10 Tips to Make You a Better Writer

Writing anything can be daunting, especially if it is something that you don’t do often. The blank page can be discouraging, and we feel pressured or cursed to be perfect writers after too many years of listening to high school English teachers who expected your first draft to be perfect. Every word can be a struggle to put on paper or screen, but writing doesn’t have to be so difficult.

The first trick is to set yourself in the chair and begin.

So, how do we brave this all-too-intimidating task?  These ten tips can help you take your idea from the blank page to the finished project. 

  1. Beat writer’s block before it starts by getting over your fear of the blank page.
    The sculptor can’t make a bowl without clay on the wheel, and a writer can’t work without words on the page.  One of the easiest ways to get past the paralysis is to set a timer for 30-60 seconds and write as quickly as you can anything and everything that comes to mind—even if it is words, phrases, notes, drawings, doodles—get it out of your head and onto the page.  Get those ideas flowing! No one will ever see this idea dump except you. Remember this exercise is only a warmup; it isn’t your draft.  This is Pre-Writing.  It could look something like this:

    Okay, I don’t know what to write. La la la la…I am supposed to write for 30 seconds, and the second hand is going so slowly but I have no idea what to write, so what is this thing that I have to write about? L:L ???? Oh, yeah, it is an article about how to make yourself a better writer, and I have to come across as someone who knows what they are doing, which I do, but still how do I narrow it down to only ten?  Of course, just get over your fear of the blank page….

    As you can see, most of that freewriting won’t be used, but these rambling words mean that the page isn’t blank anymore.  Other words can be added; other words can be taken away.  By allowing yourself to write whatever comes to mind, you have permitted yourself to simply put words down without fighting your inner critic. 

  2. Make an outline for what you need to write about. The outline doesn’t need to have Roman numerals or capital and lower case A’s and B’s as we learned in school. That type of outline can be helpful but isn’t necessary. Instead, simply jot down topics in the general order that you want to cover. This will ensure you do not forget any points you want to make.

  3. Consider your audience. Who will be reading what you have written?  What are their education level(s) and their knowledge of the material?  Your vocabulary, word choice, and length of your writing should be tailored for your audience.

  4. Throw out any sentences, phrases, and words that do not fit your narrative – regardless of how good they sound to you otherwise.  If they don’t fit the writing requirement, toss them out.  Instead, save them in a file to use at another time, but don’t hold on to phrases that do not further your narrative.  Even a rose can be a weed if it is growing in the wrong place. 

  5. Proofread, revise, proofread, revise. Repeat. Yes, “proofread” and “revise” sound the same, but they have subtle differences. Proofreading is to check for the correct word, a comma, or semi-colon out of place. Revision is to check for excess words or a turn of phrase that doesn’t quite fit.  You need to do both several times as you write.

    Check each of the following in your writing:
    • Proper use of commas and other punctuation. As a writer, nothing matters as much as the basic guidelines for punctuation, spelling, and grammar.

    • Do not rely solely on proofing and editing apps. Their use is limited at best – especially in legal and medical writing. 

    • Show, don’t tell. The old adage still stands true. Give details that touch the senses. 
      Example: “Her eyes burned, and her fists clenched, but she wouldn’t allow herself to cry.” vs. “She was angry.”

    • Subject/modifier agreement. Remember “each,” “nothing,” “everyone,” and “everybody” are all singular and use a singular verb such as “goes” or “has.”

    • Eliminate excess and filler words or phrases such as “just,” “there are/is,” and “basically.” These words and phrases are great when you have a word count to fulfill, but they show a lack of maturity and lessen the impact of your writing.

    • Avoid clichés like the plague! Use original descriptions, similes, and metaphors to captivate your readers. Entertain them regardless of the subject material.  You are a writer; use your own words!

  6. Make the words become a melody instead of a redundant repetition. Make sure your sentences are a balanced combination of long and short sentences with varying styles. This will make for more interesting and memorable writing.

  7. Put your draft away for a while – preferably a few days.  If you have time, put it away between any major rewrites. It helps to see the writing with fresh eyes, and the words and phrases that sound odd will be easier for you to find. 

  8. Proofread from the bottom up. Read the last sentence, then read the second to last sentence, and so on. You will find run-on sentences, fragments, and sentences that simply don’t make sense far more easily.

  9. Writing is not a linear project. As you write, you may outline, then pre-write, then you may write some more, then edit or go back to outlining.  It depends on what you need at the time.  Remember, writing isn’t an A to Z process.

  10. Accept that, ultimately, perfection doesn’t exist in writing, and you have to let it go. You have a creation, and you shouldn’t hold on to it forever.  Eventually, it will be time to put it out into the world. 

Now, let the words fly!