improve your writing

How to Improve Your Writing

Ann O'Brien

April 21, 2022

A few people just have a way with words. They can take a concept and turn it into well-organized, entertaining content with ease. But for most people, writing excellent stories or informational pieces takes work and effort. Usually, the first attempt at writing is clunky, has errors, and needs an overhaul before it reaches its final polished state. People who want to improve writing skills, however, can do specific things to hone their writing chops. Let’s take a look at a few ways to improve your writing skills right now as well as point out a few ways to elevate your writing abilities.

What Makes a Good Writer?

To improve writing skills, you should begin by looking at what qualities good writers have in common. Written content can vary widely but the way in which writers ensure their content is at a high level is connected to their shared practices.

  • Good writers usually write consistently. As the old saying goes, practice makes perfect. So writers that are serious about creating excellent content keep the words flowing regularly so that their writing voice stays strong and confident.
  • Good writers aren’t afraid of critiques. No one likes to see the proverbial red pen marks on their work but writers who sincerely want to improve know that honest, constructive criticism can help improve writing.
  • Good writers expose themselves to good writing. Just like the novice artist loves to visit museums, budding writers should surround themselves with high-level writing of all types. Reading different genres, with varied voices and styles, will open up a writer’s eyes to different ways to create interesting, quality content.
  • Good writers actively look for ways to improve. Even seasoned authors who have writing book characters and plots down pat still look for things to make their own writing more interesting or appealing. Looking to experts for a new methodology, suggestions, or just a fresh perspective on looking at your own work can help to improve the writing process for all levels of writers.

Practical Steps to Improve Your Writing

 Attend a Writer’s Workshop

Either virtually or in person, writer’s workshops are experiences for aspiring writers to come together with professional guidance with the express purpose of helping writers find their own voice and strengthen their writing skills. Some workshops are focused on a specific genre of book writing, like Young Adult or Mystery, while others cater to writers of all types and styles. Typical activities may include “quick write” sessions where authors are given a set topic and a short time frame to write about it. Attendees have discussions about the content, style, problems, and successes they experienced, learning from each other. Workshops also usually provide exposure to experienced writers as well as offer writer’s circles for authors to receive constructive feedback on their work.

Writer’s Retreats

Sometimes a change of pace is just what a writer needs to get their creative juices flowing. Retreats are a great haven for writers to focus on their own craft in an environment conducive to writing book drafts. Attending a retreat with other aspiring writers can provide inspiration as well as plenty of uninterrupted time to draft, edit, and revise your own writing as long as you have a plan for your time, know when to take mental breaks and take advantage of being around other writers. Writer’s retreats offer an opportunity to learn from writers with different abilities and strengths as well as make connections that can be mutually beneficial after the retreat.

Challenge Your Writing

Since simply writing more is one of the ways to improve your ability, create new ways to write outside of your chosen genre or style with a writing prompt. These are like “story starters” or topics that need to be fleshed out. Prompting you to begin a topic or story, this type of activity tests your thinking by challenging you to pursue a fun, silly, serious, or wild beginning that you may not have ever considered. Writing prompts are an excellent way to stretch your word choice, sentence structure, and story framework concepts by asking you to create content outside of your comfort zone. Some excellent writing prompt resources to try include:

Read About Writing

Lots of books have been written to help writers improve their craft. Classics like Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style has been used as a handbook for writers for decades, and it is a great book to have on hand for technical questions. Mega author Stephen King penned On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft as a part memoir, part how-to book for aspiring writers. Distinguished author Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life is as entertaining as it is instructional for writers interested in working on their craft. Famous sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury also published Zen in the Art of Writing which provides nuggets of wisdom for writers who want to improve book writing skills.

Find an Excellent Editor and/or Proofreader

Every noted writer has a skilled editor and proofreader that reviews their work and new writers can benefit just as much from this professional support while honing their writing skills. An editing or proofreading program is an excellent shortcut for new writers to quickly clean up their writing while also seeing quality suggestions for improving writing at the same time. Sites like Grammarly.com offer up free and paid versions of these “writer’s helpers” program add-ons to assist with the writing process. This type of editing support is the perfect addition to an author’s arsenal of writing tools since the program can play the part of an eagle-eyed editor able to spot consistent errors or problems with voice or word choice. While having a friend or family member read over your drafts is always helpful, having the support of a program with unique insight into the mechanics of writing can help you see where little tweaks can vastly improve your final drafts.

Common Writing Mistakes

Even the strongest writers fall victim to some of these common errors but writers that have these tricky grammar problems handled can focus on creating the best content possible instead of worrying about homonyms (similarly pronounced words that are commonly swapped for each other) or Oxford comma usage (the practice of putting a comma at the end of a list of words before the word “and”). Let’s look at 10 of the most common errors and how to fix them in your writing.

1 Consistently using (or not) the Oxford comma Both are correct but usage should be consistent throughout all writing.

  • I bought ham, bread, and cheese. (with Oxford comma)
  • I bought ham, bread and cheese. (without Oxford comma)

2 Knowing the difference between there, their and they’re

  • Look over there at the photo on the wall. (showing location)
  • Look over at their photo on the wall. (showing possession)
  • They’re looking over at the photo on the wall. (contraction of they + are)

3 Its vs It’s

  • It’s time to go to the store. (contraction = it + is)
  • The bee loved its honey. (showing possession never uses an apostrophe with “it”)

4 Your vs You’re

  • Possession: Your hair looks beautiful.
  • Contraction: You’re beautiful. (you + are)

5 I vs Me

  • I am going to the park. (used as the subject of the sentence/does the action)
  • He threw the ball to me. (receives the action/used after a preposition)
  • Michael invited Steve, Gill and me to go to the park. (receives the action of the verb: “invited me”)

6 Than vs Then

  • I like baseball more than basketball. (shows comparison)
  • I want to go to the baseball game and then out to dinner. (shows time)

7 Misplaced descriptors (modifiers)

  • Writing furiously, the book was almost finished. (the book was not doing the writing)
  • Writing furiously, she had almost finished the book. (the modifiers are right next to the word they describe)

8 Redundant wording

  • He circled around the block. (redundant wording that means “move in a circle”)
  • He circled the block. (no extra wording)

9 Forgetting a comma When two phrases can both be complete sentences, separate them with a comma or a semicolon.

  • Finley slept all afternoon, and he missed dinner. (Comma required: “and” joins two complete sentences that both have subjects + verbs)
  • Finley slept all afternoon and missed dinner. (No Comma: subject “Finley” completes both actions – “slept” and “missed”; “missed dinner” is not a complete sentence)
  • Finley slept all afternoon; he missed dinner. (Semicolon can take the place of a comma or a period between two closely related sentences)

10 Confusing adjectives (describe nouns) with adverbs (describe how or when an action happens)

  • He ran quickly. (adverbs tell how the action happened)
  • He was quick. (“quick” describes the noun “he”)

Be sure to take a look at other resources we have our website to help with your book publishing journey, including our article on the self-publishing process.

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