It’s relatively simple to brush up on skills like skiing and public speaking: just practice more. But improving your writing ability is a little trickier. If you do nothing but increase your output, you probably won’t see a corresponding increase in quality.
Fortunately, there are several methods writers can use to hone their craft. Scroll down for six easy and effective ideas.
1. Read Everything
Most writers got their start as voracious readers—so you probably already spend a lot of time reading. However, if you’re only reading one type of content, think about broadening your literary horizons.
Exposure to a wide range of styles, subjects, and forms teaches you new techniques and gives you fresh inspiration. For example, reading lyrical poetry will show you how to convey emotion, while reading a journalism piece will show you how to get to the point.
Aim to read at least one thing per day that’s outside of your comfort zone. You should notice your own content becoming more sophisticated as a result.
2. Read a Writing Manual
While you’re at it, make sure you’ve got at least one writing-related book in rotation at all times. Reading the foundational writing texts is an essential part of every professional writer’s journey.
Here’s where to begin:
- “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. This 100-page book belongs in every writer’s library. Its timeless, practical advice applies no matter what you’re writing.
- “On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction” by William Zinsser. In his warm, engaging style, Zissner lays down writing principles and methodologies. He also shares guidelines for specific writing types, such as humor, business, memoir, travel, and more.
- “Nicely Said: Writing for the Web with Style and Purpose” by Nicole Stenton and Kate Kiefer Lee. The vast majority of modern writers see their work published online. If you want to master the mechanics of web writing (trust me, you do), this book is an awesome resource.
- “On Writing” by Stephen King. Along with its tactical knowledge, this book is a reliable source of creative motivation. As one Amazon reviewer put it, “this book makes you want to sit down and write something.”
3. Go to a Writer’s Meetup
Because it’s almost impossible to analyze your own writing objectively, getting external feedback is crucial. (That never stops being true, by the way. Why do you think even the most seasoned writers have editors?)
A writing meetup is a fantastic opportunity for gathering feedback. They’re usually pretty welcoming places, meaning you don’t need to worry about having your work torn to shreds. You’ll walk away with some helpful suggestions—and probably a couple new ideas.
If you’re looking for a local group, Meetup is always a good place to start. There are also plenty of virtual options, like Scribophile, an online writing community, or Inked Voices, a subscription platform that’ll match you with a writer’s group based on your preferences and experience level.
4. Take an Online Course
Learning by doing is great, but sometimes, you want a straightforward explanation of concepts and best practices. Enter: free or low-cost online writing courses.
Anyone looking for a “back to basics” refresher should check out Arizona State University’s English Composition course, a free eight-week program requiring 18 hours of work per week.
Meanwhile, Stanford offers more than 20 online creative writing courses ranging from 5 to 10 weeks. They’re pricey (from roughly $150 to $1,000), but you’re guaranteed to get some top-notch writing instruction.
Looking for something a little more budget—or schedule—friendly? Mediabistro offers a variety of online writing courses covering everything from basic grammar to advanced copywriting techniques and business writing.
5. Set Up a Schedule
Writing is actually pretty similar to working out. The first couple times you do it, you struggle to even finish. But keep practicing, and before you know it, the things that used to feel impossible are now simple.
Everyone has different amounts of free time, but try to shoot for at least 30 minutes of writing practice every day. (If you can fit in more, even better.) Like exercising, it’s helpful to pick one time and stick to it. Most writers opt for early in the morning or late at night, depending on when their creativity and energy peaks—but go with whatever works for you!
6. Rewrite Old Pieces
Reading your old work should make you cringe: It shows you’re improving. To simultaneously benchmark your progress and hone your skills, pick up an old piece and make it better.
You can either make light edits or do a total rewrite, depending on the quality of the piece. Take note of what you’re changing. Is your tone different? Are there structural errors? Do you need more or less explanation?
Once you go back to your current work, try to stay conscious of the mistakes you found so you don’t repeat them.
Don’t stop now. Enroll in a Mediabistro writing course today. The most successful writers look for ways to keep growing and perfecting their craft.