It is possible to show someone the basics of WordPress in just a fewminutes. Most blogging platforms are just as easy as learn. Due to this, anyone who can use the internet can technically write a blog post; however, as we all know, all content is not created equal.
There is a myth that I encounter frequently that you are either a good writer or a bad writer. I do not believe this to be true.
With content marketing shaping up as one of the most important marketing skills to have on your resume, getting a handle on writing could reallybenefit your career. Writing is intimidating to a lot of people,particularly those who don’t write for a living or blog on a regularbasis. The good news is that writing doesn’t have to be agonizing, andalmost anybody can hone their writing skills with a little disciplineand a willingness to learn. In today’s post, I’m going to share 16 waysyou can start improving your writing skills right now.
1. Write Like It’s Your Job
If you want to get better at something, you have to practice – andwriting is no exception. Unfortunately, there are few shortcuts that can transform you into an amazing writer overnight, and even the mosttalented writers had to learn their craft over a period of many years.
If you want to improve your writing skills, writing on a regularbasis will not only diminish your fear of the blank page (or blinkingcursor), it will also help you develop a unique style. So, even ifnobody reads it, keep writing. Practice makes perfect.
2. Read Like It’s Your Job
The best writers are also keen readers, and reading on a regularbasis is an easy way to start developing your writing skills. I don’tjust mean blog posts, either – diversify your reading material. Expandyour horizons to more challenging material than you typically read, andpay attention to sentence structure, word choice, and how the materialflows.
The more you read, the more likely you are to develop an eye for what makes a piece so effective, and which mistakes to avoid.
3. Find a Writing Partner
If you work at a reasonably sized company, the chances are prettygood that there is at least one other person who also secretly harbors a desire to become a better writer. Although writing is typicallyconsidered a solitary activity, the best writers know when it’s time toget much-needed feedback on their work.
Talk to your coworkers (or friends) and ask someone if they’d bewilling to cast an eye over your work – they may spot mistakes that youoverlooked. Finding a writing partner is also a great way to holdyourself accountable and keep going.
4. Join a Workshop or Take a Night Class
Most people balk at the idea of standing in front of a room full ofstrangers and baring their soul to the world, but joining a writingworkshop can be immensely beneficial – and a lot of fun (if you manageto find a good one).
You don’t need to have an unfinished novel hidden away in your deskdrawer to join a workshop. These days, content marketing meet-ups andprofessional development groups are becoming wildly popular. Join one of the many content marketing groups on LinkedIn to meet like-minded writers, or search for writing workshops near you on sites like Meetup. Pick a topic, write something, listen to the feedback of the group, and then revise it. Rinse, repeat.
5. Dissect Writing That You Admire
Most people read the same blogs or sites on a regular basis becausethe material appeals to them – but fewer people understand why theirfavorite blogs are so appealing.
Find a handful of recent blog posts you really like, then print themout. Next, just like your high school English teacher did, take a redpen and highlight things you liked: certain sentences, turns of phrase,even entire paragraphs. Examine why you like these elements, and see ifthere are any common threads in your favored reading material. See howwriters take one subject and transition into another. Apply thesetechniques to your own work.
6. Imitate Writers You Admire
Before we go any further, a disclaimer – imitation is not the same as plagiarism. Don’t rip off anyone’s work. Ever.
Just as you probably have a list of blogs you read often, you’lllikely also read the same writers on a regular basis. Identify what itis you enjoy about their work, and see if you can use it to improve your writing skills. Does a writer you like use humor to spice up drytopics? Try it. Do they use pop culture references to make their workentertaining and useful? Try that, too.
When I first started writing, I imitated some of my favoritenonfiction writers and essayists, such as Joan Didion, Truman Capote and Bill Bryson. I also attempted (and failed) to imitate writers such asDave Eggers and Dan Kennedy, but soon realized that I wasn’t funnyenough and gave it up. Over time, I eventually developed my own style,but reading the works of these writers and seeing how they constructedtheir essays and books was immensely helpful to me as a writer (see tip#3).
7. Remember That Outlines Are Your Friend
The blinking cursor of a blank page is a considerable foe, even forthe most experienced writers. Before putting pen to proverbial paper,sketch out an outline of what you plan to write. This will be yourbattle plan, and it will help you win the war. Very few – and I do mean very few – writers sit down to write anything without a solid plan in mind.
An outline doesn’t have to be complex. A simple framework of whichsections should appear in a particular order, along with a few sentences about what each section contains, may be enough. If the topic you’retackling is a little more complex, your outline might have to be, too –but having an outline before you write is like having a roadmap in theglove box of your car before a road trip. If you start to feel lost,refer back to your outline and get back to kicking ass and taking names.
Let’s take a look at a real example – one of my own outlines:
This outline eventually became my recent post about brand voice. I deviated from my initial outline slightly, but the overarching structure was always there to keep me on target.
8. Edit Your Work Ruthlessly
So, you’re writing every day (or regularly, at least), and you’refeeling more confident about your work. Awesome! Now you’re going tobecome your own harshest critic.
Editing is a tough skill to learn for beginner writers, because theyplace immense value on the time and effort they put into writing in thefirst place. However, a lot of writing is actually rewriting, and thisis where the cold, hard eye of an editor will serve you well.
Develop the discipline it takes to eliminate extraneous words (moreon this shortly). Resist the temptation to wax lyrically and get to thepoint. Not sure if a paragraph works? It probably isn’t. Be tough onyourself, and know when to delete or rework something. Your work will be much stronger as a result.
9. Accept That First Drafts Are Almost Always Crap
The best writers make it look so easy. After reading a great post,it’s tempting to imagine your favorite bloggers effortlessly turning inincredible posts with minimal effort before spending the rest of theirday reading obscure books in a quaint corner café somewhere. Takecomfort in the knowledge that this isn’t how writing works.
First drafts are almost always crap, and that’s okay. Don’t beatyourself up if you don’t create a masterpiece on your first attempt –chances are, you probably won’t, and that’s okay, too. Just get yourideas down on paper first, then go back and start cleaning up. Writingis an iterative process, and even the best writers have to spend a lot of time reworking material they were probably too embarrassed to show anybody.
10. Find a Good (Patient) Editor
Whether you’re trying to make the case for a content strategy to your manager or want to start guest blogging on your favorite sites, finding and working with a good editor is oneof the best things you can do to improve your writing skills. I’veworked with dozens of editors over the years, and in my experience, thebest are those who show you why something doesn’t work, rather than just telling you that it doesn’t.
Allowing someone else to read your work can be brutally difficult for some writers, especially when they’re just starting out, but it’scrucial that you develop good habits from the outset and learn to accept constructive criticism about your work. Remember – writers aredesperately needy creatures who need to be constantly reassured thatthey’re the creative geniuses they believe themselves to be, but you’llneed to develop a thick skin if you’re serious about your work, and agood editor is invaluable when it comes to toughening up.
11. Eliminate Unnecessary Words
Another common mistake among beginner writers (and some moreexperienced writers who should know better) is writing overly complexsentences in an attempt to “sound” more authoritative.
In many cases, shorter sentences can have a greater impact. You mayhave heard of a six-word story that was supposedly written by ErnestHemingway, which reads, “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.” WhetherHemingway wrote this or not is irrelevant – the power of these six words shows that brevity can be a powerful tool when used correctly, and notevery sentence needs to be overwrought to get your point across.
12. Don’t Be Afraid to Say What You Think
Most content on the web is bland and dreadfully boring. This isbecause far too many bloggers focus on regurgitating the same news aseverybody else without bothering to add their own opinions. Obviouslyyou don’t want to fall afoul of libel laws, but that doesn’t mean youcan’t (or shouldn’t) say what you think.
Once you’ve started to discover your own “voice,” don’t be shy aboutsharing your opinions. This makes for more interesting reading. Don’t be contrarian for its own sake, and don’t set out to purposefully piss anyone off,but make sure there’s enough of you in your writing to make it aworthwhile read for your audience.
13. Don’t Take Weeks to Finish a Post
You should definitely take the time to write as well as you can,proofread and edit your work thoroughly, and ensure that your pieceflows logically from one point to the next. However, this doesn’t meanyou should take weeks to write something.
No blog post (or any piece of writing, for that matter) will ever beperfect – you have to know when it’s time to let it go. This isespecially important in content marketing, because you’ll rarely (ifever) have the luxury of crafting agonizingly beautiful blog posts fullof poignant sentences and evocative imagery. As you become moreconfident, the “writing” part of writing will become easier and faster,but never lose sight of the fact that deadlines, or editorial calendars, are just as much your masters as any boss or manager.
As for me, I’m going to take my own advice and call this post done. I hope you find these tips useful, no matter how long you’ve beenwriting. If you have questions or want to share your own advice, leave a comment!