How to Go from Good Writer to Better Writer
When I introduce myself to someone new and tell them what I do, I say “I work in PR and marketing, with a focus on strategy and writing.”
I’m always surprised when someone responds with, “Really? What kind of writing does someone in PR have to do?”
In reality, PR people write ALL DAY LONG. But if your business doesn’t have a trained writer on staff, you have to rely on your available resources to produce quality content. Someone still has to write website copy, presentations, announcements and client communications. If that person is you, it pays to brush up on your skills so that you can produce the best content possible that presents your business as knowledgeable and professional.
Even if you think that good writers are born, not made, no one can disagree that good writers are only made better through research, practice and life-long learning.
7 Steps to Help You Become a Better Writer
If you’re a good writer, but want to become a BETTER writer, here are some tips to hone your skills.
1. Become an avid reader.
Read everything that interests you – news, books, blogs, magazines and anything else you can get your hands on.
If it’s the news, seek out content that’s factually and grammatically accurate. (NPR is my personal favorite) You don’t want to read things with errors that set a bad example!
If you like books and magazines, you don’t have to live off of literary classics, but focus on books and magazines that contain solid storytelling, descriptive language and long-form content. Think Hunger Games instead of Twilight; Time instead of Us Weekly.
2. Brush up on your literary skills.
While it’s fun to read things that interest you, you should also read books about writing skills, grammar, punctuation and language.
Don’t sit and read them all at once. Read each one a chapter at a time. After you read one chapter, try to apply what you learned before you even start reading the other chapter.
Here are a few to get you started:
- The Elements of Style by E.B. White
- Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss
- On Writing by Stephen King (yes, THAT Stephen King)
- AP Guide to Newswriting by René J. Cappon
- On Writing Well by William Zinsser
3. Write Every Day.
If you’re already in the business, you’ve got daily opportunities to generate content and become a better writer. If you need to improve your skills before this becomes one of your responsibilities, I’ve got some ideas below for practicing.
But before you explore those ideas, you must commit to writing something every day – whether it be a practice exercise, a journal entry, a blog post or an expertly crafted email. Your writing skills are just like a muscle that needs daily exercise to get stronger.
4. Find a writer who you like.
Figure out what you like about that person’s style and play copycat as a learning exercise. Find one of your favorite sentences, and try to emulate that writer’s style by diagraming it (if you ever learned that in school) and writing your own sentence about your own topic.
5. Do some homework.
Anytime you feel like you’re in a rut and everything you put to paper is starting to sound the same, do a few homework exercises. There are plenty of practice exercises (like this sentence modeling one) online. Go through a few of them if you’re feeling stuck and don’t know how to get started.
6. Edit, Rewrite, Repeat.
Good writers rewrite their content all the time. My own personal mantra is that “a writer is only as good as her best editor.”
Find someone whose work you admire and ask that person for help. Ask if she will review your draft and provide honest, constructive feedback. Your editor can do that by using red ink on paper or using Word’s Track Changes feature for electronic files. Then, she should explain the reason behind each change so that you know and achieve a better result next time.
7. Look up the rules.
Even those of us who profess to be grammar and punctuation snobs can’t remember ALL the rules ALL the time. That’s why reference materials exist!
If you keep making the same grammatical, spelling or punctuation mistakes, start admitting what you don’t know and look it up. If you don’t know where to start, here are some books and websites to keep on your shelf and in your computer’s bookmarks at all times:
Writing is just like any other skill – it is only developed through practice and a strong desire to get better. Maybe we can’t all be the BEST writers in the world, but we can all be BETTER tomorrow than we are today.
What tips, tricks and resources do you have?