I have always loved to write. Whether it was academic writing or creative writing, from as far back as I can remember I have considered myself an avid writer – but that doesn’t mean that I’m great at writing. I still have much to learn, and over the past year I have tried to become more intentional about improving. When thinking about what I would write for my next blog post, it seemed natural that I would share some of my own personal strategies on how to become a better writer. Perhaps some of these strategies may be helpful for you, but if not that is okay too. I would love to read about your own methods in the comments below.
Okay, here we go:
- Read widely and often – I have found that the more I read, the more likely I am to pick up on the subtle and not-so-subtle elements that differentiate mediocre writing from excellent writing, while also enhancing my vocabulary. For example, it may seem simple but if I come across a word that I don’t know the meaning of, I look it up in the dictionary – giving myself the opportunity to use it myself in the future. Plus, I get to see how the word is used in the context of what I am reading.
- Don’t just read, also analyze – Aside from reading for pleasure, I also try to really think about the writer’s word choice, flow, structure, and arguments. What do I like about the writing? What don’t I like about it? What would I change if I could? I also try and pay close attention to the specific characteristics of the discipline or genre that the author is using. This helps me get a feel for the variations in writing style, vocabulary and method that may be used. Recently while reading a fantasy novel I found myself feeling bothered and bored by the story. I realized that the author was depending too much on describing past events rather than using dialogue and events in the present to further the plot. This style of writing ultimately resulted in me, as the reader, feeling like nothing was happening and I began losing interest. Now I know that when writing fiction it’s important to use dialogue, action and description in a balanced way! If I hadn’t taken the time to think about why the story was bothering me, I wouldn’t have been able to come to this conclusion.
- Just keep writing – Even if I don’t have an essay due or a blog post to write, it’s essential that I keep writing. I shouldn’t shy away from putting my own pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) as the more practice I get, the better I will become! One strategy that I’ve been trying is completing writing exercises. A simple one that I used recently was a descriptive exercise – I picked a setting or a recent event from my own life and wrote a detailed description of it, trying to employ all five senses in a realistic and logical way. Many of these kinds of exercises can be found online.
- Reread and edit – Whenever I write something, I don’t just pound it out and assume that it’s perfect. I reread what I have written multiple times and edit as I go. This means that as I am writing a particular paragraph, I may reread the paragraph itself 2 – 4 times as I write it, getting a sense of how each sentence fits in with the flow of the paragraph and the text as a whole. This allows me to simultaneously pay attention to the flow and structure of my work, as well as grammar and word choice. Editing this way also saves me from needing to make substantial changes to the text at the very end.
- Don’t just write, also analyze – Much the same as when I read and analyze the work of other authors, I also try to analyze my own writing. If I was reading this for the first time, what would I think? Would I understand? Would I want to change something? Would I need more information or details? If necessary, I will intentionally stay away from my work for a period of time, returning to it with a clear head and a fresh pair of eyes. I have also found it can be helpful to practice going over old essays or short stories with a critical eye!
- Ask for feedback – Sometimes I am too close to my writing, too involved in the process that it can be hard to clearly see my weaknesses or errors. It can be a humbling experience, but I have found that asking a peer or, if possible, a professor to provide feedback on a piece of my writing is invaluable. This may naturally happen as part of a course, but it can also be requested if appropriate. However, I’ve realized that the feedback of others will be useless to me if I do not plan on listening to it! I challenge myself to keep an open mind and to be willing to revise my writing.
Becoming a better writer may well be a lifelong process, but armed with these strategies I hope I can continue to improve. As always, if you would like help with a specific writing assignment you can book an appointment here at the Centre for Student Success on the Brantford campus. To book an appointment online, click here.
Summer Peer Mentor