These days, writing is an essential skill, no matter what field you’re in. We text, we email, we convey instructions in messages.
But boy is writing difficult! Good, clear writing is indicative of good, clear thinking and should read as easily as a casual conversation. But it’s not so easy.
Though I’ve written countless articles for blogs like Design*Sponge and magazines like Computer Arts, I’ve never been formally trained to write. But I always wrote anyways. I wrote short stories as a kid, I wrote a fiction novel for my graduate thesis, and I write here on this blog.
I learned how to write by writing. And writing and writing. (10,000 hours, right?) And while I have a lot to learn still, I thought I’d share some of the bigger tips on how to improve your writing:
1. Know what you want to say.
Before you type even one word, have a clear goal for what you’re trying to communicate. You can always get creative as you craft your copy, but starting with a clear idea will save you from wasting time staring at the blinking cursor and aid in getting to the guts of what you’re trying to say.
2. Talk to yourself.
Before you type, say what you’re trying to write out loud (or mouth it if you’re in a crowded coffee shop like I am as I write this post). Now, try to capture that conversational tone in your writing. This doesn’t necessarily mean writing things down, word for word, rather, try to capture the natural sentence structure and leave out unnecessarily fancy words. After you’ve written it, read it aloud again. Does it read like a stiff piece of copy-writing, is the context clear, does it sound like you?
3. Omit, delete, erase.
Brevity is the soul of wit! Knowing what to leave out is sometimes more important than knowing what to include. Unless it really adds something deliberate such as your point-of-view, humor, or offers context, take anything irrelevant out of your copy and avoid embellishing. Less is typically more. No matter how good your intentions, there’s no need to over-write. Any time I’ve done this, I’ve gone back into a post and edited it out! Say your piece and move on.
4. Question it (like the non-precious thing that it is).
Once you’ve written a sentence and capped it with a period, don’t think of it as untouchable. Re-read that sentence. Could it be clearer? Did you repeat yourself? Is it necessary? Did you get the point across that you set out to? Don’t think of your copy (or any of your work for that matter) as precious. Give yourself permission to edit, delete, or start over.