“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut.”
Everybody writes━whether for school, in a personal journal, online, or for creative personal/side projects like memoirs, short stories, or novels.
So, what are the absolute most important writing practice(s)? We polled writers of all skill levels and backgrounds to get the scoop.
Feedback, Practice, and Reading
Over 200 people wrote to tell us about their writing journeys. Both professional and amateur writers had the same 3 points to make in regards to what is important in honing writing skills and keeping them sharp.
In no particular order, the 3 most important writing practices are: feedback, practice, and reading (according to our pollsters).
Feedback is crucial at the beginning of a writer’s journey with respect to honing skills such as grammar, word choice, and style/phrasing. It is also important in learning how to be focused and clear.
Stacy Caprio, of Her.ceo, explained, “Pre-college and starting out in college, I would always write using passive tense, adding as many words as possible to make my writing longer━making it easier to meet length requirements. In college, I learned from my professor that I was simply adding unnecessary words, and my writing wasn't as clear as it could be. After that feedback, I saw my writing improve dramatically, and my grades started going up from high B's to A's in writing classes the rest of college.”
Author B. A. Mealer wrote, “[In school] we got our compositions back all marked in red with grades that let us know if the sentence structure was all wrong, where the composition didn't make any sense, where we needed to add support for our premise, etc. From failure, we learned to write well.”
Yocheved Golani, a mental health columnist, told us, “I pored over school-required essays and usually paid attention when a teacher explained my errors and my improvements after announcing my grade for a written assignment. Sometimes I saved the remarks written atop my papers so that I could use the lessons on another class assignment. Red ink motivated me to improve so that I wouldn't see it on my work anymore.”
Seasoned writers later use feedback to drive their content strategies and develop writing styles for particular audiences.
For instance, Bruce Harpham wrote, “My first business report looked very much like a university essay. I received some feedback that an academic style was not suitable to a business audience. That led me to significantly revise the report.”
Dwight Norris, founder of Fishing at Work, told us this: “By writing blog posts on a consistent basis and publishing on YouTube, I was able to receive feedback from my audience and discover what they truly needed to know when it came to fishing.”
Writing practice is another important element of honing writing skills cited by nearly everyone who wrote in.
Here are what some accomplished writers had to say about the importance of the practice of practice:
Multimedia storyteller Kimberly Ihekwoaba explains, “The best way to become an effective writer is to write. Make it a daily practice to write. It can range from writing a few journal entries to writing stories, essays and scripts. You want to start small and build your way up.”
One of our favorite responses came from content writer Snezhina Piskova, who said, “To be an effective writer, you need to have a certain level of self-discipline. Writing is a skill that you can train, so if you want to be better at it, you have to make sure to practice it regularly. Some days it might feel like the flow just doesn’t come to you, but don’t let that discourage you. Not all days can be great.”
Perfectionists━take note! Oh, wait, we're talking directly to ourselves here…
Yet another great quote on practicing without caring about perfection came from Yocheved Golani, who instructed, “Have fun learning to write well. Laugh at your mistakes and make peace with your humanity. Practice makes perfect. Nobody gets things right the first time. That's why the phrase "rough drafts" exists.”
Lastly, in our examination of the practice of practice, here is a quote from author A. M. Scott, which we found to be the most practical: “Practice really does make perfect. If you want to write, especially as a published author, write! Write a lot. Write whenever you can. Some people write on their phones during their commute, others during coffee breaks. Early on, I found the writing games on Twitter invaluable. Writing to a prompt with a word limit makes you a much better writer. Check out @thewriteprompt for all the hashtag games. There are also a lot of writing chats on Twitter--my favorite is #JustAddTea. I also found critique partners on Twitter. Some were great, some not so great, but I learned a lot from both. That's the key--practice and staying open to learning. Accept the harsh critiques and learn from them. Then, when you become a success, pass that knowledge on. Teaching is a great way to learn!”
Reading is another universal way that writers learn. This is a passive way of increasing skill level that pulls double-duty as a way of sourcing new knowledge and mentally logging different ways of presenting dialogue, information, character descriptions, style, language usage, and more.
Blogger Jon Matlock ranked reading first in his description of necessary practices for writers, saying, “The biggest thing that helped my writing was simply being an avid reader. The more you read, the more you catch on to various styles. You learn what works and what doesn't, what sounds engaging and what sounds bland, and so forth.”
Willie Greer, founder of The Product Analyst, wrote, “...believe me when I tell you [reading] is the most effective way to increase your vocabulary and know lots of writing styles and angles which might be useful to you in the future. The best writers are those avid readers. It's simply because reading a lot conditions your writing mind and boosts your creativity and confidence to write your own piece, whatever the genre.”
Lastly, Daniel Caughill of The Dog Tale explained, “...read voraciously and broadly. Read outside your genre to see what other types of writers do well. If more text books read like novels, and more novels were produced on the foundation of thorough research, we’d probably all be a little smarter.”
Looking for a curated list of good reads, specifically for writing? Check out our list of the The Best Books for Learning How to Write.
Other Practices to Practice
Now that our polled answers have been exhausted, we have some extra advice to dole out. These tips have been curated by the QuillBot team, for our readers.
So, without further ado, here are some other writing skills to practice in order to become a better writer.
Never heard of freewriting? Never fear.
It's basically exactly as it sounds. A writer writes, well, freely. No restrictions, no editing, no strict inner thoughts. It's not easy, but it works. Think of it as a stripped-down writing process.
A good method is to sit down, sans distractions, and just type (or write manually). Don't pick up your fingers or your pen. Just keep the words pumping. You can edit later, so this won't be the time to worry about mistakes.
Put down everything that pops into your head, even if it's ridiculous, or something that you think doesn't fit in with your topic. These threads usually lead to some discovery or breakthrough you wouldn't have otherwise figured out if you had been self-editing.
The next few writing skills go right along with freewriting, so keep reading if you still need convincing.
Keep Your Hand Moving
This is one of the most important components of freewriting, and the writing process in general.
Just start writing, and don't stop. If you keep your hand moving, you won't have time to edit your ideas before they come out, ensuring that your raw, pure thoughts have time to marinate.
Even the best writers fall prey to negative thoughts and self-doubt. But the best writers write, and they write a lot. So just keep going. Don't give yourself time to stop.
Don't Worry About Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar
Yeah, a writing platform just told you to not worry about any writing mechanics.
Here's the thing: there are a million grammar and punctuation rules. If you spend time Googling each one, or second guessing yourself over the spelling of every four-syllable word, you'll never get anything written.
Those writing mechanics are important━we're not debating that. We're trying to take those tasks off your hands.
(Get ready for the sales pitch.)
There are online tools that can fix all of your mistakes for you. And we happen to be the best choice.
Our Grammar Checker fixes spelling, punctuation, and grammar mistakes. It gives you options on how you'd like to fix each sentence, so you can be sure that your writing is still "you," even after the edits.
Can't figure out how to get a sentence to sound right? Our Paraphraser will rewrite your text in a variety of different ways, using our modes to switch the tone based on the message you'd like to convey.
Infuse Personality into Your Writing
Writing something with no personality is like cooking chicken without any seasoning or spices. Where's the flavor?
People want to read things that are engaging. You'll do best by playing up the strengths in your personality. Are you funny? Conversational? Knowledgeable? Let your own voice shine through, and your audience will be more apt to read everything you write.
Be Consistent with Your Niche
Whatever it is you want to write about, become an expert on that topic. If you're a go-to source of information, your audience will do nothing but grow.
This is especially important when you're analyzing your audience and what they like. Let's say you run a blog about dogs. You grow your audience by sharing training tips, photos of puppies, and adoption ads.
If you suddenly start to write about cats after months or years of writing about dogs, your audience might start to lose interest because their interest is in dogs.
If you do want to switch up what you write about, communicate with your audience to see if they'd be okay with that, and ask what else they'd like to see from you. After all, your job would be pointless without your audience!
Of course, this is not applicable to all types of writing. You can't always easily add images to novels, or academic writing, or professional emails. Use discretion.
But for blog posts and more informal, interactive writing, go crazy! People LOVE images. They break up giant walls of text and make articles easier to read. Not to mention, they're fun to look at.
Images can be used to underscore a point you're trying to make, to explain something (think: infographics), or to simply make your post more enjoyable.
Final Thoughts on Writing Practices
If you're able to fit some writing practice in every day, you'll be a much stronger writer by the end of the week, month, and year.
As you can see by this post, there are a number of practices that are incredibly helpful in building up your confidence and writing skills. Daily writing exercises can only help you on your path toward becoming a better writer.
So go forth and start writing! We're here if you need us.