5 Ways to Improve Your Writing Today
Writing is hard, but it’s worth learning how to do well. Here’s how to improve your writing starting now:
Use fewer words
“Brevity is the soul of wit” was as true in Shakespeare’s time as it is in ours. When you edit, challenge yourself to delete every word that doesn’t provide meaning to the sentence. Regardless of what professional field or genre you’re in, clarity is paramount, and reducing your word count will no doubt result in a pithy piece. Plus, once you take on the task of cutting words out, you’ll have space to find new, colorful words to replace whole expressions. For example, don’t say “He drove around the building to avoid it,” say “He circumvented the building.”
Specifically, use fewer adverbs
Adverbs are the crutch of the inarticulate. Next time you read an article, novel, or even a poem, count how many adverbs (words that usually end in -ly and describe verbs) there are. Not many, I’m willing to bet. That’s because adverbs are unnecessary if you’re acquainted with the right verbs. Don’t say, “He smiled painfully.” Instead, say, “He grimaced.” Or instead of “The snow fell softly to the ground,” say “The snow whispered to the ground.” Your imagination will open up and your word count will fall.
Vary your sentence length
Writer Gary Provost says it best, so I’ll just let him:
“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It's like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety.
Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals--sounds that say listen to this, it is important.
So write with a combination of short, medium, and long sentences. Create a sound that pleases the reader's ear. Don't just write words. Write music.”
Unless you’re writing a dream journal, you have to have a plan for your piece. An outline doesn’t have to be the formal, Roman numeral-ridden thing your high school teachers made you do. Instead, what I like to do is write my full piece as concisely as I can, then go back and fill in the details where necessary. For example, I might "outline" a cover letter with the simple statement “I have the personality and experience to excel in this position,” then dedicate one paragraph to personality, the next to experience, then I’m done. Outlining will save you time and help you focus on what you really need to say.
Let someone else read it
Life’s most worthwhile things are very often hard, and this is no exception. If you want your writing to be the best it can be, get another set of eyes on it whenever you feel you’ve done all you can. You don’t have to give your piece to a writer—your audience is most likely full of people who don’t write, so feedback from your average reader could provide you with invaluable insight.
Start incorporating these tips into your practice today to level up, and send me your piece when you’re done so we can work on it more! :)