So, you want to become a better writer? Happily, you’ve come to exactly the place to make that happen. Take heed of the following steps and act on the advice given and you’ll soon find your writing skills have improved significantly.
1. Write whenever you can
With most things in life, practice is the key factor in improving your ability to do something. Writing is no different. If you’re deadly serious about pursuing an editorial career and want to improve your writing skills then write, write and write some more. What you write doesn’t always have to be for anyone or about anything in particular, it can just be writing for its own sake. Explore different writing styles, too – news stories, investigative features, poems, short stories, list features, haiku and so on. The written word has many forms, play around with them.
However, if you do want to see whatever you write get published, you can join our GKBC Writer Academy, where not only will you start to get your writing published almost immediately, you’ll also get loads of advice on how to improve your writing and personal feedback from experienced writing professionals.
2. Read a lot
If you want to become a writer, chances are you’re already a voracious reader. But to borrow a favourite MasterChef phrase, try ‘stepping outside of your comfort zone’ and read stuff you don’t normally. Never read an academic paper? Do so. Never read tabloid newspapers? Get stuck into one. Never read poetry? Try it. Exposing yourself to different types of writing will only help you become a better writer yourself.
3. Carry a notebook
You never know where or when you’ll be hit by a burst of inspiration, or what form it might take. Carrying a notebook while you’re out and about ensures that you can write down that incredible idea or poignant observation or brilliant metaphor and it won’t be lost like a teardrop in the rain before you make it back to your computer. Likewise, have a notebook to hand at home when you’re reading a book or watching a film so you can record a balletic turn of phrase or sizzling snippet of dialogue (a bonus point if you know which film I swiped the ‘tears in rain’ metaphor from).
A pen and paper notebook might be more romantic, and have you conjuring images of lying on your back in a field of hay, sucking on your pen lid while contemplating how the sky is as deep a shade of blue as your lover’s eyes, but the Evernote Android/OS app might be more practical as you’ll probably always be carrying your phone. A physical notebook is something else to remember when heading out, and if you’re anything like me you’ll already be laden down with wallet and keys and iPod and Kindle and myriad other bits and pieces. Evernote also lets you attach photos and audio files to notes, which is very handy if you’ve not got the time to scribble.
4. Plan your article with a written outline
Ideas usually pop into your head in the form of a tiny seed and – torturous plant metaphor ahoy – the best way to propagate the idea so it blooms is to sketch an outline of how you see the article taking shape. Obviously it depends on what sort of article it is you’re writing but including some questions that you want the article to answer will help solidify its content. Similarly, you can include any examples you want to cite or points you want to make, or perhaps include something from those notes you’ve been taking (see above).
Once you’ve sketched the outline you’ll find you have a firmer of idea of what you’re going to write, and that should help you to write faster too.
5. Do your research, and do it properly
If you’re going to make any bold statements in your article or cite any facts, you need to be able to back them up else you’ll look like a plonker when someone calls you out. And here’s the thing – just because it’s on Wikipedia doesn’t mean it’s true. Wikipedia is fine as a launch point for gathering information, but don’t just rely on that site for getting your facts straight.
Reading around a subject may lead to further avenues of inquiry for your article, or offer a bolt of inspiration, or it could even take your article in new and unexpected directions.
6. Avoid clichéd phrases
This piece of advice does exactly what it says on the tin.
Don’t use hackneyed phrases and clichés and well-worn metaphors or similes, it makes baby kittens cry. There’s always another way to say something, that’s the beauty of language.
7. Finished your article? Take a break
Once you’ve finished a piece of writing, leave it alone for a while. Go and make a cup of tea, stroll to the shops, climb a tree – whatever it is, just make sure you detach yourself from your screen and keyboard, even if it’s only for 15 minutes. If you’ve spent hours crafting a piece of writing, rereading it over and over again, chances are you’ll still have missed some mistakes or there’ll be a sentence that’s all in a muddle. Stepping away from the piece for a while means you’ll come back to it with fresher eyes and it’ll be easier to pick up on those errors.
8. Read your writing out loud
You’ve had your time away from the piece and the first thing you should do when you go back to it is to read it aloud, preferably to someone else. Why? Because reading aloud will tell you if your piece flows smoothly and help you identify sections that are clunky and need to be polished. Have a pen to hand (I find a fluorescent highlighter works best) to mark out the sections you need to buff.
It’s best to print out your article and read it on paper, too, as you’re more likely to notice any typos or grammatical errors. Mistakes are harder to identify when you’re reading words on a screen and in your head.
Article by Nick Ellis. Nick has been a professional writer for over 12 years and an editor of commercial magazines and websites since 2006. You can follow him on Twitter @editor_GKBCinc
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