to learn something new, and a good exercise for any writer is to learn a new word every day. Pick a word and write something about it. At the end of the year, you'll have learned 365 new words.
Now, learning a new word every day won't make you a literary genius? But, a stronger vocabulary will improve your confidence and make it easier to articulate your thoughts.
Pick up a good old-fashioned dictionary, open to a random page, and pick a new word. Or use Google to search “word of the day.” You can also download word-of-the-day apps.
In addition to improving your confidence, adding new words to your vocabulary expands your mind and exposes you to new ideas. At the end of the week, do a quick review of the words you've learned and incorporate them into a few sentences.
This is one of those deliberate practices that's quick to do but pays big dividends over months and years.
5. Use Templates
Create simple templates and prompts as road maps for your writing. Even the best authors struggle with a blank screen and often use frameworks that help them get started. I also use templates.
After hundreds of articles, I can tell you I would have gone crazy having to start each one from a blank screen, just working my way down the page word by word, sentence by sentence. But I've done it, and it's tedious.
So instead, I start out with a generic template for the type of article I want to write, followed by topic-specific points and questions for a complete outline.
From there, it's a lot easier to go through each section one by one than it is to swallow the entire article whole.
The exact process applies to all forms of writing and will help you focus and keep track of your thoughts.
6. Keep A Notebook With You Wherever You Go
You want to be a writer, so you're familiar with thoughts popping in and out of your head all day. They may come out of nowhere, or they may be prompted by a nearby conversation or something that inspires you?
If you're like me, you'll forget most of those thoughts, so keep a small notebook and pen nearby and jot them down when they happen. Or use a notetaking app on your phone to capture those ideas.
It's a good idea to keep a notebook by your bedside as well. A novel I'm currently outlining (not sure I'll get to the actual writing) came from an idea that woke me up in the middle of the night.
Ideas come and go twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Most lose their luster by the time you go back and read them, but many turn out to be gems that make great articles, book concepts, names for characters, and so on.
7. Write In A Conversational Style
As mentioned above, write like you are having a conversation or telling a story to a friend. Conversational writing is easier to read, relatable, and genuine. And, because of the internet, it's the kind of writing we've all become accustomed to.
Of course, it would be great to write a literary masterpiece like The Great Gatsby or To Kill a Mockingbird, but you don't have to. Instead, write for today's audience.
Use small digestible words and smaller sentences. Use simple vocabulary everyone understands and steer clear of clichés, jargon, and complex terms that you'd never hear in ordinary everyday conversation.
Many new writers often think good writing uses pretentious words and rhythmic verses, as though it were written in old English. But that's not how we talk today, so it shouldn't be how you write.
You will develop your own style, and your writing will begin to flow. Don't make it complicated for complicated's sake. Your goal is to communicate ideas, events, characters, etc., and the more efficient you are with your words, the better.
A good practice exercise is to rewrite another author's work in your own voice, using fewer words than the original. This is difficult with a good author's work because they are masters at communicating efficiently.
8. Rewrite, Rewrite, Rewrite
Rome was not built in a day, and neither was the first draft of a bestseller. The key to improving as a writer is to write, edit, rewrite, edit, rewrite… and well, you get the idea.
As mentioned earlier, there is no good writing, only good rewriting.
Very few authors, if any, rework every paragraph to perfection as they go. They'd never get past the first chapter.
Instead, they lay down an ugly rough draft first and rework it repeatedly until it becomes a thing of beauty. So don't be afraid of your first draft, and don't dwell on it. Like sculptures carved from clay, good writing is revealed through revision.
It's also a good idea to put some time and distance between drafts. Step away from it for a day and rework it with fresh eyes.
9. Experiment And Brainstorm
Get creative and experiment. One of the best ways to get the words flowing on paper is to brainstorm. Write down anything and everything that comes to mind, even if it doesn't make sense.
Let loose and write freely with no rules. Ignore spelling and grammar. Forget structure. Just go where the words take you.
10. Read Your Writing Aloud
Make a point to read your writing aloud. This is one of the most effective ways to notice odd sentences, typos, awkward sentence structure, etc.
If you're brave enough to share it, you can have a friend read it to you. Or, like many writers, you can use free text to speech software instead. When you hear what you've written being read back to you, it'll give you another perspective and help you better understand what works and what doesn't work.
11. Ask For Feedback
This is the most challenging thing for writers. It's also intimidating, but as time goes by, you'll appreciate the feedback from your family, friends, and peers.
Be careful, though. There are many non-writers happy to tear your work apart. You can listen to their opinion, but you don't have to let them influence you.
If you have the opportunity to share your work with an experienced writer or reader, though, they can be very helpful.
12. Take A Writing Class
So far, all of these tips are things you can do on your own. However, the most obvious tip to becoming a better writer is to take classes from an experienced writer.
Direction, input, and, dare I say, criticism from an expert is probably the best thing you can do for your writing. Good writing classes and courses are also associated with communities of writers going through many of the same challenges you are.
Instructors and peers can identify areas you need to work on and point out the elements of writing you are already good at. You can also take writing classes to work on specific areas of writing like punctuation and grammar, for example, how to do research, and how to bring dialogue to life.
Expensive, full-semester college classes are unnecessary (although recommended if you have the resources).
For most of us, online courses, webinars, conferences, and even shorter presentations like Q&As can be helpful. There are also podcasts, online videos, and blogs devoted to strengthening your writing skills. Don't overlook this tip if you truly want to become a better writer.
13. Get A Mentor
I know, finding a mentor is easier said than done. Traditionally, a mentor has been someone you respect and look up to in your industry. They agree to help you, and if there is something you can offer in return, there's a mutual exchange. Of course, not all mentors require or even ask for something in return.
If you know someone who would make a good mentor, that's great. If you don't, though, that's okay too. With today's ability to connect online, there are informal mentorships you can leverage.
For example, you can ask questions in writer forums and groups. Being an active member in these groups can often lead to a substantive membership. But even if they don't, you are still getting many of the same questions answered that you would ask a personal mentor.
Be open to new information. If you follow a particular writer or writing instructor online, get on their mailing list. Many send out regular emails with tips and advice.
14. Don't Give Up
Writing is challenging, even for authors and professional writers. But it's worth all of your hard work. Especially if you've got a story that needs to be told.
Some days the words flow easily, and others, like today (for me), they don't. That's okay. As frustrating as it can be, the key is to keep writing.