By: Lauren Michele McDaniel
It doesn’t matter what level of a writer you are, we all have things to improve on. Usually, people think that writing is this big ordeal that has to be perfect or else they won’t be taken seriously, and improving our writing will probably cost money and classes. I can tell you right now: Improving your writing doesn’t have to be a challenge, nor does it have to be expensive.
I’ve put together a list of sure-fire things you can do to improve your writing.
Even though they are basic strategies, they will help you improve your writing IMMENSELY; and the best part is each of these strategies is free. And believe it or not, most professional writers use these strategies every day to improve their writing.
1. Read EVERYTHING
That’s right, you gotta read ALL THE TIME. One of the greatest mentors I ever had while getting my degrees in writing was this:
“To be a great writer, all you need is a library card.”
Now, granted, that’s not totally all you need. But, the essential idea is true. The more you read, the better you can write.
For writers, reading is like exercise. Like any sport, if you want to be great, you have to exercise the muscles you use for the sport. The same goes for writers. It’s important to stay up to date on what’s happening, what people are most interested in reading, and how the most successful writers are writing.
Language is constantly changing, and it’s our job to stay in the loop so we can be successful AND so our readers will respond in the way we want them to. No one wants to read in a dialect that was popular 50 years ago.
The best way to know that is to read. It’s also one of the BEST ways to motivate a writer. When you see other writers succeeding in the writing industry, you want the same for yourself. The itch a successful piece of writing is contagious!
Now, you don’t have to read novel after novel after novel. You should read something that interests you as well. Personally, I make reading a habit by giving myself the hour before I go to bed to read something I enjoy. This is also helpful for me to go to bed on time, and to cut back on my TV watching.
I settle in with my boyfriend and a warm cup of tea for a whole hour.
By doing this, I am ready and open for inspiration every day. In addition, I keep a little pocketbook journal and a pencil next to me during my reading hour, so when an idea jumps into my mind, I can get it down quickly. I make sure this is actually paper and pencil, and NOT my phone, tablet, or laptop.
I can get distracted pretty easily if I get a notification while I’m writing down an idea on my phone.
Try it out! Check out a book from your local library and schedule at least ONE hour every day to read it. Keep a notebook by your side so you can jot down your own ideas as they come to you. Leave your phone some distance away from you during this hour.
2. Say it out loud
The FIRST thing you should do when you feel finished with a piece of writing is read it OUT LOUD to yourself. As a writing tutor, I find this one of the best practices teaching to my students. When we sit behind a screen for however long it takes us to write something, our brain tends to do this thing where they correct our mistakes in our head for us.
But that often does not end up transferring to the page. We also have a tendency to skim our drafts once we have a concrete idea down on the page. And by skimming, we are much more likely to skip over our mistakes simply because we think we made none in the first place.
By reading our work out loud, we force our brains to slow down and concentrate on each word on the page exactly as it appears.
This way, it’s also much easier to understand how other readers will take the information. If our writing doesn’t sound natural coming out of our own mouths, it probably won’t in our reader’s either. You want to make your writing as easy to read as possible.
Your readers do not want to spend time contemplating what you mean.
Try it out! Read one of your pieces of writing out loud to yourself. Take as long as you need and don’t rush through it. If at any point, your writing does not sound like you’re having a conversation with someone, mark it for revision.
3. Make writing a part of your daily schedule.
Yes, EVERY DAY. You only get better if you practice every day. The best writers make writing a habit. Now the time of day you chose to write is up to you. For me, I am a night owl and NOT a morning person.
I usually get my best writing done at night, or during my breaks in the middle of the day. Before or after I have my reading time, I set aside at least 30 minutes to write.
I also never restrict myself on what I am allowed to write about. I want my writing to come freely, so I can evaluate how writing my organic thoughts improve my writing over time. When you sit down to write, let your natural thoughts get on the page first, especially if you’re a new writer.
It can be as simple as a reflection of the events of the day.
If you’re writing in the morning, perhaps you can reflect on the upcoming events of the day. Are there any significant aspects of the day in which you dread or look forward to?
I like writing about my day first as a warm-up because it empties my brain and all my distracting thoughts, making room for my creative ideas to take form.
If you chose to write about this subject first, it’s a great way to evaluate your feelings on the issues that come up day-to-day, which allow you to prepare yourself for the unexpected in a more composed manner. It’s sort of like meditating!
Try it out! Set aside 30 minutes every day to write. When you sit down to write, remove any possible distractions like cell-phones, tablets and children. Write what naturally comes to you first, then see where your creativity takes you!
4. Take your writing on a “date”
Sometimes, we hit writer’s block. Our brains are empty, we feel like we have no creative ideas, and the words just won’t get on the page.
I’ve talked about some great places to go looking for writing prompts, but there is another possible solution;
Change your scenery.
Sometimes, sitting down at our desk at home just won’t cut it. There’s way too much to think about and a way to many distractions at home. That’s okay.
When this happens, I take my writing on a date. Being in southern Illinois, I’m surrounded by beautiful scenery, a 40-mile-long wine trail and dozens of orchards and vineyards just waiting for me to visit. I have a few favorite wineries that I like to go to when I can’t come up with any interesting ideas.
I have myself a glass of wine, walk around the vineyard in the sunshine and let my mind wander. Then I find a nice spot to sit down, pull out my computer and start writing again.
You can do the same, too! A place as simple as your local coffee shop can be special because NO ONE is around to disturb you. For some, that’s the ONLY way they can write; away from home and the distractions of kids, spouses, pets, and the like.
Sometimes, that’s all you need to spark a different perspective.
Try it out! Take your writing on a date. Again, leave your phone out of sight. Go somewhere new to sit down and write. Buy that glass of wine or coffee and let your new ideas come to you. Write down everything that pops into your head.
Thank you so much for reading!
You can read more about me (including this post) on my website at http://laurenmichelemcdaniel.com/
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