For every thing you’re good at, there will always be someone who is better — that’s just how the world works. However, there is a bit of cruel comfort in the notion that there are plenty of people who aren’t better than you at any given thing, too. Because I’m sitting here attempting to give you advice on how to become a better writer does not mean I automatically think I’m better than you. The fact that I used the word thing twice in the first 50 words of this post would send my AP Language Arts teacher’s right eyelid into a twitching fit — the woman despised the word, and fervently implored that no one in my class ever use it. But whatever, that just brings me to my next point that for every thing you’re good at — and you may be dang good — someone out there will still feel otherwise. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness despite the crushing weight of personal expectations and the insatiable desire to please others” is the resounding motto of our country, after all.
OK, enough of the pleasantries and unnecessary backstory — I’ll make an example out of myself with my first tip:
- Be concise. Get to the point — because you hopefully have one — with everything you write within a reasonable amount of time. Stringing readers along for paragraphs and paragraphs of nonsensical nuances and metaphors can be fun sometimes, but, chances are, they may get tired of reading and just quit. The amount of brevity (another word for concise) you will need to exhibit will depend on the nature of the written work and the subject, especially if you are constrained by a word count.
- Vary your sentence structure. This may not be something you have ever really considered. Varying your sentence structure and intermingling side notes and short, punchy sentences can really make your writing more special. It takes a seasoned writer to master long sentences with multiple clauses (not to mention using commas and punctuation correctly), but this doesn’t mean that you can’t do it, too. Knowing where exactly to place commas can be determined by using the next tip.
- Read your work aloud. Even if you are only able to mutter it under your breath, it will help you. Reading your work aloud can determine where you would naturally pause, and thus, where you should place commas. This will also point out confusing sentences or areas where you may get too wordy. This also usually helps point out if you missed important words or made a typo that spell check didn’t catch.
- Read your work from the end to the beginning. If you are working on a particular piece for a long time or you have the bad habit of speed-reading, it may be easy to get caught up in your own writing. Reading your work from the end to the beginning will help you notice errors a lot more easily than if you read it how it is actually organized.
- Use your voice. You don’t always say the same thing or use the same words or the same cadence with everyone you interact with. I’m gonna be bold and assume you have some amount of personality. Or, if you’re kinda dry and monotone, own it anyway. Don’t be afraid to use your voice in your writing. Adding personal touches or side comments within your body of work will keep the reader entertained and more in-tune to who you are. It’s much more fun to write pieces in a conversational manner — and much easier, too.
- Use spell check and any proofreading service you have access to. Having a bunch of misspelled words and cruddy grammar will quickly cheapen even the most otherwise well-written pieces. Even if you have spell check on, having it run through your document again before you finalize it can never hurt. Have someone you trust read over your work to look for grammatical errors. Or, if you trust yourself, trust yourself less. Act like you’re reading someone else’s work and use strict scrutiny. Did you use the right form of “to/two/too” or “their/they’re/there?” Did you use the right pronoun? Do you need to be more clear? This takes us to our next tip.
- Keep it simple, stupid or K.I.S.S. I’m not sure where I heard this phrase first, but it’s something that has stayed with me for several years now. In my own writing, I used to get so caught up in trying to think of the most eloquent yet academically challenging words and phrases I could possibly use to sound as intelligent as possible that I probably just made my writing more confusing. Case in point, I just kinda did that in my last sentence for effect. Honestly, though, you shouldn’t write anything that you wouldn’t feasibly say out loud in a conversation with someone. So, if you can’t ever see yourself using the term “cacophony” to describe a noisy environment, don’t put it in your writing. I should also note, though, that it is also great to test your comfort zone and use new words, especially in narrative pieces where you have more creative freedom.
- Write something every day. Something, anything. For the love of Pete (who the heck
is Pete, anyway?) dream up a fancier way to write your grocery list. Another great tip is to not get too caught up in lingo and slang. Don’t become one of those people in the professional world who have forgotten how to write a proper email. In case anyone hasn’t told you yet, 79 percent of adulthood is about knowing how to properly email. I personally love using slang and weird phrases, but that doesn’t mean that I let my grammar and punctuation falter, even in the most trivial of text messages.
- Read something every day. Am I stopping you mid-eyeroll? You don’t have to read a lot to reap the benefits. It can be as simple as reading a few tweets or Facebook posts. However, challenging yourself to read higher-level work will benefit you further. Not only will this help you to examine styles that you like and dislike, but it will also help to improve your vocabulary. If you are reading work from talented writers, you will subconsciously start to think and write in their style.
- Keep your audience in mind. This is perhaps the most important tip, and it sets the parameters for anything you write. If you’re writing a term paper, essay, research paper, free response, dissertation, news story, feature story, or whatever else — ACT LIKE IT. If you’re writing to your employer or a potential employer, put your best words forward in every exchange with them. Don’t be lazy. If you’re texting your best friend because you’re bored at 2 a.m. — do whatever ya want. You don’t speak the same exact way to everyone in real life (even though writing is real life, too) so your writing should vary as well.
In an attempt to take my advice for being concise (total lies, and I rhymed, yeesh), I’ll wrap this up quickly — thanks for sticking with me. If you want to learn more about how to improve your writing, check out The Young Adult’s Guide to Flawless Writing for $14.95 on Amazon. And let’s change that motto to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness through better writing,” no?