So you want to make a living out of writing. Blogging is a lucrative way to spend your time, or perhaps you’re just looking to hone your content writing skills to become a better marketer. Whatever path you plan on taking, it usually starts with a blank document with nothing but a title in Times New Roman and a blinking cursor (we’ve all been there).
But good writing doesn’t just boil down to formal fonts or a page chock-full of mundane storytelling. You’ve probably already come across numerous tips and tricks, as well as endless pages of writing exercises that promise to make a Stephen King out of you, but only bore you to death.
The good news is, it’s a lot simpler than revisiting an experience you want to write about by jotting down keywords of a given topic. If you’re unsure where to start, you’ll find this guide helpful.
Here’s what you need to do to improve your writing.
Get a handle on the basics
Many beginner writers tend to think that they’re long past the phase of brushing up on basic grammar, but you’d be surprised by the number of dangling participles and sentence fragments that tarnish a literary piece with otherwise good potential.
Why crash course at teacher’s grammar book tediously when there’s a lot of grammar tools available online. Matthew Snider of Self Development Secrets introduces writers to tools and websites that pin-point grammar errors as you write, like Grammarly. Go over your work and see what went wrong, and in no time, it’ll just come naturally.
Use, but do not abuse, a thesaurus dictionary
Redundant words make any literary work seem juvenile. To make your writing richer and more expressive, keep a thesaurus dictionary handy. Instead of putting your train of thought on hold to think of a better word, go over your work when you’re done and replace any commonly repeated terms with proper synonyms.
Just make sure you don’t overuse the convenience of listed synonyms, because this will only beat the purpose of being eloquent, and will instead make your writing seem forced. A wise editor once sat me down and frankly asked me, “did you head-butt a thesaurus, or were you having a stroke?” And ever since, I’ve always stressed on using this useful tool in moderation.
You’ve probably already heard this enough, but that’s only because there’s no way around it. You cannot be a good writer without being a voracious reader. It’s pretty simple: reading builds your repertoire of vocabulary and different writing styles that eventually render your own. You may think that you’d have to read a novel with a highlighter actively, but leisure reading is just as educational – you just don’t notice it until you start writing.
Whether you’re actively paying attention to writing styles and transitions, or just enjoying the plot of a story, your brain subliminally learns everything from proper grammar usage to story-building techniques. Start by reading fifteen pages a day of any book of your choice. And remember that you don’t have to finish a book if you don’t like it. If your reading session is tedious, you’re less likely to keep up with it.
Copy a style
Copying a writing style is by no means similar to plagiarism, which is copying someone else’s work, or a part of it, verbatim. On the other hand, when you read blogs by a certain writer or works by your favorite novelist, try to dissect the writing and find out what it is that makes you enjoy their pieces.
Maybe they pepper in a bit of dark humor or reference pop culture in a way that makes your reading experience more entertaining. Keep the style in mind, and mimic it if you have to – for a start. Eventually, you’ll be able to find your own unique style that others will look up to.
Just as you cannot expect to do a backflip without practice magically, your content will never see improvement if you don’t train yourself to write on-the-daily. Instead of dedicating a set number of hours of writing a day, discipline yourself to write three to five hundred words a day, and work your way up until you can easily write a thousand or more words in just a few hours.
Keep it simple
Don’t try to use over-complicated words in an attempt to sound more profound, because chances are, your readers will see right through it. Even if your favorite writers tend to wow you with descriptive expressions that you’d like to mimic, keep your sentences short and your words simple until your writing gradually evolves on its own.
If you’re writing fiction, the same goes for coming up with a plot. Don’t get caught up in making your characters over-complex to the point that your readers will fail to relate to them.
Find a partner in crime
Everything is easier with a partner that shares your interests, and this also applies to dedicate your time and energy in ameliorating your writing skills. If you don’t know any aspiring writers in person, there are plenty of writing forums online that will connect you with hundreds of writers worldwide. Being part of an online community will help keep you motivated.
Stop being your own worst critic
If you endlessly backspace everything you write and end up with just a few sentences you’re comfortable with, you’re doing it wrong. Acknowledge that you’re a beginner and that you’ll eventually grow into a brilliant wordsmith if you keep reading, and never miss a day without writing your set number of words.
Invest in classes
Quick research will introduce you to local workshops in your area, as well as a myriad of masterclasses that you can watch online by the masters of the craft. While fiction writers will benefit the most from these kinds of in-depth courses, there’s also a wide range of business and blog writing classes that you can find for free, or at affordable prices.
Writing is not a gift you’re born with, but a craft you learn if you discipline yourself to read and profusely write avidly. Once you get a good grip on the basics, you’ll find yourself improving at a rapid pace.