30 Effective Writing Tips For Taking Charge of Your Prose

Writing tips

Do you want to improve your writing skills? Or are you looking for some great writing tips?

Over the years, I’ve stayed up late at night and got up early in the morning, to learn how to write.

I’ve pulled out my greying hair, trying to figure out what it takes to write a great sentence and tell an intriguing story.

Some editors told me my work is terrible, while others have asked how much I want to get paid for my story. I’ve published books people read and others which readers ignored or slated. 

Like many writers I know, learning how to write is a life-long practice.

In this post, I offer you 30 of my favourite writing tips. They’re easy to apply and will help you become a better writer quickly.

I’ll also give you 15 great quotes from famous authors about writing – because there’s nothing like learning from the best!

This Article Contains:

(click on the links to jump to each section)

Let’s dive in.

1. Use a Proven Writing Prompt

Have you ever sat down in front of a blank page and found you’ve nothing to say? 

A writing prompt is a nudge in the right direction.

Like a constraint, it provides confines in which to work or write. It could be a question, a statement or a reflection.

You can build your own personal writing prompts; if you needed a little bit more help, my workbook of writing prompts will help apply this writing tip more easily. 

2. Freewrite

Freewriting is a little bit like journaling. 

How does it work?

Turn up and get the words out of your head and onto the page.

Set a timer and, and like the author and poet Natalie Goldberg says, “Keep your hand moving.” 

Don’t stop writing to edit yourself or to refine your ideas until the buzzer stops. 

Freewrite about whatever comes to mind. This exploratory form of writing should help conquer problems like writer’s block to find better ideas and stories for your blog posts, articles or books.

3. Embrace Journaling

Every morning, before I start work for the day, I try to write 150 to 300 words in a journal

I’ve been journaling on and off for over 15 years, and it’s one of my favorite types of writing because it’s for me and me alone

Journaling is kind of like planting the seeds for tomorrow’s story.

Some of them may take root, while others won’t, but you never know if you don’t try. It’s also more affordable than therapy if you maintain this habit.

You could journal about a creative problem or something you’d like to accomplish. Try and use a text document or dedicated app like Day One for this.

4. Show Up

One of my biggest writing tips is to let consistency be your north star. 

Much like the weightlifter who practices the same movement in the gym over and over, showing up and practicing writing every day will help you improve at your craft gradually. 

Commit to this every day. 

Turn up in front of the blank page at the same time each morning. Write every day for a predetermined period. Make an appointment to become a better writer and keep it.

For example, say to yourself:

Every morning at 7:00 a.m., I will write for 45 minutes before I start work; no matter what. 

If you need a little bit of help showing up, consider using the Pomodoro Technique where you track your writing sessions one by one.

5. Copy Out Writing You Admire

Did you ever read a great writer and wonder, “How did they write like that?” 

One of the best ways to learn another writer’s style is to take a sample of their writing and type, or even better, handwrite it out. 

You only have to copy a page or two, but it will help figure out how they construct sentences, paragraphs and even ideas together. Everyone, from copywriters to poets, uses this writing tip to improve at their craft. 

Over the years, I’ve handwritten short stories by Raymond Carver, poetry by Charles Bukowski and even famous sales letters.

6. Learn to Self-Edit

Editing skills and writing skills are entirely different. 

You must approach your manuscript with a critical eye.

That said, every writer, blogger and author must learn the basics of self editing. The best grammar checker software can help you get started. 

Print out your work. Read each paragraph aloud and even listen to recordings of yourself.

This writing tip will help you identify concrete language and find and fix mistakes in your work quickly. I sometimes rely on a self editing checklist that helps me fix common writing mistakes

7. Run the Alien from Mars Test

Several years ago, when I was working as a news journalist for a top-line news paper in Dublin, I turned in a 1000-word article to my editor. 

He struck through my sentences with a red pen, saying, “These are difficult to read and understand.”

What’s wrong with them?” I said.

If an alien from Mars landed into this office, would he be able to pick up this story and understand what was it about?” 

With some reluctance, I admitted, “No.” 

If a piece of your writing is difficult for readers to understand, consider what you can remove, clarify and simplify. Ask yourself:

  • Have you presumed that your readers understand key facts? If so, explain them.
  • Do you use jargon or complicated language? If so, rewrite.
  • Is it obvious what the piece is about to those who aren’t subject matter experts? If not, clarify.
  • Did you provide a background or context to the subject of the piece? If not, include.

8. Hire an Editor

You can spend hours writing, rewriting and editing your work, only for marginal improvements.

Sometimes, it’s all but impossible to see the errors in your work, but give it to another writer or an accomplished editor, and they’ll help find your mistakes quickly.

If you’ve written anything longer than a few hundred words, hiring an editor is an investment in your craft that will pay big dividends. 

For articles and longer pieces of nonfiction, use a service like Kibin or if you’re writing a book, find an editor using Reesdy.

9. Write Guest Blog Posts

Writing guest posts are a great way to build your authority as a writer. It will also help you knock your readers out. What’s more, if you write guest posts for quality publications, you’ll get free, yet valuable editorial feedback. 

This writing tip will also help you determine what your audience shares, comments on and enjoys. Then, you can use this to improve your technique. Ideally, target publications or sites your ideal reader enjoys visiting. 

Depending on the size of the site in question, writing guest posts can be quick and easy or time-consuming. I spend less than an hour on some guest posts and more than 10 hours on others. 

10. Become a Freelance Writer

Freelancing is a little like guest blogging, except your goal is to get paid to write. 

I’ve worked on and off as a freelance writer over the years for newspapers, technology publications and more recently, for Forbes

I like freelance writing because you get money for exploring different types of writing. It’s also a great way of connecting with other experts. I interview many experts and authors for Forbes and feature them on my podcast too.  

To become an effective freelance writer, build up a portfolio of work first, before pitching an editor. Luckily, guest posting can help with that. 

11. Write a Book

Learning how to write a book is a relatively big creative project, but if you have a message to share, it’s a worthwhile pursuit.

Writing a book will also teach you more about writing than spending your time on blogging and short pieces of writing. You’ll learn all about the three-act structure, sign-posting, telling longer stories and more. 

A book will also help you build credibility as an author and teach you more about expressing yourself. 

12. Self-Publish a Book

Self-publishing a book differs from writing a book in that you must make hard creative choices. 

  • What’s your cover going to look like? 
  • What will the sales copy say? 
  • Just what categories are you going to position your book in on Amazon? 

Self-publishing a book will force you to ask and answer these questions, and this, in turn, will teach you more about marketing. 

Don’t wince!

When you combine marketing with writing, you’ll earn more money from your practise.

And let’s face it, everyone should get paid for their work. The good news is, it’s easier than ever for aspiring writers to self-publish a book and become an author.

13. Write Outside Your Preferred Genre

Several years ago, I wrote mostly contemporary Irish fiction

After a while, I grew tired of writing fiction, and I decided to try blogging and later, copywriting. 

I realized long fancy sentences specific to literary fiction don’t work for blogging and copywriting, but it took time to change my style

The change was worth it because I was able to apply some storytelling lessons in my blog posts and articles. If you’ve written a single genre, consider studying a new one. Alternatively, find a writer you admire, read who they read and analyse their pieces.

14. Study Great Writers

This writing tip is easy to apply. 

Firstly, you can read good writing books.

Some of my favourites include:

  • The War Of Art by Steven Pressfield.
  • On Writing by Stephen King.
  • Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.

Secondly, you can take an online writing class.

What writer doesn’t like to learn about how other great writers and creative professionals approach the writing process

Don’t forget to document your lessons in Evernote or or in a notepad to review them later.

Over the years, I’ve captured lessons about how to inject color into my writing, how to use writing prompts, get over writer’s block and lots more.

15. Track Your Writing

Top management consultant and business author, Peter Drucker said, “What gets managed gets measured, and what gets measured gets done.” 

The same applies to the writing process.

When I’m working on a first draft, I keep track of my word count each day and also to set a word count for the entire project. This self-quantification helps me gauge my progress and when I can expect to finish writing the first draft

For example, if I set a goal of writing 500 words each morning, I can expect to write 2,500 words by the end of the week.

Tracking your word count will also help you set targets and even exceed them over time. 

Later on, you might find it more helpful to track the number of hours spent on a creative project because you’re more concerned with improving the quality of your work than hitting a word count.

16. Mindmap Your Writing Ideas

As a writer, one of the biggest challenges you’ll face is organizing your ideas and arranging your ideas. It’s sometimes inefficient to arrange your ideas via a document

If you’re going to embark on a big creative writing project, create a mind map of your writing process. Write down the topic you want to address in a blog post, article or book chapter. Then, expand on the central topic with connecting ideas. 

This will help you find a structure for the piece before you write it. Alternatively, use a mindmap with speech to text software to build your creative skills.

17. Interview Your Ideal Reader

According to Kurt Vonnegut, if you write for everyone, your story will get pneumonia

Instead, write for a single ideal reader: What’s keeping them up at night?

If you have an email list, ask them questions or interview them. You could set up an interview with them over Skype or Zoom and spend time getting to know them. Listen to what they have to say and use it for your future work.

When you sit down to write an article now, this will give you a better idea of your topic, who you’re writing for, what language to use and how to create better content.

18. Study Copywriting

I know copywriting is generally associated with business writing.

However, it’s simply writing that sells. 

Aspiring writers can use it to sell their books, products and courses.

Even if you’re not into business writing or trying to sell courses, copywriting will still help you express your ideas clearly. The good news is, you can apply a basic copywriting formula and expressing your ideas more clearly.

19. Keep a Notebook

A notebook is different to a journal in that it’s less personal and more related to one’s work. 

Leonardo da Vinci kept hundreds of notebooks, pages, sketches and doodles about his work, many of which survive to this day.

The maestro made a lifelong habit of keeping a notebook with him. In his notebook, he recorded everything – from a thought for an invention to observations about nature and the stars.

He wasn’t the only one.

The famous children’s author Roald Dahl famously said about his ideas, “You work it out and play around with it. You doodle… you make notes… it grows, it grows…”

One day, Dahl got stuck in traffic without a notepad or pen. He thought of a breakthrough for a story he was working on, but he grew afraid he’d forget his thought before getting home.

So, Dahl got out of the car and wrote a single word with his finger in the dirt caked to his vehicle. This was enough for Dahl to remember his idea and continue working on his story later on.

Today, it’s easier than ever to keep a portable and accessible notebook.

I find it helpful to:

  • Text myself ideas and notes.
  • Use apps like Notes on iOS.
  • Use Evernote to keep an archive of images I like.

20. Write in Short Bursts

I try to write fiction everyday.

It doesn’t always work out this way, but the best days are the ones where I succeed. It’s far more productive to write for 15 or 30 minutes regularly than it is to write for several hours every other Sunday.

Why?

It gets me into the habit of sitting down to write every day. The thought of writing for several hours is far more intimidating than the thought of sitting down to write a paragraph for just half an hour.

The more often I write, the more I want to write. The less often I write, the less interest I have in writing. Remember, one good day of writing erases several bad days of writing.

21. Read Widely and Deeply

Reading extensively is one of my favourite writing tips for beginners.

The internet casts a wide net around the world’s information whereas books cast a deeper net around a particular subject or theme.

As a reader and writer, it’s worthwhile exploring both.

Apps like Pocket make it easier for me to save posts from my favourite sites and read these articles when it suits me.

I gravitate between reading fiction and non-fiction books and I tend to have at least one of each on my digital and physical bedside tables. I normally read paper backs on the bus or train and Kindle ebooks late at night.

This way, if I am struggling with one book, I can switch to the other without feeling like reading is a chore. And if I am struggling with both books, I can read a fun piece of business writing on my phone.

If I reach page fifty of a book and I am still bored, I put the book down altogether. There are just too many good books to justify slogging through an unenjoyable read.

However, I make the occasional exception for books related to work or books I am expected to read.

22. Annotate Articles and Books

Annotating what you read is a good way of getting to grips with information and marking it for future use.

I use my Kindle to underline key phrases and to record observations about important passages. This way, when I’m finished with the book I can quickly find said paragraph or idea on my computer. 

I recently read Storynomics by Robert McKee. 

They write extensively about how non-fiction writers and marketers can tell stories to connect with their audience. I highlighted key passages in the book for reference, which I was able to access later on through my Amazon Kindle cloud reader.

23. Avoid Text Speak

Social media sites and emails are a hotbed for poor grammar and shortened words.

I’m not a grammar Nazi but a well-formed sentence is a thing of beauty.

When writing an email or social media post, it’s worth taking the extra minute or two to consider how it’s phrased and if it adheres to grammar rules.

It makes communication between the sender and the recipient easier. As you’re used to grammatically correct writing in your casual conversations, you’ll reduce the mistakes you make when writing your articles and books.

If you feel you don’t have the time for this, consider shortening the length of your emails and posts. Most people don’t like reading emails or social media posts beyond a single sentence anyway. 

24. Set Your Writing Aside

Stephen King sometimes leaves his manuscripts sitting in a drawer for days or weeks before picking them up and revising them.

Inspired by this creative genius, I usually let my finished articles and stories sit in a physical or virtual filing cabinet for a week or two.

Putting my work away is restorative. Later on, I can cast a fresh eye over a troublesome piece and remove clichés (there’s one!) and other typos. It also gives me time to expand, clarify or condense my points and sentences.

25. Give and Receive Frank Feedback

Feedback is the best way to mature as a writer. 

After spending several hours, days or even longer on a piece of work, it is difficult to separate the good from the bad. It’s worth asking a trusted colleague, friend or family member for feedback.

An ideal critic will give honest feedback. They won’t simply say that they love/hate everything about your work.

When receiving feedback, it’s a good idea to keep quiet throughout (granted, not an easy thing).

Why?

A reader doesn’t normally have the writer standing behind them explaining what this and that means. The words on the page should explain the point better than any verbal commentary.

I was a member of a creative writing and non-fiction group for several years. Here are a few of our rules about giving and receiving feedback:

  • Start by saying what you like about the piece.
  • Pick out and explore key phrases or ideas.
  • Consider several points of concern or issues with these phrases.
  • Discuss how to strengthen these weaknesses.
  • Avoid getting into an argument with the writer.
  • Finish by saying something positive about the piece.

If you are the recipient, please save clarifying questions till the end of the group discussion.

26. Eliminate 10%

It’s a rule of thumb that you reduce almost every piece of writing by 10% without compromising your work.

Why should you put this writing tip into practice?

Well, brevity is clarity. Setting yourself this challenge will also help you write more succinct sentences and improve your editing skills.

Print out your work double-spaced in Courier 12 (a good choice for proofs) and while reading it, cross out anything you don’t need with a red pen.

If you’re wondering what to eliminate, look for adverbs (words ending in ‘ly’), unnecessary adjectives and overuse of pronouns like ‘which’ and ‘that’. You can also look for longer sentences and break them into short ones.

27. Look for Moments of Lazy Writing

We’re all guilty of it.

Lazy writing is when you reach for a cliché, an old idea or an easy word because you can’t think of anything better to say.

For example, many young writers end their articles with the word ‘conclusion’ instead of coming up with a compelling sub-head that rounds their piece.

Here’s another type of lazy writing I learnt about from Copyblogger. Instead of writing make or made, use the proper verb.

For example, instead of writing:

  • “Will you help me make my writing sing?”
  • “Who made this nonsense up?”
  • “How did this typo make it into the final draft?”

Try:

  • “Will you help me edit my writing so it sings?”
  • “Who invented this nonsense?”
  • “How did this typo get into the final draft?”

I didn’t know I relied on the word ‘make’ or ‘made’ a lot until I actively went out and checked a piece for these words using ‘Find & Replace’.

28. Just Say Said

This is one of the easiest writing tips for beginners

He gasped. He panted. He screamed. He whispered. He shouted. He stammered. He giggled. He gestured. He exclaimed. He made out. He elaborated.

There are dozens of different ways to attribute a piece of dialogue, particularly if you write fiction, but in almost every instance, use ‘he/she said’.

You may think it’s clever writing to reach for quirky ways of attributing great dialogue, but you’re better off letting your character and actions do the work.

So instead of:

“This first draft makes no sense Bryan,” the editor shouted loudly.

It’s:

The editor banged the table. “Bryan, your first draft is terrible.”

But don’t take my word for it, here’s what Stephen King has to say in On Writing: about the times he used clever dialogue attribution techniques:

“When I do it, it’s usually for the same reason any writer does it: because I’m afraid the reader won’t understand me if I don’t.”

And later:

“To write adverbs is human, to write he said or she said is divine.”

29. Use the Active Voice

The active voice is the best way to invigorate your writing. The active voice demonstrates continued action on behalf of the subject.

For example, “I threw my first draft in the bin” contains an active verb. In this case, “I” is the subject and “threw” is the active verb.

Simple right?

Well, many aspiring writers use the passive voice without realising it.

Now consider these passive voice examples:

  • “The blog post about grammar rules was written by me.”
  • “The novel was read by him in one night.”
  • “The marathon was run by her in under four hours.”

These sentences are boring, clunky and unclear, so let’s fix them.

  • “I wrote a blog post about grammar rules.”
  • “He read a novel in one night.”
  • “She ran a marathon in under four hours.

Again, you can find instances of the passive voice faster by reading a print-out of your work and looking for verbs ending in ‘ed’. It’s one of the easiest writing tips for beginners.

30. Be Patient

Great books aren’t written overnight. Writing is usually an exhausting and difficult process.

Don’t expect things to go perfectly from the start.

Accept that you’ll have multiple drafts, multiple edits and tons of ideas that won’t work out. You’ll have days where you feel like this isn’t for you – that this isn’t something you can do professionally.

But don’t let that deter you. Take your time and be persistent.

Remember, anyone can start writing.

Great writers are the ones that stick around.

15 Quotes About Writing From Great Writers

Helpful tips on writing can only do so much.

Sometimes, you need a bit of inspiration from the best.

Use these quotes by famous authors to guide your writing and be the best writer that you can be!

  1. “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
  • Toni Morrison
  1. “Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.”
  • Franz Kafka
  1. “When writing a novel a writer should create a living person; not a character. A character is a caricature.”
  • Ernest Hemingway
  1. “Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.”
  • William Faulkner
  1. “You should write because you love the shape of stories and sentences and the creation of different words on a page. Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write.”
  • Annie Proulx
  1. “Not a wasted word. This has been a main point to my literary thinking all my life.”
  • Hunter S. Thompson
  1. “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”
  • Ernest Hemingway
  1. “People say, ‘What advice do you have for people who want to be writers?’ I say, they don’t really need writing advice, they know they want to be writers, and they’re gonna do it.”
  • R.L. Stine
  1. “Keep a small can of WD-40 on your desk—away from any open flames—to remind yourself that if you don’t write daily, you will get rusty.”
  • George Singleton
  1. I always start writing with a clean piece of paper and a dirty mind.”
  • Patrick Dennis
  1. “Write while the heat is in you … The writer who postpones the recording of his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with.”
  • Henry David Thoreau
  1. “You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”
  • Jodi Picoult
  1. 1 “When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat.”
  • Stephen King
  1. “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”
  • Richard Bach
  1. Style means the right word. The rest does not matter.”
  • Jules Renard

Improve Your Writing Skills Today

For me, learning how to write never ends. I gather up writing tips like these and apply what I can to keep pushing forward. 

Use the writing tips in this article, to instantly improve your writing skills. They will help you build authority as a writer, connect with readers and even earn more money. 

What are your favourite writing tips? Show them in the comments section below.

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3 thoughts on “30 Effective Writing Tips For Taking Charge of Your Prose”

  1. I have been looking for a truly innovative method to hire the ideal writing service. but your article has inspired me quite a lot. thank you so much!

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