Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.
During a recent site audit, I dug into a set of blog posts that I wrote several years ago — and cringed.
Then I edited. In some cases, ferociously. In other cases, I made just minor tweaks.
But regardless of the amount of repair needed to my past work, I noticed a difference in how I wrote then and how I write now. During the time that has passed since I first published those articles, I’ve become a better writer.
Yet I haven’t improved my writing skills by a wish and a prayer. Nor had I become a better writer overnight. Instead, I took some purposeful steps to get better at my craft. You can, too.
“Better” is subjective. Each of us starts at a different level of writing skill. Do you know in which ways you’d like to grow in your craft? Identify how you want to develop or improve your style and technique.
I’ve developed my own checklist of how I want to become a better writer. You’re free to use this list or create your own, of course. For me, becoming a better writer means I …
As you identify the ways in which you want to become a better writer, you may face a corollary question …
Short answer: yes. Writing is a skill. Skills can be taught and learned.
The principle seems simple, but it bucks the myth that “good writers are born.” Like athletes and musicians and surgeons and fighter pilots, writers are not simply the product of a hereditary lottery win. Instead, those who engage in “deliberate practice” — targeted, task-centered training — develop high-level skills.
Deliberate practice offers writers a path to expertise. “The best among us in various areas do not occupy that perch because they were born with some innate talent,” said human performance expert and psychologist K. Anders Ericsson (1947–2020) and author of Peak: Secrets from the Science of Expertise (HarperOne, 2016). “But rather because they have developed their abilities through years of practice.”
Here are five ways a writer can develop those abilities.
Also called “free writing,” writers use this tactic to beat writer’s block. And freewriting makes you a better writer, too. “Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper,” said Pulitzer Prize winner and Nobel laureate John Steinbeck (1902–1968). “Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down.”
Doing so unleashes creativity. In contrast, the start-and-stop process stifles it. “Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on,” said Steinbeck. “It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.”
Once you’ve extracted your ideas from your brain and have them down on paper, you can improve your writing with a few common fixes. These simple tweaks tighten your content and give it polish.
Take a few minutes and read your blog post or article or book chapter out loud. (And if you’re worried that family members or work colleagues may be concerned that you’re talking to yourself, put on headphones. They will think you’re on a conference call.)
Audible reading forces you to slow down. The average adult reads 238 words per minute silently and 183 words per minute verbally — 21% slower. There’s a good chance you’ll find bumps and tongue twisters as you read your piecet aloud. Make the fixes needed so your content is readable.
“You’ll know you’re done when your project reads like a greased slide,” said the late copywriting coach Chris Marlowe, “Smoothly, from beginning to end.”
Writing courses provide the opportunity to develop your writing skills. And these days, you needn’t be enrolled in an in-person class to take a course in writing. Oodles of courses are available in a variety of venues and in an endless array of formats.
Writing courses fall into one of two big-picture categories.
Consider your goals. Do you want to learn copywriting? (Try AWAI’s 6-Figure Copywriting Course). Or maybe you’d like to have an instructor walk you through the process of writing devotionals (enroll in Writing Devotionals That Stick). Perhaps you’d like to find out the process for creating a niche website (take How to Write Your Own Money-Making Websites) or learn how to write a blog post when you have just snippets of time (The 20-Minute Blogger).
Look at the description of a course you’re considering. It should outline specific objectives (after all, it’s a writing class … right?) and give you a clear idea about what information you’ll learn or skills you’ll acquire by taking it. Compare what you know you need to learn about with the course description. If they match up, then you may want to consider taking the course.
Writing groups are easy to find. Some meet in person at a library. Others meet virtually at a designated time. Still others operate loosely, allowing you to read others’ work, study the comments and post your own for a critique. A writing group does more than give you feedback. Members keep each other accountable to keep writing.
Writing group tip: be willing to participate. Writers are a generous group. You can learn much from others and they can learn from you, no matter your skill level. I lead an online Facebook writing group. I believe I’ve learned more than anyone in the group because I’ve had to articulate responses to questions and posts.
All the writing tips in the world matter little unless you sit down at the keyboard and put words on the screen. By all means, write without editing … use common fixes … read your work aloud and take courses and join a writing group.
But the bottom line is this: to become a better writer, write more. Then a week from now — or six months or a year or two years from now — reread what you wrote. If you’ve made the effort to practice your craft, you’ll see a difference. And you’ll edit with a smile on your face, knowing that you continue to become a better writer.
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