So, how does one become a better writer? There are seemingly endless theories, books, posts (just like this) from one writer to the next, sharing advice on how to essentially, transfer thoughts from your mind to paper while simultaneously providing entertainment. That's what writing is, isn't it?
This article isn't about how to win the Pulitzer. If I knew that, I'd have done it myself. This post is for everyone--the average writer, the college student, the young professional, etc. Taking your writing to the next level doesn't require a Masters from Iowa's Writers' Workshop--there are three things that I believe will put you in the top 20% of writers if you practice them regularly. Enjoy.
1 - Become a good reader
Writing begins as thought. Where do stories come from? We either live them ourselves, someone tells us, or we make them up, using our imagination. Though, it'd be incredibly inefficient to orally tell stories to millions of people--enter writing. Writing solved this ages ago, it's how you can enjoy Homer or Shakespeare. These raconteurs wrote their stories.
To help you improve your own writing, you must expand your reading palette. Fiction, nonfiction, mysteries, sci-fi, psychology, genre is irrelevant--what you "crave" is superb writing. Pulitzer Prize winning author and New Yorker contributor John McPhee once wrote an entire essay on oranges. Masterful, engaging, prose makes any subject fascinating.
Once you've tasted good writing, you'll quickly be able to discern original and effective writing from lazy, dull, and average content. Jiro Ono is perhaps the world's most famous sushi chef. His advice for cooks? "In order to make delicious food, you must eat delicious food." As with writing, if you want to write quality content, you must read quality content.
2 - Think like a designer
Writing is only half the battle--there's work to be done before and after. That's why I recommend thinking like a designer. Architects for example consider space, function, size, safety, materials, all before sketching blueprints. What's the intention? Start there, then ask questions like: Who's my audience? What's the one thing I want people to take away? etc. Designers are particularly skilled at deriving problems to their most simple form, then they solve for that. Here's my designer-friend Nicholas Petersen's philosophy: "Good design is finding a solution to a problem. Great design is finding the simplest solution to the same problem."
Enter editing. Most people dread cutting sections of their writing--after all, producing content isn't easy. Though, I'd argue good writers don't see it that way. Editing is part of the writing process. Editing is solving for the "simplest solution". Spare your reader excess anecdotes, words, punctuation, etc. Of course, this takes time. It might take as much if not more time than writing. Tedious? Perhaps, but your readers will thank you. Words are raw materials--it's how you use them that make you a better writer.
3 - Write every day
The only proven way I know to get better at something is to do it. I've competed in collegiate-level soccer, learned the viola, taught myself ukelele, figured out how to make websites, etc. All of these took time, patience, and practice. It's how we learn.
My brother Jake is a professional guitarist. His professor used to say, "Jake, you've got to play to play." And so I say, you've got to write to write. Write about anything, the weather, your day, food, how to tie a shoe--subject is dwarfed in importance by the actual art of putting ideas to paper. Repetition, like that scene from Karate Kid, when Mr. Miyagi "teaches" Daniel by telling him he must wax cars. "Wax on. Wax off." Write. Write. Write.
These three things, become a good reader, think like a designer, and write every day have transformed the way I think about writing (for the better). Reading my work from a year ago is like night and day. Is it ever "good enough"? No--it can always be "better", but that's not the point. The purpose, the "one thing" I want you to take away is that anyone can write.
What's your writing advice? Let me know in the comments below. If you found this useful, consider hitting subscribe or sharing with a friend. I look forward to reading your stuff.
Check out these additional resources
3 Reasons to Write
10 More Rules of Writing
The Sparano Scale