I don’t know any writer who doesn’t want to be better at the craft.
I’d be dishonest if I didn’t tell you that the best way to improve your writing is to write. But just telling you to write isn’t overly helpful.
Instead, here are some things (big and small) you can do to improve your writing now.
1. Improve your information gathering
As they say, “garbage in, garbage out.” You can’t write good stories if your information gathering is flawed.
Need some help? Check out my 10 Simple Steps for Stronger Reporting and Turning Journalistic Scribbles into Professional Notes.
2. Read everything
Good writers are avid readers. Making time to read every day will improve your writing, whether what you read is well written or not. You’ll have more ideas and model positive examples while avoiding negative ones.
Not fully convinced? Check out my post on Why You Should Read Every Day.
Want to read but don’t feel like you have time? This post on Making Time to Read will help.
3. Keep an idea file
You can’t write if you don’t have a topic to write about.
Organize your ideas by writing them down, clipping them out, etc., and storing them in one location. Having an idea file will ensure that you always have something to write about.
Need more help? Check out my post on 12 Tips for Finding Story Ideas.
4. Write every day
You must make time to write every day because you cannot become a better writer without writing. Here’s my advice on How to Write a Lot.
5. Consider your audience
Don’t just think about the group of people you’re writing for. Writing for demographics won’t work. Instead, picture one person who is in your targeted audience. Write for/to that person. Doing this will help you find your voice.
6. Understand your topic
Your writing tends to become bogged down when you don’t really understand what you’re writing about. Make sure you understand the topic as well as you can before you start writing.
The other side of this is that you shouldn’t spend so much time researching that you use is as an excuse not to write. Understand the topic, then write.
7. Write, don’t edit
You won’t do yourself any good by writing three words and deleting one. Write first, then edit afterward. Just let the words flow, don’t worry about whether they’re good. In other words, allow yourself to write the shitty first draft, then move on.
8. Identify your flow
Some writers work best in the morning, while others work better at night. Discover the time and place that creates a flow state for you and stick with it. Read more about flow states.
9. Write without distraction
We all have friends who can write, read or study with the television on or a bazillion things going on around them. I’m not that person. Find out what you need to write without distraction. Shut down social, turn off your phone, find a quiet room… do whatever you need to do to create a productive writing environment.
1o. Consider format
Writing really is about plugging information into a formula. Not sure what I mean? Check out this Four-Part Formula. It works for all online writing.
11. Write and rewrite your lead
The lead determines whether people will keep reading. You have to make sure those opening sentences interest and entice readers.
12. Use active voice
Active voice makes your writing stronger. The best way to write in active voice is to use subject-verb-object sentence construction.
Not sure how to make your writing active? Try this zombie trick.
13. Use words you know
Never use a word you don’t understand. Spread truth, not ignorance. If you use a complex term, be sure to explain it to your readers. As soon as you include information you don’t understand in your writing, your editor will ask you what it means and you’ll feel foolish.
14. Use official titles
Ask every source to spell his/her name and provide his/her official title. Always use those official titles when identifying them on first reference.
15. Attribute second
You should always have at least two sources for each story. After that, how you organize information from those sources is important. When you’re attributing information, be sure to put the attribution at the end of the sentence whenever possible. For example, Kenna said blah, blah, blah reads so much better when it is Blah, blah, blah, Kenna said.
16. Use said
People don’t explain, exclaim, reveal, etc. Get comfortable with using said. It lacks bias and is the only word you should use for quote attribution.
17. Delete habit words
Everyone has words they use too much. Determine yours and delete them from your writing. Hot contenders include that, now, currently, literally, and very.
18. Cut the fat
See how many words you can delete before you hit publish. I like to tell students to pretend every word costs $1 and save your money. Concise writing is clear writing.
Phrases worth cutting include in order to and in the process of.
19. Write in time, date, place order
Write everything in time, date, place order. For example, the meeting is at 10 a.m. Saturday in Room 151.
If the place is a business, always include the address.
Don’t start sentences with days or dates. When it happened rarely is more important than what happened.
20. Avoid cliches
There’s no place for cliches in your writing. They’re lazy.
21. Avoid clauses
Don’t start sentences with long clauses that only delay the action. If a clause requires a comma, move it to the end of the sentence.
22. Avoid semicolons
Semicolons are for complex and/or compound sentences. Simple sentences make for the best writing. Break complex or compound sentences into two sentences instead.
23. Use states of being correctly
Above, below and around are states of being. Use them literally and correctly.
24. Use strong verbs
Print your story. Circle the verbs. Replace every “to be” verb with an active one.
25. Pay attention to detail
Give your readers enough details to enhance the story, but not so many details that they get lost in them. Show, don’t tell, but delete any description that doesn’t advance the story.
26. Avoid word counts
Never write to a number. Write until you’re done. When the story is told, stop writing.
27. Spell check and proofread
You all know about how spell check doesn’t catch everything, but you still need to use it. Spell check your work, then proofread it carefully.
28. Change format
Printing your story or reading it out loud helps you find errors. It also helps you better understand how your writing will sound to your readers.
Editing your own writing is difficult. Read 11 Tips for Editing Your Own Writing for help.
29. Save your commas
Don’t throw around commas like they don’t matter. Instead, pretend you only have so many commas to use for the rest of your life. If you run out of commas, you’re destined to a life of run-on sentences. If in doubt, leave it out.
30. Meet deadlines
Deadlines are there for a reason. Not only does meeting deadlines make you look more professional, many times it gives you time to make necessary revisions.
31. Just write
Stop talking about or thinking about what you’re going to write. Put your rear in the chair and write.
To become a better writer, you must write. Following these writing tips will move you beyond just putting words on paper and help you write better, faster.