Over the years, I’ve stayed up late and gotten up early to learn how to write. I’ve pulled out my graying hair to figure out what it takes to write an engaging sentence and tell an intriguing story.
Some editors told me my work was terrible, while others paid me generously. I’ve published books people loved and others that they’ve ignored.
In this post, I offer you 35 of my favorite writing tips. They’re easy to apply and will help you become a better writer quickly.
- 1. Use a Proven Writing Prompt
- 2. Freewrite
- 3. Embrace Journaling
- 4. Show Up
- 5. Copy Out Writing You Admire
- 6. Learn to Self-Edit
- 7. Run the Alien from Mars Test
- 8. Write Guest Blog Posts
- 9. Freelance Writing
- 10. Write a Book
- 11. Self-Publish a Book
- 12. Write Outside Your Preferred Genre
- 13. Study Great Writers
- 14. Track Your Writing
- 15. Mind Map Your Writing Ideas
- 16. Interview Your Ideal Reader
- 17. Study Copywriting
- 18. Keep a Notebook
- 19. Read Widely and Deeply
- 20. Annotate Articles and Books
- 21. Avoid Text Speak
- 22. Set Your Writing Aside
- 23. Give and Receive Feedback
- 24. Eliminate 10%
- 25. Look for Moments of Lazy Writing
- 26. Just Say Said
- 27. Use the Active Voice
- 28. Be Patient
- 29. Write Without Judging Your Work
- 30. Write in the Morning
- 31. Always Start With an Outline
- 32. Empathize With Your Readers
- 33. Keep a List of Mistakes You Commonly Make
- 34. Always Be Learning
- 35. Write About What You Like to Read
- Improve Your Writing Skills Today
- FAQs About Writing Tips
1. Use a Proven Writing Prompt
Have you ever sat down in front of a blank page and found you had nothing to say? A writing prompt is a nudge in the right direction. It could be a question, statement, or reflection. You can build your personal writing prompts. If you need a little more help, my workbook of writing prompts will help you apply this writing tip more easily.
Freewriting is a bit like journaling. Set a timer and, like the author and poet Natalie Goldberg says, “Keep your hand moving.” Get the words out of your head and onto the page. Don’t stop writing until the buzzer stops. 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 might take root, while others won’t, but you never know if you don’t try. Journaling is also more affordable than therapy if you maintain this habit.
Check out our explainer on prose in literature.
4. Show Up
One of my biggest writing tips is to be consistent. Much like the weight lifter who practices the same movement in the gym over and over, showing up and practicing writing every day will help you improve your craft gradually.
Turn up every day in front of the blank page simultaneously. Commit to becoming a better writer, and keep it. If you need help showing up, consider using the Pomodoro Technique, where you track your writing sessions individually.
5. Copy Out Writing You Admire
Did you ever read a great writer’s work and wondered, “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.
You have to copy only a page or two to figure out how the author constructs sentences and paragraphs and even puts ideas together. Everyone, from copywriters to poets, uses this writing tip to improve their craft.
6. Learn to Self-Edit
Editing skills and writing skills are entirely different. Every writer, blogger, and author must learn the basics of self-editing. The best grammar checker software can help you get started.
You can also read each paragraph aloud or listen to recordings of yourself. This writing tip will help you identify concrete language and quickly find and fix mistakes in your work. 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, while working as a news journalist for a top-line newspaper in Dublin, I turned in a 1,000-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 asked.
“If an alien from Mars landed in this office, would he be able to pick up this story and understand what it was about?”
With some reluctance, I admitted, “No.”
If a piece of your writing is difficult for readers to understand, consider what you can remove. Ask yourself:
- Have you presumed your readers understand key facts? If so, explain them.
- Do you use jargon and big words? 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.
Sometimes, it’s impossible to see the errors in your work, but give it to another writer or an accomplished editor; they’ll find 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.
8. Write Guest Blog Posts
Writing guest posts is a quick and effective way to build your authority as a writer. It also helps you knock out your readers. In addition, you’ll get free yet valuable editorial feedback if you write guest posts for quality publications.
This writing tip will help you determine what your audience shares, comments on, and enjoys. You can use this feedback to improve your technique and target publications or sites your ideal reader enjoys.
9. Freelance Writing
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 for newspapers, technology publications, and, more recently, Forbes.
I like freelance writing because you get money for exploring different topics. It’s also a great way of connecting with other experts. To become an influential freelance writer, build up a portfolio of work before pitching an editor.
10. 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 about the three-act structure, sign-posting, and telling long stories.
11. Self-Publish a Book
Self-publishing a book differs from writing a book because you must make hard creative choices.
- What’s your cover going to look like?
- What will the sales copy say?
- In what categories are you going to position your book on Amazon?
Self-publishing a book forces you to ask and answer these questions. This, in turn, will teach you more about marketing. When you combine marketing with writing, you’ll earn more money from your practice. And let’s face it, everyone should get paid for their work. The good news is that it’s easier for aspiring writers to self-publish a book and become an author.
12. Write Outside Your Preferred Genre
Several years ago, I wrote primarily contemporary Irish fiction. After a while, I grew tired of writing fiction and decided to try blogging and, later, copywriting. I realized long, fancy sentences specific to literary fiction don’t work for blogging and copywriting, and it took time to change my style.
The change was worth the work because I could apply some storytelling lessons in my blog posts and articles. If you’ve written in a single genre, consider studying a new one. Alternatively, find a writer you admire, read who they read, and analyze their pieces.
13. Study Great Writers
This writing tip is easy to apply. First, you can read good writing books.
Some of my favorites include:
- The War Of Art by Steven Pressfield
- On Writing by Stephen King
- Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.
Second, you can take an online writing class. Remember to document your lessons in Evernote or a notepad to review them later. Over the years, I’ve captured lessons about injecting color into my writing, using writing prompts, getting over writer’s block, and lots more.
14. Track Your Writing
When working on a first draft, I keep track of my word count daily and 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 help you set and exceed targets over time.
Later on, you might find it more helpful to track the number of hours you spend on a creative project because you’re more concerned with improving the quality of your work than hitting a word count.
15. Mind Map Your Writing Ideas
As a writer, one of the biggest challenges you’ll face is organizing and arranging your ideas. So if you embark on a big creative writing project, create a mind map of your writing process.
First, write down the topic you want to address in a blog post, article, or book chapter. Then expand on the central topic by connecting ideas. This will help you find a structure for the piece before you write it. Alternatively, use a mind map with speech-to-text software to build your creative skills.
16. Interview Your Ideal Reader
Good writing focuses on a single ideal reader and answers: what’s keeping them up at night? If you have an email list, ask subscribers questions or interview them. For example, you could set up an interview with them over Skype or Zoom and spend time getting to know them. Then, listen to what they say and use it for your future work.
17. 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. If you’re not into business writing or trying to sell courses, copywriting will help you express your ideas clearly. The good news is that you can apply a basic copywriting formula and express your ideas more clearly.
18. Keep a Notebook
A notebook is different from a journal because it’s less personal and more related to one’s work. 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. He ironically titled his book, The Magic Finger.
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
- Write in short bursts
I try to write fiction every day. It doesn’t always work out this way, but the best days are the ones where I succeed. For example, it’s far more productive to write for 15 or 30 minutes regularly than to write for several hours every other Sunday. It gets me into the habit of sitting down to write every day.
19. Read Widely and Deeply
Reading extensively is one of my favorite 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. Apps like Pocket make it easier to save posts from my favorite sites and read those articles when it suits me.
I gravitate between reading fiction and nonfiction books, and I tend to have at least one of each on my digital and physical bedside tables. In addition, I usually read paperbacks on the bus or train and Kindle ebooks late at night. This way, if I struggle with one book, I can switch to the other without feeling like reading is a chore.
If I reach page 50 of a book and am bored, I put the book down altogether. There are too many good books to justify slogging through an unenjoyable read. However, I make the occasional exception for books related to work or business.
20. Annotate Articles and Books
Annotating what you read is a good way of getting to grips with information and marking it for future use. So I use my Kindle to underline critical phrases and record important passages’ observations. This way, when I’m finished with the book, I can quickly find the paragraph or idea on my computer.
I recently read Storynomics by Robert McKee. He writes extensively about how nonfiction writers and marketers can tell stories to connect with their audiences. I highlighted key passages in the book for reference, which I could access later through my Amazon Kindle cloud reader.
21. Avoid Text Speak
Social media sites and emails are a hotbed for poor grammar and shortened words. A well-formed sentence is a thing of beauty. When writing an email or social media post, it’s worth taking the extra minute to consider how it’s phrased and if it adheres to grammar rules.
These details make communication between the sender and the recipient easier. In addition, you’ll reduce the mistakes you make when writing your articles and books. If you don’t have time for this, consider shortening the length of your emails and posts.
22. Set Your Writing Aside
Stephen King sometimes leaves his manuscripts 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.
23. Give and Receive Feedback
Considering 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 for a writer to separate the good from the bad. So 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 they love or hate everything about your work. When receiving feedback, it’s a good idea to keep quiet throughout (granted, not an easy thing).
A reader doesn’t usually have the writer explaining what this and that mean. The words on the page should explain the point better than any oral commentary. I was a member of a creative writing and nonfiction 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.
- Next, pick out and explore critical phrases or ideas.
- Consider several points of concern or issues with those phrases.
- Discuss how to strengthen those weaknesses.
- Avoid getting into an argument with the writer.
- Finish by saying something positive about the piece.
24. Eliminate 10%
As a rule of thumb, you can reduce almost every piece of writing by around 10% without compromising your work. So setting this challenge for yourself will also help you write more concise sentences and improve your editing skills.
Print out your work double-spaced in Courier 12 (a good choice for proofs), and cross out anything you don’t need with a red pen while reading it. 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 a long topic sentence and break it into smaller ones.
25. Look for Moments of Lazy Writing
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 finishes their piece. Here’s another type of lazy writing I learned 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?”
- “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.
26. Just Say Said
This is one of the most straightforward writing tips for beginners. There are dozens of ways to attribute a piece of dialogue, mainly if you write fiction, but in almost every instance, use “he/she said” instead. You might 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.
The editor banged the table. “Your first draft makes no sense, Bryan.”
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.”
“To write adverbs is human; to write he said or she said is divine.”
27. 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.
Many new writers use the passive voice, which sounds dull, unclear, and clunky.
Consider these passive voice examples:
- “The blog post about grammar rules was written by me.”
- “He read the novel in one night.”
- “The marathon was run by her in under four hours.”
Now let’s fix them.
- “I wrote the blog post about grammar rules.”
- “He read the novel in one night.”
- “She ran the marathon in under four hours.
Again, you can find instances of the passive voice faster by reading a printout of your work and looking for verbs ending in -ed. You could also use a tool like Hemingway to find phrases that are in passive voice. It’s one of the most straightforward writing tips for beginners.
28. Be Patient
Great books aren’t written overnight. Writing is usually an exhausting and challenging process. Don’t expect things to go perfectly from the start. Accept that you’ll have multiple drafts, edits, and ideas that won’t work out.
You’ll have days when you feel like this isn’t for you—that this isn’t something you can do professionally. But don’t let that deter you. Instead, take your time and be persistent.
29. Write Without Judging Your Work
This is a common mistake most advanced writers make. They’ll be overly critical of their first draft and delete whatever isn’t perfect. This is a common cause of writer’s block and creativity ruts. So instead, write without editing.
Make it a rule that you cannot make edits while writing your first draft. You can edit your piece only after completing the first draft. This trick can make your writing style more casual and easy to understand. You’ll also notice that ideas flow more easily from your brain to your fingers.
30. Write in the Morning
I’ve experimented with writing in the morning, afternoon and evening, and by far, the best time to write is in the morning. This is when you’re freshest, and ideas will flow more easily. Avoid the mistake of checking emails, editing, and completing other tasks first since it can zap your creative energy.
31. Always Start With an Outline
Before you start writing, create an outline for your post. It will keep you on track and give your readers a straightforward journey. When you write without an outline, you’ll get sidetracked and include something that isn’t even relevant to your topic. You could also skip over essential steps, leaving your readers confused and lost.
Instead, picture yourself holding your reader’s hand and guiding them on their journey. Use this vision when creating an outline; your blog post will remain relevant, easy to follow, and concise.
32. Empathize With Your Readers
Having empathy for your readers and their problems is what’s going to allow you to create engaging and exciting posts. Once you understand your audience’s significant problems or goals, you can more easily create content that helps them solve or reach their goals.
That’s why research is essential when creating engaging content. You should know your audience better than they know themselves. Your research also gives you the information you need to empathize with your audience. You can then create posts that are more detailed than your competition.
33. Keep a List of Mistakes You Commonly Make
Mistakes can turn a compelling blog post into a terrible one. These are a few big mistakes:
- Getting sidetracked
- Researching too little
- Using too many filler words
- Improperly structuring content.
Your first step is to recognize your mistake. After you’ve gathered a list of common mistakes, you can look for them specifically during your editing process. Again, this improves the overall quality of your work.
34. Always Be Learning
Everyone has room to improve. But, even if you’ve been writing for 20 years, you can develop and increase your value as a writer in different areas. Maybe you never managed to kick the habit of using adverbs. Or maybe your writing style is a bit stiff and formal. It’s your job to identify these mistakes and correct them. This is where asking for feedback and making a list of your most common mistakes can help you develop as a writer.
Other ways writers can improve include:
- Reading books
- Reading blog posts
- You are watching online videos about your writing problems.
35. Write About What You Like to Read
An easy way to increase the quality of your content is simply writing what you’re passionate about. For example, if you’re a coffee lover and write a post on how coffee is grown, it’ll be far more engaging than a post on coding tools, which you know nothing about.
Improve Your Writing Skills Today
For me, learning how to write never ends. So I gather 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 better and even earn more money.
FAQs About Writing Tips
What are some excellent exercises for writers?
All writers can benefit from writing exercises such as mind mapping, using writing prompts, copying out writing you admire, trying free writing for creative writing, annotating articles and books, or expanding your reading library.
What are the best writing tips for a beginner?
As a beginner, start your writing journey with some easy steps, try journalling every morning for 30 minutes to start your day, or try your hand at some freewriting.
How Can I Get Into a Flow State Quicker When Writing?
Sit down in a quiet place without distractions, or use noise-canceling headphones. Focusing in a quiet workspace is vital for zoning into your work and tapping into your writing flow.
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