5 Tips to Improve Your Writing

5 Tips to Improve Your Writing

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There’s more to writing than just stringing random words together and inserting an occasional punctuation mark. Writing is hard work, no matter how easy it may look. It takes a lot of time, practice, and dedication.

Being a natural born wordsmith is good, but sheer talent can only take you so far. To succeed as a writer, you must have a passion for the written word, the desire to learn and grow, and the strength to overcome creative challenges along the way.

Sure, in this age of blogs, social media, and social journalism, everyone and their grandma can – and do – call themselves a writer. However, only few are truly great at what they do. If you want to join their ranks, these five tips could help you achieve that goal.

1. Treat Writing Like a Job

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Whether writing is your main source of income or just something you do in your spare time, you might get better at it if you start treating it like a job. That means setting apart a certain amount of time each day to focus exclusively on your writing. You can also set a daily target word count for yourself and then work toward it every day. Like Graham Greene and Ernest Hemingway, who used to write 500 words a day, or Nicholas Sparks and Stephen King, whose daily word count is an even 2,000.

Of course, not everything you write will be publishable – and it doesn’t have to be. The main goal here is to establish a routine and develop a habit of writing regularly. With regularity, your mind will become accustomed to getting into the writing mode at the same time each day, which could also help prevent the dreaded writer’s block. And because practice makes perfect, this is a great way to hone your writing skills, too. To help you get started, the following few tips will be all about your writing style.

2. Simplify – But Don’t Over-Explain

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Albert Einstein once said that if you can’t explain something to a six-year-old, chances are you don’t understand it yourself. Whenever you’re tackling a complex subject in your writing, try to come up with a way to simplify it. Create an outline, take notes, and organize your thoughts before you commit them to paper. Think about your readers and try to anticipate and answer their questions. Provide enough backstory so that even those who’ve never heard of the concept you’re writing about can understand it.

Be careful not to fall into the trap of over-explaining, as it can weaken your message and overwhelm the reader. Don’t include information that isn’t essential to the subject of your writing. For example, if you’re writing about an obscure World War 2 battle, do your readers really need to know that the mother of one of the generals grew up in poverty? Will it really help them better understand the topic at hand? If the answer is yes, leave it in. But if the answer is no, get rid of that part.

3. Say No to Fluff Writing

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If you say that a house has a door that opens and closes, have you really told your readers anything they don’t already know? It’s just a random generality that doesn’t do anything to improve the flow of your writing. Similarly, why say that something is happening “at the present time” or “in the very near future” when you can say it is happening “now” or “soon”? Finally, what’s the point in saying that you’re having lunch at “2 PM in the afternoon” when either “2 PM” or “2 in the afternoon” would suffice?

Just like over-explaining weakens your message so does the use of meaningless phrases, wordy constructions, and tautologies. These are the three hallmarks of fluff writing, a tool even some of the best writers resort to when they need to pad their work to meet the target word count. Remember that every sentence you write, no matter how long or short, should tell the reader something new about your subject. This is a surefire way to maintain their focus and keep them interested in what you have to say.

4. Don’t Be at Fault for Faulty Parallelism

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“As a writer, you probably enjoy reading more than to go out with friends.”

If the sentence above seems a bit off, that’s because it is. Apart from being an empty generalization, it is also an example of faulty parallelism, a grammatical faux pas that’s very common in the English language. The term faulty parallelism describes a construction that has two or more elements that have a similar meaning but a different grammatical form.

Looking at the example above, we have a noun (reading) matched with a verb (to go out). But a proper parallel form would either combine two nouns or two verbs. In this case, we would match two nouns, so the correct form would be: “As a writer, you probably enjoy reading more than going out with friends.”

Here are a few more examples of faulty parallelism followed by their proper counterparts:

  • Faulty: She would rather eat a salad than ordering a pizza.
  • Proper: She would rather eat a salad than order a pizza.
  • Faulty: I told her to pay attention and that she should follow my instructions.
  • Proper: I told her to pay attention and (to) follow my instructions.
  • Faulty: He appreciates people who are smart, honest, and don’t betray their friends.
  • Proper: He appreciates people who are smart, honest, and loyal.

5. Edit Your Work Before Publication

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After you’ve finished writing the first draft, you need to go back to page one and start editing your work until everything reads just the way you want it to. As explained by the great Ernest Hemingway, this process can be very long and nerve-wracking. He once said in an interview that he had to rewrite the final page of “Farewell to Arms” a whopping 39 times to finally “[get] the words right”.

Many writers find it difficult to edit their own work because they’ve spent too much time with it to approach it with an objective mind. If you’re one of them, take advice from the celebrated Canadian author Margaret Atwood and ask a friend to read your work and tell you what they think. And don’t ask your current romantic partner to provide feedback on your writing – unless, of course, you’re looking for a reason to break up with them.

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