Writing shouldn’t be a painful process— but it is for many people.
Because most of us have an internal monologue that holds us back.
It tells you your writing is terrible. That you have nothing to say. That doing laundry/going for a run/checking on that eBay bid is more important than just sitting down to write.
I have that voice, and I am guessing you do, too.
The truth is, writing is a skill. It’s not something you just learn overnight. And just like any skill, getting better requires practice. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about writing for content marketing, social media, creative writing, or a fiction-based book.
Part of becoming a better writer is, well, to write more. Read books, too.
But that isn’t really helpful, is it?
In fact, a lot of the writing advice out there isn’t actually helpful.
That is why I sat down to write this post— to give you actual useful steps you can take to become a better writer.
These tips are useful for all types of writers — whether you write blog posts, publish B2B ebooks, or need a kick start to write your next novel. And they’re especially true if you’re trying to get you paid to write and land higher-quality writing jobs.
Here’s how to become a better writer with 7 timeless, battle-tested tips.
Step #1. Start With a Detailed Story Outline
There are two types of writers — to ways to skin a cat if you will: planners and those that fly by the seat of their pants. Or as, as R.R. Martin more eloquently put it, architects and gardeners.
Planners start with an outline of what they want to write. They read and research. They jot down their main points, they drop in a few stats and include specific arguments for each point. Then, they go back and flesh out the piece. They add content to make the piece flow, insert quips, and draw the reader through the piece.
Usually, these writers are more focused on business writing or content marketing. You need to plot out certain facts and statistics before actually getting down to the writing part.
Fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants writers just start writing. Ideas flow as they go. They usually have a central point in mind, but they let the writing take them where it wants to go.
Both methods can work, but if you are struggling to write I strongly recommend working up an outline first.
You don’t ‘write fast’ because you’re gifted. You’ll write faster when you know exactly what you’re going to write.
Start by listing out your main points. For example, for this post, I outlined what each tip was going to be, wrote a few lines, then went back to what was written and expanded each to flesh out the entire post. That sense of direction makes it easier to keep going.
Step #2. Write Now; Edit Later
Many writers get bogged down in the ideas and details. Phrases aren’t coming off like you thought they would. A particular sentence isn’t flowing quite right, or your main points aren’t lining up with a specific heading.
Writing will drive you mad if you let it.
So, what’s the solution to improving your writing skills?
Just write. Seriously. Just keep going. Get your words on paper (or your computer screen; it is the 21st century after all.)
Practice makes perfect might be the most clichéd advice, ever. But it’s also true to an extent.
Don’t agonize over every line.
Don’t stop to think about every word choice.
If you can’t think of just the right word, put in a place marker and come back to it. A sentence will form after editing.
Change your editing process to go back later to what you’ve written, and determine if any of those words are any good. Cut, rework, rewrite.
Use a timing tool like Toggl and write for 20 minutes straight. Getting your thoughts on paper gives you a sense of momentum that will carry you through.
You can go back later and find the perfect word or edit sentences that don’t flow just right.
Speaking of editing— don’t just use spell check.
Step #3. Use a Real Editing Tool (Not Just Spell Check)
Spell check is a great tool to make sure you haven’t misspelled an obvious word or left off a period. But it won’t check for the correct your, passive voice, or tell you when your writing is long-winded.
Catching grammar and punctuation is one thing. But you need to move beyond tweaking adjectives and adverbs if you want to bring a piece of content to life.
Ideally, you will want to use real live editor, but editing tools like Grammarly and Hemingway App are fantastic resources to help you polish your work before publishing or sending it to an editor.
It’s like having a writing style editor constantly looking over your shoulder, assisting you every step of the way trying to hit a deadline for your writing projects.
Grammarly, for example, checks for spelling, punctuation, clarity, passive voice, comma splices, and much more.
As you can see above, it ranks each piece of content (this article earned an 81 early in the writing process!) based on a variety of factors, including the number of spelling mistakes, clarity, and engagement.
The tool will read your content and compare your writing to more than 16 million other sites to create that score, so you get a really good idea of whether your writing is better than average. Grammarly also checks for plagiarism, which can slip in by accident. And you can plug it into Google Docs to get instant feedback as you go.
It’s quite simply the easiest way to improve your writing skills by getting real-time feedback.
Grammary’s free version is pretty robust, but if you want the premium version, it will cost you $139.95 a year. Read more to see if Grammarly is worth it.
The former (ProWritingAid) can help you easily spot bad habits, like leaning on the same vocabulary or writing too formally / informally for your audience.
While the latter (AutoCrit) is more fiction-focused, allowing you to compare your writing style against some of the best authors in the business.
Last but not least, Hemingway is a fast (and free!) editing app that will help you simplify word choice and sentence structure.
The readability rating tells you what grade level your content is:
And it also looks for adverbs and the passive voice, which can dilute your message.
Step #4. Never Use a Long Word When a Short One Will Do
George Orwell, best known for writing books like Animal Farm and 1984, opined on ways to improve writing skills in his essay Politics and the English Language
At the conclusion of the essay, he shared his five tips to becoming a better writer:
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Having your own voice is important— but boring the pants off your readers is not.
Long, complicated turns of phrase dilute your message. They distract and confuse the reader.
They make your words hard to read.
This is really particularly important today, when the majority of content is read not just online, but on tiny mobile devices.
People are reading your content, more often than not, on their phones or tablets. Readers will not spend time slogging through complicated sentences.
Be clear, be direct, and use easy to understand words.
Step #5. Don’t Get Distracted. Ever.
The greatest challenge most writers face is actually sitting down to write.
The second greatest challenge is blocking out distractions.
If you are easily distracted when writing, then you need a way to stay focused and make it easier to get into your writing ‘zone.’
This is where distraction-free writing tools come in handy. Here are a few good options:
It’s versatle, providing the organization novelists might need with the distraction-free writing that 24/7 news journalists crave to crank out content. The editor is also extremely easy to use so there’s no long, drawn-out learning period.
To enable the distraction-free writing, just switch over to “Full-Screen Mode.” You can even set background fades to further erode potential distractions that might knock you off course.
Bonus Website Blocking App: Focus Me
Do you have a habit of falling down the internet rabbit hole? One minute you are looking up stats for an article …and an hour later, you find yourself scrolling Twitter with no idea how you got there.
I’ve been there.
To avoid the temptation and mindless scrolling, try FocusMe. It blocks websites and other apps so you have to stay on task. It also offers productivity tools like a Pomodoro timer and break reminders.
Just know if you set it to block certain sites, you won’t be able to go to those sites until the time is up— even restarting your computer won’t work!
Step #6. Keep Your Audience in Mind
There might be a dozen different ways to write something.
But you wouldn’t use the same language in a legal brief as you would in a letter to a friend, right?
Great writers know how to adjust their message, word choice, story, and tone to specific audiences.
Similarly, writers must adjust their tone for business content versus more casual content. You need to read and be in tune with what your audience (not you) wants to hear.
Grammarly, the grammar and plagiarism checker mentioned earlier, has a feature that makes adjusting tone easier.
When you past content into Grammarly, you’ll see this option:
Setting goals allows you to tell Grammarly if you are writing academic, technical, or even creative content and what tone you are aiming for. It then adjusts word suggestions based on your goals.
And most importantly, you’ll learn what to do (or not do) going forward. Your writing skills are honed in the right direction. For instance, short paragraphs are great for blog posts, but terrible for novels.
But, keeping the reader in mind goes beyond just using the language they will understand.
It also means asking yourself — Who is my audience? What will they find useful? What resources or information can I provide that they will find helpful?
Also, consider your target audience’s previous knowledge. Explain terms they might not understand and avoid jargon unless you are writing technical content.
Step #7. Take All Writing Ideas With a Grain of Salt
There is, quite literally, millions of articles on the internet on how to be a better writer. In fact, a Google search shows there are 788 million articles offering tips on how to be a better writer.
It is all a bit overwhelming.
The truth is, there is no “one simple tip” to becoming a better writer. No silver bullet or scammy site like Writers Work that will deliver results overnight.
What makes writing good depends on so many factors— your audience, your tone, the subject matter, even the format content is published in.
None of the tips here (or the tips you find anywhere else on the internet) should be taken as hard and fast rules.
They are a starting point. Try them and see what works for you. If writing an outline doesn’t work, then don’t do it.
If distraction-free writing tools leave you bored or stressed, try writing without the internet or even on paper.
Start with the tips above, then keep trying new strategies until you find out what works for you.
And keep in mind that becoming a better writer is a never-ending process.