God I just love a good quill pen
Writing is a skill like any other.
It’s relatively easy to bang out a few sentences, but it’s much harder to learn how to write well.
Becoming a good writer doesn’t necessarily mean sitting down to pen the great American novel, but it is work.
So let’s make things easier…
Here are seven crafty little writing tips that will help you improve the quality of your writing today.
1. Keep a Journal
Journal writing is a tough business
Keeping a journal is a great way of cultivating a habit of writing every day.
I use a journal to record daily observations about what I’m doing, reading, planning or struggling with.
In my journal, I record ideas about things I’d like to write and impressions about experiences I’ve had or would like to have.
I write entries three to four times a week in a password protected file on my computer (Wikileaks gets me down).
This way, I feel like I’ve more free rein and don’t have to worry about the contents being read by others.
A journal is a private thing, after all.
Some journal entries are only one or two lines long. My shortest entry simply reads “Exhausted”.
Did I mention I have two small children?
Others run several paragraphs or even pages in length.
If you like journal writing, I recommend reading The Journals of John Cheever.
2. And a Notebook (You’ll Need That Too)
I’ve been know to write with large pens
A notebook is somewhat different to a journal in that it’s less personal and more related to one’s work.
Leonardo da Vinci kept hundreds of notebooks, pages, sketches and doodles about of his work, many of which survive to this day.
The maestro made a lifelong habit out of keeping a notebook with him.
In his notebook, he recorded everything from idea for inventions to observations about nature and the stars.
He wasn’t the only one.
The famous children’s author Roald Dahl famously said about his ideas:
“You work it out and play around with it. You doodle… you make notes… it grows, it grows…”.
Roald Dahl — serial notetaker
One day, Dahl got stuck in traffic without a notepad or pen.
He thought of a breakthrough for a story he was working on, but he grew afraid he’d forget his idea before getting home.
So, Dahl got out of the car and wrote a single word with his finger in the dirt caked to his vehicle. This was enough for Dahl to remember his idea and continue working on his story later on.
Today, it’s easier than ever to keep a portable and accessible notebook.
- Text yourself ideas and notes
- Use the voice memo app on your phone
- Use an app like Evernote
3. No Time? No Money? No Problem. Write in Short Bursts
I try to write everyday.
It doesn’t always work out this way because life has a curious habit of getting in the way.
The best days are the ones where I succeed.
And I found out it’s far more productive to write for 15 or 30 minutes regularly than it is to write for several hours every other Sunday.
This is because:
- It gets me into the habit of sitting down to write every day (nicely done).
- The thoughts of writing for several hours is far more intimidating than the thoughts of sitting down to write for just half an hour (be brave, young Skywalker).
- The more often I write, the more I want to write. The less often I write, the less interest I have in writing (don’t give in!).
- One good day of writing erases several bad days of writing (doesn’t that feel better?!).
4. Consume Books Like They’re a Drug
A good book is like heroin.
It’s impossible to put down.
And if you’re a writer, then consider it your obligation to find a fix… and fast.
Apps like Pocket make it easier for me to save posts from my favourite websites and read these posts on my iPhone, at a time that suits me.
I gravitate between reading fiction and non-fiction books and I tend to have at least one of each on my digital and physical bedside tables. I normally read paperbacks on the bus or train and Kindle ebooks late at night.
This way, if I am struggling with one book, I can switch to the other without feeling like reading is a chore. And if I am struggling with both books, I can read a fun blog post on my phone.
(Or I could just play snake).
If I reach page fifty of a book and I am still bored, I put the book down altogether. There are just too many good books to justify slogging through an unenjoyable read.
I make the occasional exception for books related to work or books I am expected to read.
5. Annotate What You Read
Annotating text is a good way of getting to grips with information and marking it for future use.
I use my Kindle to underline key phrases and to record observations about important passages.
This way, when I’m finished the book I can quickly find said paragraphs or ideas on my computer.
I recently read Tools of the Titans by Tim Ferris.
I highlighted key passages in the book because I wanted to journal about some of the topics he addresses.
I also wanted to read a little more about these topics… before having the guts to write about them.
6. Made a Mistake? Find it, Fix it and Move On
‘You did what with your apostrophe?!’
Although I can write quickly, I still make grammar and spelling errors.
Perplexing American spellings.
They get me every time.
Most professional writers work with editors whose job it is to proof and prepare their copy for publication.
So it’s ok to make a mistake.
I read longer blog posts pieces out loud, I read them backwards and I read each sentence with a blank piece of paper covering the subsequent sentences. I also keep a list of mistakes I make regularly.
It’s my list of dirty secrets.
Occasionally, I ask friends or colleagues to proof my work. I also take time to review older pieces of digital content and update or remove errors, which I may have missed.
Sometimes errors get past me but the more I write, the less likely I am repeat my mistakes.
Wait… shouldn’t that be…
“Sometimes errors get past me but the more I write, the less likely I am to repeat my mistakes.”
7. Ask Readers ‘What do You Think?”
Feedback is the best way to mature as a writer.
And you want to be a mature writer right?
After spending several hours, days or even longer on a piece of work, it is difficult to see the good from the bad.
It’s worth asking a trusted colleague, friend or family member for feedback. An ideal critic will give honest feedback. They will not simply say, they love/hate everything about your work.
When receiving feedback, it’s a good idea to keep quiet throughout (granted, not an easy thing).
A reader doesn’t normally have the writer standing behind them explaining what this and that means. The words on the page should explain the point better than any verbal commentary.
I was a member of a creative writing and non-fiction group for several years. Here are a few of our rules about giving and receiving feedback (we were organised like that):
- Start by saying what you like about the piece.
- Pick out and explore key sentences or ideas.
- Consider several points of concern or issues with the piece.
- Discuss how to strengthen these weaknesses.
- Avoid getting into an argument with the writer.
- Finish by saying something positive about the piece.
- If you are the recipient, please save clarifying questions until the end of the group discussion.
All that craftiness was exhausting but if you’ve still got some stamina left, check out this post if you want to learn more about becoming a good writer.
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I’ve also put together 101 proven writing prompts that will help you start writing articles for Medium and other sites today.
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