No matter your medium, writing is a learned skill that doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Moreover, writing well is hard work and, unfortunately, there are no simple shortcuts to becoming a wordsmith overnight.
If you work in an office or run your own business, a quarter of your workday likely consists of writing. From reports and proposals to tweets and texts, the written word rules the roost, and your output might shock you.
Today’s average worker composes close to 40,000 words per year just through email. That’s right—your “sent” folder probably contains the same amount of words as The Great Gatsby.
Since so much of daily communication depends on the written word, you might as well learn how to get better at writing.
Regardless of your reason for putting words on the page, here are some universal tips to help you write more effectively.
1 Don’t Write and Edit at the Same Time
When you sit down to write the first chapter of your soon-to-be bestselling novel, don’t let yourself get stuck on every sentence.
If you’re deleting more than you’re keeping, you’ll never get past the first page. Plus, you’re probably thinking far too much about your audience (who won’t have anything to read if you’re constantly scrapping sentences!)
Instead of doubting your words and second-guessing your genius, separate the time you spend writing and editing.
For every hour you spend writing, spend two hours editing your work. You may even consider stepping away from your writing for a day and returning to it when you have a fresh perspective.
Good writing, after all, is rewriting. You’ll be able to shape your work into a more powerful and concise product if you turn off your internal editor while putting words on the page.
2 Avoid Throat-Clearing
Doing a quick online search for the comfiest running shoes or today’s best film directors will return a colossal amount of blogs, social media posts, and listicles. Because the internet is littered with regurgitated writing, much of this content contains inessential intros and avoidable babbling.
Start practicing better writing by ditching the nonsense. Assert your points as clearly as possible and avoid qualifying words—like rather, very, and little—that suck the life out of your sentences. Mark Twain even suggested substituting “damn every time you’re inclined to write very,” to ensure your writing only includes what’s needed.
If you’re unsure whether your piece begins with too much throat-clearing, delete your first few paragraphs and see if your writing becomes more clear. Using too many fluff words will only make your writing feel lifeless and distract the reader from your true meaning.
3 Sharpen Your Writing Tools
One of the most common writing tips out there is to read as much as you write. Not only is reading one of the easiest ways to become familiar with different writing styles and spawn new ideas, but it’s also an excellent strategy for sharpening your writer’s toolbox.
Whatever your level of competency, you can always improve your skills by reading more about writing. When’s the last time you skimmed through a writing style guide? Do you follow any bloggers who send out daily writing tips? There are some fantastic resources out there—especially ones written by masters of the form.
Another useful tool is a well-developed vocabulary. As you know, there’s no use choosing a ten-dollar word when a ten-cent word will do the trick. Having a wider vocabulary will make it easier to choose the most appropriate tool for the task at hand. Sometimes you’ll need the crescent wrench; other times, you can get away with just the nuts and bolts.
With these tips in mind, writing will come more easily and you’ll be equipped to compose poignant, memorable prose like a real wordsmith.