Learning to write better takes time and practice. There’s no substitute for either.
Yet as the world turns ever faster people want quick fixes which don’t require time or practice. This post won’t fix average writing. No advice column will.
But if you’re looking for some quick ways to get better, here’s a place to start:
What is the Goal of Writing, Anyway?
I like to have a goal in mind when I write anything — especially when I write content for web sites.
I think this goal summarizes a lot: Your writing should create an effortless experience for the reader.
The reader should think you didn’t have to work on the writing. Funny thing is, giving this impression takes some extra work and care from the writer.
Tools to Help Achieve Better Writing
Simple and direct sentences do a lot of the work. Here’s what they’re made of:
- Stronger Verbs: Use fewer forms of the verb “to be” (“is” “was” “are” etc). Instead of “There are many forms of insurance for the shopper to consider..” try “Shoppers can choose from several different policies…”
- Fewer Words: Take out unnecessary words. Most of the time you don’t need that, really, rather, just, literally, somewhat, definitely, very, quite (and many others).
- A Clear Path: Each sentence blazes a little trail for the reader. Every “therefore” and “however” creates a fork in the road which may not be necessary. Extra clauses can distract the reader from the clear path. Too many pronouns become bad signage. For more complex ideas, a list may serve as a better map for the reader.
- Variety: Many of the rules above should be broken occasionally to create variety and emphasis. Here’s the key: break the rules strategically (on purpose) and not habitually or mindlessly.
Methods for Improving Writing
Every writer has to find his or her own best practices, but success often comes from:
- Revising: The first draft is a foot in the door. Almost never will it close the sale. Use the second and subsequent drafts to polish the pitch.
- Time Away: Take a break between drafts. Take a day or two if possible. Take a few hours at least. The fresher perspective will pay off.
- Reading It: Reading a draft out loud makes revising much easier as problems will boil to the surface.
- Writing Badly: It’s fine to write a terrible draft. Just keep going and know you’ll fix it up soon enough.
Do things things and you should see an improvement.