Why is writing so exhilarating and yet so challenging? It’s because you can always become a better writer.
Even the most seasoned writers must turn on their inner editors and practice self-criticism to train their prose into a publishable form. So how can you improve the quality of your writing? Here are some of my personal writing tips below:
1. Outline First
Good writing will lead the reader through a logical structure. Before you dive into writing, think about the high-level structure of what you need to communicate. Outline the key paragraphs and for each paragraph list the ideas, research, or arguments you are going to mention in each paragraph. A thoughtful outline ensures that the writing to follow will be logical and coherent.
2. Let It Fly
When you begin to write, it’s tempting to strive for perfection with every word you type. Yet getting bogged down at the sentence level right away is actually counter-productive. Consider your first pass at any writing project as a free-write. Focus on getting your ideas down. After you have completed a paragraph or two, then go back and check that what you wrote relates back to your outline. Save word choice, grammar and sentence structure editing for the end of your process.
3. Don’t Abuse $10 Dollar Words
Eschew obfuscation is a favorite tongue-in-cheek idiom among editors for a reason. Writers commonly make the mistake of sprinkling their writing with multi-syllabic vocabulary words in an effort to sound more intelligent or authoritative. The problem is, most readers will have last seen these words when they were 16 and studying for the verbal portion of the SAT. When you edit your own writing, keep an eye out for complicated language and phrasing and always try to find the most direct path to your meaning.
4. Vary Your Style
Every writer has crutches in terms of word choice and sentence structure. Take note of the phrases and words that you tend to repeat. While editing, look at the grammatical construction of each sentence, including how it starts. See if you repeat that same type of sentence throughout your work. Embed a Thesaurus search widget on your desktop or in your web browser so that you can more easily vary repeated words throughout your writing.
What’s your biggest writing challenge? Please share any of your own writing struggles and tips in the comments below!
Photo via stevendepolo.