Becoming a better writer can seem like a daunting, impossible task.
I can remember many times during my school days where I stared at one word, “The,” on my document, devoid of motivation and dreading the task of writing an essay. In my years as an educator, I saw that no generation escapes this particular type of anguish. However, there are several ways to change the narrative of how to write and make it an easier, more fulfilling task.
These are my top 14 writing strategies for becoming a better, more well-rounded writer.
Set Writing Goals
Staring at a blank page is no fun. In fact, it might deter you from writing at all━with so many possibilities, how are you supposed to know which direction to take?
By setting goals for yourself, you're creating direction. These goals don't have to be imposing. They can be "Write for 10 minutes each day" or "Create an outline." The purpose of these goals is to start you on your writing journey, because beginning is the hardest part of any task.
Whatever your goals are are up to you. They're designed to give your writing instruction so you're not stuck on the vastness of that pesky blank page.
Here are some questions to ask yourself when you're setting writing goals:
- What do I want to accomplish?
- What time frame am I giving myself to complete this project?
- What are the steps I need to take to complete this project?
- How do I want to break up this process?
- What are the easiest, quickest tasks?
- What are the more in-depth tasks?
Decide on the Best Time to Write
Everyone's schedule is different, and what works for one writer may not work for the next. However, establishing a routine is a very important writing strategy for those who are looking to improve their skills and form positive habits.
According to science, morning is the best time of day to write. People are at their most alert 1-2 hours after waking up. Therefore, your productivity will be at an all-time high.
However, some people can't write in the morning, whether that's due to work, or school, or some other obligation.
This article illustrates how many famous authors get their writing done in the afternoon, or at night, staying up while everyone else is asleep in order to meet their goals.
Although there is variation between different writers and their routines, one thing is almost unanimously agreed upon: routine is imperative. Once you decide on a time to write, you should try to stick to that time everyday, as best you can.
Decide on Your Frequency of Writing
We get it: not everyone can write everyday. Life is busy.
But you should decide how many times you want to write per week. Just as choosing a time of day to write is important to the process, choosing a writing frequency is a necessary evil.
As long as you create a routine that works for you and your goals, it doesn't matter what this number is. That's what's so great about writing: it's flexible to each every individual and their lifestyle(s).
Research, Research, Research
Obviously, in order to excel at your writing assignments, you've got to know what you're writing about. Ideas are great, but they're only going to get you so far.
Do research on your topic. This can include reading sources, watching videos, talking to experts, and immersing yourself in whatever your topic is.
It's important to research both sides of your topic, not just the one you champion/agree with. In order to fully support your idea(s), you have got to understand the flip side.
This writing strategy does hand-in-hand with research. As you're conducting your research, be sure to write down sources, key points, and important facts that you'll need to use later in your paper.
These notes will help you create an effective outline before you begin on the actual writing. Note taking is one of the most important writing skills, because notes are the foundation of any great paper.
Be Direct in Your Writing
In order for your audience to take your writing assignments seriously, they have to understand what point(s) you're trying to make. Don't beat around the bush; tell your readers upfront what they should expect, and what your paper is all about.
No one wants to be at the end of an essay / article / whatever and be guessing what it was about and what they were supposed to get out of it. To be effective, you must be clear and direct.
Choose Your Words Carefully
Your writing style is just an important as your subject, in some cases. How you speak about your topic tells your audience just as much as the words on the page.
If you're writing an argumentative essay, you want to use strong diction in order to assert yourself and to try and win your audience over to your side. A persuasive piece of writing should use emotion-based words, carefully coaxing your audience into believing something.
Whatever it is you're writing, try and think about how you'd like to be presented the information. Once you've decided on that, find words that align with this mission.
Vary Your Syntax
Nobody wants to consume writing that reads robotically. The main cause of this is a lack of variation in sentence structure.
It is widely agreed that short sentences are more effective than long sentences, because long sentences have more chances to lose their focus and, thus, their readers. Short sentences are bold and to-the-point (which helps with that whole "be direct" tip).
However, it is important to use both long and short sentences, and all sizes in between, in order to keep the reader engaged and ensure your language flows smoothly.
Too many short sentences in a row, and your writing sounds robotic. Too many long sentences, and your audience gets lost.
Keep Paragraphs Short
If a paragraph is too long, your reader is going to skim.
Paragraphs, much like sentences, should be to-the-point as often as possible.
Using short paragraphs ensures that the reader's eyes keep moving swiftly down the page. If reading takes too long, they might just quit.
(Are these paragraphs short enough for you, dear reader?)
Use the Active Voice
Strong writing uses the active voice. Passive voice will be noticed in weaker writing.
(See what we did?)
Active voice means the subject (noun) is performing the action (verb). Passive voice means the subject (noun) is affected by the action (verb). Your subject should always be the driving force in your sentences in order to make them clear and assertive.
Take Advantage of Writing Tools
There are many tools available to aid in the writing process, the most helpful of which include grammar and spelling checkers, paraphrasing tools, and tools which can create a text summary.
All students benefit from learning to utilize these types of tools, but ELL/ESL students find them particularly useful as they work to master and work within a second language.
Paraphrasing tools, like QuillBot, function as a full-sentence thesaurus where students can take awkward sentences from within their work and see options for other ways to articulate their point and make the language seem more fluid and fluent.
Summarizing tools are especially useful for research-based writing because they help students quickly digest large amounts of information and take away the key points. This makes it easier to focus on clear writing and building robust arguments.
Before you turn in any work, it's important to run it through a Grammar Checker and a Plagiarism Detector to tie up any loose ends. You want to ensure your writing is error-free and uniquely your own (plagiarism can get you kicked out of school / fired!).
Review and Edit Your Work
If you forget all other writing strategies, make sure to remember this one: double check your work!
As mentioned in the previous section, it is so important to make sure your work doesn't have any spelling or grammar issues, or any glaring holes in your argument / thesis / whatever. No one will take your writing seriously if it's riddled with errors.
This is part of the review process. You can catch a lot of errors in your paper, especially using online tools, but nothing beats feedback from a living third party.
You can get feedback from other students, co-workers, teachers, parents, friends, or anyone else who has a basic understanding of writing and language.
Most anyone can read your work and give feedback (because you've read your work so many times, you might glaze over a few issues), but it's always best to try and find someone who understands your assignment and how to write well.
Practice Makes Perfect
Never stop writing! Whether or not you're proud of what you've written, you can always improve.
Utilize writing exercises, informative blog posts, other writers, and online examples in order to hone your skills and find your unique voice.
The more you do something, the easier it becomes. So get out there and write!
Final Thoughts on Improving Your Writing Abilities
Improving your own writing, whether it's academic writing, professional writing, or personal writing, can be a long process. It can be a challenge! But the hard work will pay off once you start seeing advancements in your work.