No matter what you do for a living, sooner or later you’ll be called on to write a paper, proposal, query a customer or supplier, pen a letter to the editor (or the head of a company), post a review or write a comment on social media. You want to put your best words forward, but don’t really regard yourself as a writer.
You can remedy this. Learning how to become a better writer isn’t only for those with a natural affinity for the written word. Anyone can become a better writer. And they can do it naturally. Here’s how.
Read authors you like.
The simple fact that you can learn how to write better by reading the writing of authors you enjoy is a no-brainer. The flow, style, even the use of metaphors, similes, adjectives, verbs and adverbs doesn’t have to get in the way. If you like how it looks, sounds and makes you think or stimulates emotion, there’s something here you can take away.
Ernest Hemingway has long been one of my favorite authors, not for his lifestyle, but for his simplicity. He used simple words and short sentences. I never got lost in long paragraphs reading any of his classics. Whenever I got a paper back from one of my English professors with red lines through long sentences, I remembered Hemingway’s style. I shortened all my sentences and my writing – and my grades – improved accordingly.
Use the eraser and backspace and delete buttons freely.
I never worry what comes out on paper or the computer screen when I’m first sitting down to write. I just let it flow. The main point is to get it out, while the thoughts and emotions are tumbling out of my head.
Later, I go back through what I’ve written and make corrections easily with the delete and backspace buttons. I’m also old-school from the standpoint of printing out a draft and editing it with a pen. I call that my eraser. Sometimes it helps to see what you’ve written on an actual piece of paper.
Look for a lot of white space.
Whether you’re writing on the computer or for a document that will be printed in some form, be sure to employ a lot of white space. Go back to your favorite authors and see how they use white space on the page. That allows for easier transitions, breaking up long paragraphs and separating ideas.
It’s also a lot easier to follow when the subject matter is complex or requires a great deal of thought.
Adding more white space with the use of bullet points or numbered items is another way to present a cleaner and more readable document.
Ask a friend for feedback.
Even after you’ve written, revised and polished your work, it’s always good to have a fresh set of eyes take a look at it. You might be so close to what you’ve written that you’ve lost objectivity. That’s why a friend who has no stake in the game can often point out things you might have missed, or suggest additions that will make the piece better.
Be sure to set aside your pride and view whatever feedback you receive graciously, even if it hurts. The idea is to become a better writer, and this is a fairly painless way to do so. It’s much less painful than having your boss think less of you because you turned in something that’s poorly written.
Write with action verbs.
You want your writing to zing, not plod along. Another excellent way to polish your writing and keep readers interested is to use action verbs and present tense. Avoid using the past tense whenever possible – especially if you’re writing for business. If it’s a historical novel, take a look at some of the best-selling books in that genre. The best writers employ the present tense to make the characters and situations come alive.
As an example, which of these sentences has more zing?
- Trembling, the young girl shuffles toward the panting dog that’s twice her size.
- The young girl trembled and shuffled toward the panting dog that was twice her size.
Write what you know.
This last tip is a favorite of mine. Draw on your own experiences and write about them. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to write an autobiography or lay out your personal details for the world to see. What it does imply is that you tap into the emotions and lessons that your own life provides.
Say you’ve suffered a terrible trauma and it’s taking you a long time to get over it. The tips and strategies that you found helpful could very well prove inspirational to someone else. After a near-fatal train accident in my early 20s, the prospect of still being alive and having the opportunity to be a mother to my children kept – and keeps – me going. I know that life is so precious and can be cut brutally short. I strive to make the most of every minute.
I hope my writing demonstrates that joy of living. Yours can, too.
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