The key to better writing – whether it’s a school essay, business proposal, book manuscript, feature article, or blog post (phew!) – is using clear and effective words and sentences.
“There are no dull subjects,” said H.L. Mencken. “There are only dull writers.” Yikes, that’s a lot of pressure for writers! We can’t blame the topic…we can only blame our writing. If you’re not telling stories in your essays, sharing interesting tidbits in your business proposals, creating suspense in your book manuscripts, sharing telling details in your feature articles, or telling readers what’s in it for them in your blog posts…then you need to learn how to write better.
“Of course, everyone who submits a book thinks it’s good and deserving of publication, critical accolades, and brisk sales,” writes Pat Walsh in 78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published and 14 Reasons Why It Just Might. “But, clearly, that’s true only a very small percentage of the time.”
Here are several quick tips for better writing, which will make even the dullest subjects more interesting for readers (and writers).
1. Ka – Pow ! Write with impact
“Readers often use the same images to describe a document that has no impact,” writes Colter in Writing to Go. “‘It’s flat.’; ‘There’s no life in it’; ‘It just lies on the page.’”
To make your writing more effective, add a little ooomph to your words and sentences. How? Learn what edgy and quirky writing is, and experiment with different, active, and precise verbs and nouns.
2. Use words and phrases you understand
Take this sentence: “The scansion of your writing reveals that you can learn to write better.” Ummmm…huh?….I looked up “scansion” before and after writing this sentence, and I still don’t know what it means. I’m sure I’m not using the word correctly, and I’m equally sure that even readers who know what it means won’t understand the sentence.
To write clearly and effectively, leave out the “razzle dazzle” words (even if you know what they mean).
3. Connect the dots in your writing
Do your sentences and paragraphs have clear transitions from one thought to another?
For instance, I often struggle with the opening paragraphs of my “Quips and Tips” articles, which contain four main elements. I want to introduce the idea (and hook readers!), include a writing quip, feature a book about writing, and then flow into the main article. These four elements need to be connected with logical thoughts and words.
When your writing is clear, it won’t feel choppy or disjointed. Effective writing flows.
4. Take out the trash – even if you’re earning a dollar a word
Established freelance writers may get paid a dollar or two per word, but they strip every unnecessary syllable from their sentences if they want to keep earning a living as a writer. Students writing 1,000 word essays may want to stuff in extra words to complete the assignment, but what they gain in time they’ll lose in grades.
Clear, effective writing is about using short words like “truthfully” instead of long phrases like “as a matter of fact” (or not eliminating the words altogether, if it’s not necessary). If you want to write better, fellow scribes, you need to take out the trash.
5. Use a fine-toothed comb on your article, essay, or business proposal
Even the most successful writers cannot apply every tip for better writing in their first, second, or third drafts. To write better – and keep your readers hooked – you need to edit and revise your work several times. This means starting writing your essay or article long before it’s due…and combing out all the tangles.
How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times by Roy Peter Clark is what I’m currently reading. He covers how to write effective and powerful titles, headlines, essays, sales pitches, Tweets, letters, and even self-descriptions for online dating services.
6. Write deliberately
Every section, chapter, paragraph, sentence and word moves your story or article forward. “It may be my background in newspapering, but I believe the best way to tell a story is the shortest way possible,” writes Walsh in 78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published. When you write your article or book, make sure every word has a specific job to do. Remember that you’re writing to get published!
7. Write solidly and sharply.
“As a test, open your manuscript to any random page and read a few paragraphs to yourself. Does it have informational value? Is the writing, particularly the verb, sharp?” asks Walsh. Another way to make your writing better is to make sure one paragraph leads naturally to the next, by using transitional words and ideas.
8. Write honestly
It’s difficult to reveal yourself in your writing, especially if you’re sensitive to rejection or criticism, but authenticity hooks readers. “Readers appreciate writing that has personality and voice that seems like it was written by a fellow human,” writes Walsh in 78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published.
9. Learn to accept objective feedback
To make your writing better, you need to read your writing with an objective eye. To edit your own writing, you must set aside all thoughts of the hours you’ve already put into the article or book. You need to ignore your ego and see your writing for what it is. “A committed writer is always looking for constructive – often negative – feedback instead of empty praise,” writes Walsh. Consider joining a writer’s group for feedback.
10. Do extensive background preparation
“The serious writer will do the gritty work ahead of time, ensuring a more productive experience,” writes Walsh in 78 Reasons. “Doing the tough stuff – which is often the most tedious – is what will separate you from the pack. Everything you do in order to get published is a considered act with as little dependence on good luck as possible, from the carefully written cover letter to the specific list of recipients.”
11. Learn to edit and revise your writing
To make your writing better, rewrite your chapters, articles, or poems as many times as you can! When I write articles for magazines such as Woman’s Day, Reader’s Digest, MSN Health, and Spirituality and Health, I edit every day until I really, honestly can’t write them any better. This takes about five to seven edits.
Writing a novel? Read 5 Steps to Writing a Killer First Chapter That WOWS Readers.