35 Effective Writing Tips for Taking Charge of Your Prose

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

Over the years, I've stayed up late at night and gotten up early to learn how to write.

I've pulled out my graying hair trying to figure out what it takes to write an engaging 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 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.

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

Let's dive in.

1. Use a Proven Writing Prompt

35 effective writing tips for taking charge of your prose

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.

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

You can build your own personal writing prompts. If you need a little more help, my workbook of writing prompts will help you 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, 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 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.

You could journal about a creative problem or something you'd like to accomplish. Try writing with a pen and piece of paper since you’ll connect with your emotions and intentions better than if you’d type on a computer.

4. Show Up

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

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. 

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 a.m., I will write for 45 minutes before I start work, no matter what. 

If you need a little 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 have to copy only a page or two to figure out how the author constructs sentences, paragraphs and even puts ideas together. Everyone, from copywriters to poets, uses this writing tip to improve 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.

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 the 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 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 into 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, clarify and simplify. 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.

You can spend hours writing, rewriting and editing your work, and achieve only 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 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. 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 feedback to improve your technique. Target publications or sites your ideal reader enjoys visiting. 

Depending on the size of the site, 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. 

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 over the years for newspapers, technology publications and more recently, 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 before pitching an editor. Guest posting can help with that. 

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 all about the three-act structure, sign-posting, and telling longer stories.

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

11. 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? 
  • 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. 

Don't wince!

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, it's easier than ever for aspiring writers to self-publish a book and become an author.

12. 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 the work because I was able to 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.

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

Remember to document your lessons in Evernote or 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.

14. 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 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 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. 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 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

According to Kurt Vonnegut's rules for writing, “if you write for everyone, your story will get pneumonia.” 

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. 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, 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.

17. Study Copywriting

I know copywriting is generally associated with business writing.

However, it's simply writing that sells. 

An aspiring writer can use it to sell his or her 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 express your ideas more clearly.

18. Keep a Notebook

A notebook is different from 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 thoughts 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. He ironically titled his book, The Magic Finger.

Today, it's easier than ever to keep a digital notebook on your phone.

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. It's far more productive to write for 15 or 30 minutes regularly than 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.

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.

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

Apps like Pocket make it easier for me 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. I normally read paperbacks 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. 

If I reach page 50 of a book and 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 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.

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 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 was able to 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 or two to consider how it's phrased and if it adheres to grammar rules.

These details make communication between the sender and the recipient easier. As you're used to grammatically correct writing in your casual writing, you'll reduce the mistakes you make when writing your articles and books.

If you feel you don't have 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. 

22. 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.

23. Give and Receive Frank 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. 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/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 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.
  • Pick out and explore key 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.

If you are the recipient, you will benefit from saving clarifying questions till the end of the group discussion.

24. Eliminate 10%

As a rule of thumb, you can reduce almost every piece of writing by around 10% without compromising your work.

Why should you put this writing tip into practice?

Well, brevity is clarity. Setting this challenge for yourself 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 a long topic sentence and break it into smaller ones.

25. 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 finish 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?”

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.

26. 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” 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 loudly.

It's:

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.”

And later:

“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.

Simple right?

Well, many new writers use the passive voice which sounds boring, unclear and clunky.

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.”

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 easiest writing tips for beginners.

28. 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, 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. Take your time and be persistent.

Remember, anyone can start writing.

Great writers are the ones who stick around.

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 for writer’s block and creativity ruts. Instead, write without editing.

Make it a rule that you cannot make edits while writing your first draft. You’re allowed to edit your piece only after you complete the first draft.

This trick alone 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.

Remember, you can’t edit a blank screen.

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. 

Try to write immediately after completing your morning routine. 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.

Also, if your family normally stays up late and sleeps in, take advantage of this. You can get more done in an hour or two of quiet alone time. Start with creative work, and when they wake up, you’ve already gotten a head start.

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 clear journey ahead.

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 important steps, leaving your readers confused and lost.

Instead, picture yourself holding your reader’s hand and guiding them on their journey ahead. Use this vision when creating an outline, and 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 interesting posts.

Once you understand your audience's major problems or goals, you can more easily create content that helps them solve those problems or reach their goals.

That’s why research is important 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.

When editing, you’ll come across a few mistakes you always make. A bad habit or misinformation can cause these. Whatever the reason, you need to get rid of these repeated mistakes. 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. This improves the overall quality of your work.

34. Always Be Learning

Everyone has room to improve. 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
  • 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 to simply write what you’re passionate about.

For example, if you’re a coffee lover and you 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.

If times are tough, you’ll be forced to take on writing jobs that you aren’t passionate about, and that’s fine. Just realize that the quality of your content will depend on your interest level in that specific niche.

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 better and even earn more money. 

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