How You Can Become a Better Writer

So you love the written word and are an avid reader. You know the basics of writing but want help honing your craft and giving your prose just that extra bit of polish. There are plenty of tips to help you with this quest.

Read or re-read "The Elements of Style" by Strunk & White. It is practically the Holy Grail of English grammar. Sure, it may seem a little stodgy at times, but the basics never lose their cool.

Read a wide span of material. Not just from plays to novels to short stories to poetry to non-fiction, but take your reading to another level. People tend to gravitate to people and ideas with which they already agree. So, for example, if you're a liberal, why not read a few issues of a conservative magazine or newspaper or vice versa? The point isn't to get you to agree with an opposing viewpoint, but to look at it from another point of view. Differing points of view will add depth to your knowledge base, and thus, your characters.

Allow yourself to write a crappy first draft. It's the secret of every writer. Just get the thoughts on the page without criticizing yourself. Editing will come later. Many people are so worried about failing that they never try anything. Knowing that your first draft will be imperfect takes the pressure off so that you can have more fun putting words on the page.

Writing is re-writing. No one writes a perfect first draft. Edit for clarity, repetition, spelling and grammar. Misspelled words are a huge red flag that you don't know what you are doing, and yet with computer spell-checks, they are the easiest mistakes to correct. On the other hand, the spell checker won't correct you when you confuse their, they're and there. Some grammar checkers might, but reading your work with a critical eye, or asking someone else to do so, is the best approach.

If you have the time, let your piece of writing sit. Don't look at it for a few days. That way when you return to it, you'll approach it with a fresh eye.

Occasionally read your material out loud. Good writing has its own rhythm. Sentences vary in length and complexity; your writing should have a cadence, so that your voice naturally rises and falls. If you're bored reading your material out loud, you know you have some work to do if you're going to keep your readers interested.

Keep a pad of paper near your bed. You may find that you get ideas, even if it's just a turn of phrase, when you're about to go to sleep. You may think that you'll remember the idea in the morning, but alas, you rarely do. Jot down the ideas; later, you'll be grateful you did.

Be yourself and have fun. This may not apply to some writing styles, such as corporate or technical writing. When writing, you are metaphorically putting yourself on the page -- your style, your humor. When people read your piece, there should be a sense of "you."

Get feedback. Even professional writers get feedback from editors or other professional writers.

Start thinking of yourself as a writer. The more serious you are about the craft of writing, the more you'll work at every day and find endless ways to improve.

Photo Credits
  • Andrea Chu/Digital Vision/Getty Images