1. Brush Up on the Basics
Before you can start writing incredible content, you’ll need at least an intermediate understanding of the basic principles of writing.
This doesn’t mean you need to enroll in a prestigious creative writing program at an Ivy league university, but you will need to know the basics of grammar and spelling. Every writer should have a copy of “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White on their bookshelf, as this small but invaluable book is one of the most comprehensive resources on the correct use of grammar and other helpful topics.
For quick and easy online resources, bookmark Grammar Girl and, of course, Merriam Webster.
Improve my writing skills grammar crackers
2. Write Like It’s Your Job
If you want to get better at something, you have to practice — and writing is no exception!
Unfortunately, there are few shortcuts that can transform you into an amazing writer overnight, and even the most talented writers had to learn their craft over a period of many years. It’s admitedly even harder to write while considering SEO and how to drive traffic to your post.
If you want to improve your writing skills, writing on a regular basis will not only diminish your fear of the blank page (or blinking cursor), it will also help you develop a unique style. So, even if nobody reads it, keep writing. Practice makes perfect.
[ Learn how to write better ad copy with our free guide: 10 Tricks to Get the Click ]
3. Read Like It’s Your Job
The best writers are also keen readers, and reading on a regular basis is an easy way to start developing your writing skills. I don’t just mean blog posts, either — diversify your reading material. Expand your horizons to more challenging material than you typically read, and pay attention to sentence structure, word choice, and how the material flows.
Improve my writing skills cat reading book
The more you read, the more likely you are to develop an eye for what makes a piece so effective, and which mistakes to avoid.
4. Find a Writing Partner
If you work at a reasonably sized company, the chances are pretty good that there is at least one other person who is also wondering how to become a better writer. Although writing is typically considered a solitary activity, the best writers know when it’s time to get much-needed feedback on their work.
Talk to your coworkers (or friends) and ask someone if they’d be willing to cast an eye over your work — they may spot mistakes that you overlooked.
Finding a writing partner is also a great way to hold yourself accountable and keep going.
5. Join a Workshop or Take a Night Class
Most people balk at the idea of standing in front of a room full of strangers and baring their soul to the world, but joining a writing workshop can be immensely beneficial — and a lot of fun (if you manage to find a good one).
Improve my writing skills writing workshop
You don’t need to have an unfinished novel hidden away in your desk drawer to join a workshop. These days, content marketing meet-ups and professional development groups are becoming wildly popular. Join one of the many content marketing groups on LinkedIn to meet like-minded writers, or search for writing workshops near you on sites like Meetup. Pick a topic, write something, listen to the feedback of the group, and then revise it. Rinse, repeat.
6. Dissect Writing That You Admire
Most people read the same blogs or sites on a regular basis because the material appeals to them — but fewer people understand why their favorite blogs are so appealing.
Find a handful of recent blog posts you really like, then print them out. Next, just like your high school English teacher did, take a red pen and highlight things you liked: certain sentences, turns of phrase, even entire paragraphs. Examine why you like these elements, and see if there are any common threads in your favored reading material. See how writers take one subject and transition into another. Apply these techniques to your own work.
Let’s take a look at a particularly powerful (and memorable piece) from Copyblogger that serves as a great example of this.
Improve my writing skills copyblogger example
Improve my writing skills copyblogger example 2
Immediately, you’re hooked by Morris’ opening. You can’t not read to see what happens next. The pacing is excellent, it grabs your attention, and best of all, it keeps you reading. This piece was first published back in June, and I still remember it. Read the full post here, and see how Morris masterfully tells the story of a band named Death and how this relates to writing content.
7. Imitate Writers You Admire
Before we go any further, a disclaimer — imitation is not the same as plagiarism. Don’t rip off anyone’s work. Ever.
Just as you probably have a list of blogs you read often, you’ll likely also read the same writers on a regular basis. Identify what it is you enjoy about their work, and see if you can use it to improve your writing skills. Does a writer you like use humor to spice up dry topics? Try it. Do they use pop culture references to make their work entertaining and useful? Try that, too.
When I first started writing, I imitated some of my favorite nonfiction writers and essayists, such as Joan Didion, Truman Capote and Bill Bryson. I also attempted (and failed) to imitate writers such as Dave Eggers and Dan Kennedy, but soon realized that I wasn’t funny enough and gave it up. Over time, I eventually developed my own style, but reading the works of these writers and seeing how they constructed their essays and books was immensely helpful to me as a writer (see tip #3).
8. Remember That Outlines Are Your Friend
The blinking cursor of a blank page is a considerable foe, even for the most experienced writers. Before putting pen to proverbial paper, sketch out an outline of what you plan to write. This will be your battle plan, and it will help you win the war. Very few — and I do mean very few — writers sit down to write anything without a solid plan in mind.
Improve my writing skills outlining with post its
An outline doesn’t have to be complex. A simple framework of which sections should appear in a particular order, along with a few sentences about what each section contains, may be enough. If the topic you’re tackling is a little more complex, your outline might have to be, too — but having an outline before you write is like having a roadmap in the glove box of your car before a road trip. If you start to feel lost, refer back to your outline and get back to kicking ass and taking names.
Let’s take a look at a real example — one of my own outlines:
Brief summary of the post
Section 1 — What is Brand Voice?
Paragraph(s) explaining the key principles behind brand voice (style, tone, and messaging)
Examples of each
Section 2 — Developing Brand Voice with Content
Explanations of how to develop brand voice using content (written, visual, video)
Considerations for content producers/marketers to bear in mind when producing content (strategy, goals, overall brand messaging)
Section 3 — Examples of Content That Builds Brand Voice
Several examples (three or four) of content that aligns well with marketing positioning and branding of recognizable brands
This outline eventually became my recent post about brand voice. I deviated from my initial outline slightly, but the overarching structure was always there to keep me on target.
9. Edit Your Work Ruthlessly
So, you’re writing every day (or regularly, at least), and you’re feeling more confident about your work. Awesome! Now you’re going to become your own harshest critic.