Writing is hard. Everyone has the same problems with it. Even people that write consistently everyday make common mistakes. People that would like to write get writer’s block. We’re all so lucky that the best writers out there are willing to encourage us and share what they’ve learned in order to get us mortals spilling our guts on to the page.
I’ve been writing professionally for 6 months now and I’ve learned a lot from my college text books, from online bloggers, and from writers like Stephen King. I recently had a proud moment when I picked up Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft and one of the first things he suggested was to read Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style. A big smile spread across my face as I’ve already thoroughly enjoyed it in college.
Below is a list of advice I’ve collected from others on how to be a better writer.
- Read Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. If you’re an English-speaking American you should have a copy of this in your house along with the Declaration of Independence. It’s one of the most helpful books written in the English language. You may be able to read the entire thing in an hour. Bottom line – if you want to be a better writer, read this.
- Stop throat-clearing. No “I want to tell you…”, “I guess I should mention…”, “It should be noted that…”, “It was then that I…” Begin the sentence. Then end it.
- Use the active voice. Even if you’re not confident about a thought that you’ve written down, you can trick your reader into thinking you’re confident just by maintaining the active structure of the sentence.
- Use “He/She said”. Anything else is distracting.
- Write your first draft blind. If you’re struggling to write then you’re afraid of something. Turn off your computer screen and write your rough draft without being able to see what you’re writing. Write like you’re talking to a friend. Use stupid words, non-words. Write badly. Make errors. Make as many mistakes as you have the courage to make. Just get it on the page.
- Stop using Backspace/Delete when writing your first draft. They’re editing tools, so don’t edit when you’re supposed to be writing.
- Your second draft goes back and corrects all of the mistakes of the first. It corrects spelling, improves grammar, removes unnecessary words, deletes unnecessary sentences, and makes it look like you perfected the draft the first time.
- Avoid adverbs. Use better verbs instead. Replace “You did it perfectly…” with “You perfected it.” Pick the simple, ballpark verb that first comes to mind then use a dictionary to find a synonym that zeroes in on the exact meaning you want it to have.
- Only use compound sentences when well-written, singular phrases do not make your paragraphs engaging enough.
- Write what you know. If you don’t know, read.
- When writing a creative piece, avoid “is/are” and “has/have”. Your sentences will quickly start sounding more interesting and will hold the attention of the reader for longer.
- If it doesn’t interest you, don’t write it. Leave it out. If you’re not ready to write 30 words on the description of a door, just forget it. What holds your attention?
I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve heard many of these tips before. They’re common, powerful tools that I’ll carry with me forever. I hope you do too.