1. Write every day
Yes, I’m starting with the Queen Of All Writing Tips. To be a good writer you must write. Preferably every single day.
That doesn’t mean you need to create a well-rounded masterpiece each day, it just means you need to get into the habit of writing regularly. The idea is that, whether you realise it or not, you’re continually improving your craft.
All you’ve gotta do is stick to your writing schedule and just get words on paper (or screen).
I was debating whether to include this one – surely most writers are already avid readers?
So perhaps 'widen the sphere of what you read' is more appropriate?
Either way, if you don’t love reading, can you ever really love writing? Cue rabid debate in the comments section below. (Log in to access.)
3. Keep it simple
Always use simple language. Nobody wants to read long, complicated copy. Research has found that even lawyers would rather read simple, high-school reading age content than writing that’s full of… well, law jargon.
People don’t read content online – they scan it. That means they don’t read properly from top to bottom, or even from word to word. They scan in an F-shape, looking for something relevant to grab their attention.
You’re doing it right now.
4. Leave your work to ‘sit’
When it comes to editing a first draft (and if you have the luxury of time on your side), leave your writing to sit for a day or two and distract yourself with something else.
The next time you read your work it will be with a fresh pair of eyes, and you’ll find ways of improving it that you wouldn’t have if you’d switched straight from writing to editing.
5. Don’t proofread in the writing process
Ooh, this is a tough one for me. I love a good proofread as I write.
Thing is, the side of my little brain used to put those sentences together is a different part to that used for proofreading and critiquing.
Give your work the full attention it deserves in both areas by keeping the writing and editing processes separate.
6. Read your work out loud
Reading your work out loud might unsettle your family or housemates, but it will also help you view your work as a reader rather than a writer.
And what better way to spot those glaringly obvious errors than becoming the objective reader of your work?
(Bonus save-the-planet tip: You can trick your brain in much the same way by converting a Word doc into a PDF and reading it on screen. Works for me.)
7. Be ruthless
We writers are an emotional bunch. We can get a bit attached to what we consider to be our best work.
Whether you’re writing a book or a blog post, don’t leave parts in just because you’re proud of a particularly well-structured sentence or a clever metaphor.
Try to look at your work objectively and cut parts out that don’t need to be there. Follow American novelist, Elmore Leonard’s lead:
“I try to leave out the parts that people skip.”
8. Always use an active voice
What does an active voice sound like?
“Beckham kicked the ball.”
What does a passive voice sound like?
“The ball was kicked by Beckham.”
The first sounds clear, lively and dynamic.
The second sounds boring, drab and like we’re back in schoool.
9. Avoid redundant words and phrases
Don’t use words like “very” or phrases like “at this moment in time” unless absolutely necessary. (Even then, don’t.)
Ditch all redundant words and phrases from your writing. Your reader/client/editor will thank you for it.
10. Seek out criticism
Don’t learn to accept criticism – learn to seek it out.
I know – I’m crazy!
Allow different people to read your writing and ask them to respond to it honestly. This tip is always a tricky one and has been left until last so you can mull over the words of the mighty Neil Gaiman:
“When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”