How to Improve Your Writing Skills: 16 Proven Strategies

Learning how to improve your writing skills is a tough job. Anyone can become a good writer with a little practice.

You can easily learn about topics like grammar, sentence structure and word choice from an English teacher.

But it takes a lifetime to become a great writer. That's because you've got to master the art of storytelling and giving readers what they want.

With all that said, here are several strategies you can use to improve your writing skills faster.

1. Spend Five Minutes Preparing Your Workspace

File your notes, wipe down your desk, sharpen your pencils and fill your pens.

If you use a computer to write, close everything except the writing application on your computer and disconnect from the internet and social media.

Remember too that research and writing are two separate activities that you should carry out at different times.

You could even take off the doorknob and bring it into your study – William Faulkner did just this to avoid being distracted while he worked.

Doorknobs aside, prepare where you work in advance so that when you sit down, and the words start to flow, you don’t have to stop because you need something or because you are distracted.

Writing tip: Set aside time later for using social media or catching up on the news guilt-free.

2. Work In A Quiet Place

If you’re a new writer, you’ve got to crack open a part of yourself and spill it onto the page.

You can’t become a better writer if you’re working in chaos and you don’t know where anything is.

Even if your writing isn’t personal, your desk, floors, and even your walls belong to your research, notes, and your ideas.

Those who want to improve their writing put in the work

The American novelist John Cheever wrote most of his best works alone in a basement in New York wearing just a pair of boxers.

The British children’s author Roald Dahl wrote much of his work in a shed dedicated solely to writing at the back of his garden.

Writers know they’re about to make a mess, and they can’t do it if they’re working in chaos.

So make space in your life for the writing process.

3. Meditate On A Piece Of Writing

Lots of good writers enjoy working late at night, but this can be a challenge as your monkey mind may be already full of useless thoughts, preoccupations, and ideas.

You can get around this by meditating or exercising for a few minutes before you sit down to work.

Wear your monkey out. Distract it. Write.

Those who prefer writing in the morning have an advantage over night time writers. Your willpower is at its strongest after sleep, and this is when the mind is most creative.

Seize this opportunity to write before you check email, listen to the news or attend to the one hundred and one other things in your day.

If when you start writing, your mind is preoccupied with the demands of day-to-day life, it’s going to be difficult to write anything useful. Get around this problem by writing down your worries, ideas and thoughts down on a long list.

This writing exercise is a double win. Firstly, you’ll clear the rubbish from your mind and feel better and more open to new ideas that are about to come your way.

Secondly, this writing exercise will help you warm up for the page ahead of you.

Writing tip: Get back to your writing faster by meditating at your writing desk.

4. Borrow A Great First Line

‘It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.’

‘Call me Ishmael.’

‘Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’

Writing down a great first line by another author is an effective writing prompt. It will gets your hands moving and the words onto the page.

Stand on the backs of successful writers you admire, and start writing. You can use prompts from the best writing as entry points into your stories and as workarounds for writer’s block.

Up there, the view is clear, and you can see for miles. When you’ve finished writing, give the line back but keep what you’ve written. I won’t tell them if you don’t.

Even if you’re not writing fiction, you can still use first lines from articles you’ve read or non-fiction books that you admire. Or you could take a proven copywriting formula and adapt it to improve your writing.

It's a good way of mixing up your writing style with other that of other good writers.

Writing tip: While using this exercise, lower the bar for what good writing for you looks like. You can fix mistakes later.

5. Change Your Writing Routine

I’m all for the stability of a writing routine, but sometimes the baggage that comes with working in one place is too much.

The lightbulb in your office needs to be changed, yellow paint is peeling from the wall, and the phone keeps ringing. Or perhaps wherever you write is just too distracting to get any serious work down.

It’s good to write in a new environment every now and again.

Take your writing and go to a coffee shop or a library. These places are usually free of the subconscious baggage that comes with working in the same place repeatedly. And sometimes the brain craves a new writing environment.

Ambient noise encourages creativity too. The best writers like JK Rowling would agree – she wrote the earlier parts of the Harry Potter series in a coffee shop.

Writing tip: If can’t leave wherever you write, Coffitivity will recreate the ambient sounds of a coffee shop for you.

6. Start With A Blank Page

In The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, Steven Pressfield compares the job of a writer to the job of hunter – both must go out each day afresh in search of new game.

He writes:

“Do I really believe that my work is crucial to the planet’s survival? Of course not. But it’s as important to me as catching that mouse is mouse is to the hawk circling outside my window. He’s hungry. He needs a kill. So do I.”

When you turn up in front of the blank page, forget your past accomplishments and failures. You may have written a hundred, a thousand words or even ten thousand words yesterday. Or maybe you didn’t write at all.

What’s more important is the blank page ahead of you, the words you’ve yet to get out onto the page, and the ideas you want to shape and form.

Today, you are starting afresh. You are going on the hunt, and you can’t afford to be weighed down by what you did or didn’t do yesterday, last week or last month.

Don't let your prey escape.

Writing tip: try writing a piece somewhere different from where you normal work. A new environment may induce creative thinking.

7. Write Lots Of Messy First Drafts

The job of a first draft is simply to exist. Perfect grammar and sentence structure don't matter that much, as you can fix all that during the editing process.

If you produce lots of messy first drafts, you'll end up with more material to work with. What's more, you'll get more practice writing.

On the other hand, trying to produce a flawless first draft with perfect word-choice is a recipe for writer's block.

So, sit down and free write about whatever comes to mind without stopping to censor yourself.

Lowering the bar for a first drafts works well for everyone from essay writers to academics to journalists and bloggers.

Writing tip: use an app like Grammarly to tidy up your first drafts faster.

8. Try Different Types Of Writing

Perhaps you spend a lot of time writing short stories, fiction and creative writing. That's what I did years ago.

It was fun, but I also spent a lot of time writing the same types of English short stories without getting feedback or publishing my work.

And that feedback is critical for anyone who wants to improve their own writing.

Sometimes, approaching a new genre or medium will help you reevaluate your writing skills. It's hard work, but it's also worthwhile.

When I started blogging, I had to learn how to write online on platforms like WordPress, Medium and even LinkedIn.

I studied the writing style of other bloggers and combined what I learnt with my experiences writing short stories and journalism.

Writing tip: read books and pieces of writing outside of your comfort zone. Ask yourself what you liked and disliked.

9. Stop Writing In The Middle Of A Sentence

Ernest Hemingway famously stopped writing in the middle of a sentence so he’d know where to resume from the following day.

You don’t necessarily need to stop writing in the middle of a sentence, but it’s helpful to have a clear idea of where you want to resume from tomorrow. Perhaps you want to finish your introduction, expand on a certain chapter in your book or work on an outline.

Perhaps it's enough to tidy up.

A master craftsman tidies up after themselves and prepares their work for the following day in advance. They do this because they know creativity is a long-term game, and it’s their job to turn up day after day and do the work.

As a professional writer, tidy up your work, organise your notes and put your writing space back the way it was.

Writing tip… Tip the waitress in the coffee shop if you need to. Make it easier to find the clear space you need to improve your writing day after day.

10. Take Online Courses In Writing

It's easier than years ago to learn the skills behind business writing, copywriting, storytelling and more.

A few years ago, I took an online course in copywriting, which later helped me write more persuasive emails and with business writing. It also helped me figure out what some nonfiction readers want.

I find online writing courses are a nice complement to traditional how to writing books and tutorials.

You can take also online courses from top professional writers like Malcolm Gladwell and James Patterson. Or David Mamet on Masterclass. I like Masterclass because it offers courses for creative writing, business writing, comedy writing and lots more.

In other words, it's about more than sentence structure.

Writing tip: Use mind maps to take notes about what you learn from these courses. They can encompass more than basic grammar mistakes.

11. Change The Tone Of A Story

Imagine if Romeo and Juliet was written not as a romantic tragedy, but as a romantic comedy? Consider other famous stories that you could change the tone of, and do that for your next writing project. This will hone your writing skills and create some interesting works of fiction.

12. Interview Your Characters

If you’re writing fiction, consider interviewing your characters. Marcel Proust offers a list of interview questions to ask your writing characters, and these can be quite helpful. Ask your characters questions like:

  • What is your greatest fear?
  • When do you lie?
  • What is the trait about yourself you most dislike?
  • What is your greatest regret?

Interviewing your fictional characters may seem odd, especially since they are characters you crafted, but it can actually help you think more creatively about who they are and what they might think. Asking the questions and writing the answers will also fine-tune your fiction writing skills.

13. Write A Stream Of Consciousness

Open a blank page on your word processing document or your paper notebook, and start writing. Don’t think about what you write or what it means. Don’t edit anything.

This is called writing a stream of consciousness. As a writer, it benefits you by helping you create ideas. You may or may not use what you write, but it can get the creative energy flowing.

Writing a stream of consciousness is sometimes called free writing. No matter what you call it, the end result is an interesting insight into what motivates you as a person and writer.

It's a good approach to use when writing a first draft as it forces you to hit a target word-count without editing yourself. Then, during a subsequent rewrite, you can tidy up sentence structure and other common grammar mistakes.

14. Explore Flash Fiction

Flash fiction is an extremely short story that has all the structural elements of a longer story but is condensed to 500 words or less. This forces you to quickly develop your plot, characters, and setting, all without sacrificing the clarity of the story. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you can improve your writing skills with this particular activity.

15. Write A Picture Story

Grab the closest magazine or newspaper and find a random picture in it. Then, write a short description and story based on that. Use language that shows how the person feels, what the room smells like, and what the event means to the local community.

Your goal with this exercise is to create something that generates a feeling in the reader, all from a random picture.

16. Find The First Sentence

Creative writing prompts are a great way to explore some new ideas in your writing. Find a winning first sentence to use as your prompt, and from it build a short story.

Where can you get your first sentence? You can find lists online of starting sentences, or you can just pull something from a magazine or other item you are reading. Once you have your starting sentence, let the creativity fly!

Start Writing Today!

Perhaps the best writing tip I can offer for improving your writing skills is to simply start.

Turning up regularly and producing something, anything, is a surefire way to improve. The writing process isn't as mysterious as some make it out to be.

Any great writer will tell you consistency breeds competency.

So get back to it!

Tools For Improving Your English Writing Skills

While creative writing exercises are useful, software and tools can also help you improve your english writing skills. They're an important part of my writing process.

I recommend Grammarly to writers who need help with self-editing, the finer points of english grammar and proofreading. It's a good choice for freelance writers, academic writers, and fiction writers.

ProWritingAid is a popular alternative to Grammarly, and it's suitable for fiction writers.

I use both of these tools regularly to check pieces of writing for instances of inadvertent plagiarism, poor word-choice and more.

Both tools are also good for english and non-english speakers alike.

Hemingway Editor is another useful and free tool for figuring out what constitutes weak writing. It can also help you improve the readability of your work.

FAQs

How can I improve my writing skills quickly?

Practice writing a little every day rather than a lot every now and again. Write for 15 minutes. Write 300 words. Practice builds competency.

How can I improve my writing communication skills?

Use a grammar checker like Grammarly to check your work for errors and mistakes before submitting or publishing it. It's also a good idea to read some of your work aloud before publishing it.

What Exercises Will Help Me Improve My Writing Skills?

Any exercise that gets you writing in a new way or using new words will improve your writing skills. The key is to be creative and try a writing style you haven’t used before.

How Can I Begin My Writing Piece?

Often the best place to begin is the middle. Write the most important details, then finish the piece with the beginning and ending. Often the details in the middle of a story actually guide the best starting and finishing point.

How Often Do Good Writers Use Writing Prompts And Writing Exercises?

Good writers know that they can use tools like writing prompts and writing exercises any time they feel that they are getting into a writing rut. These tools can spark new creativity and get the writing flowing again when it has stalled.

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