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50 Tips to Improve Your Writing
Improve Your Writing
September 9th, 2009
Today’s post is a guest post from David Gurevich. David contacted me with this post idea a while
back. I think it’s a good addition to my
178 Ways to Improve Your Internet Writing
When we write, we leave the clutter and junk of our lives behind, and enter a world of possibility,
where anything can happen. Yet our words are ultimately for other people.
Now matter how beautiful the dream, the original vision, it must be clearly communicated for
other people to experience it.
Here are 50 tips to improve your writing. If followed, your writing will drastically improve.
Have a trusted editor.
This is number one on the list because it’s that important. An editor takes the decent stuff you
throw at them, cuts out the words that aren’t 100% effective, and adds their perspective.
It’s like taking a diamond to a specialist for cutting.
Use the active voice.
For the most part, say what people do. Don’t say
what is done
. John plowed the field, not, the
field was plowed by John. Active phrasing keeps your prose alive and interesting.
Know grammar – that way, you’ll know exactly what rule you’re breaking.
Read one of the books that make grammar fun like
Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance
Approach to Punctuation
. It’ll make you laugh and teach you something, too. If you want to break
the rules, just first make sure you know what they are.
Always think twice when you use a big word.
It doesn’t matter if you know what eschew means, and it doesn’t matter if your audience might.
Use the simplest words you can. It is easier to read and it’s more interesting.
Know your audience. Coal miners are very different from astrophysicists who’re different from
Writing is meant to be read. Make sure you know who your readers are, how they think, and what
they like. Write to meet their needs.
and to the point.
Don’t use colloquialisms needlessly.
It’s tempting to include slang or new phrases to make your work sound hip and relevant.
But you risk a lot. First, you stand to alienate those who don’t understand. Second, it can lower
the quality of your writing. And finally, with the rapid pace of change, a phrase everyone knows
now may be archaic in a few years.
Edit. Always edit.
Write something, then edit it, then edit it some more.
Focus on writing. Turn off the cellphone –
If you want to produce great writing, then dedicate time to doing just that – writing.
A little distraction is OK. Some people, after all, work better with music playing or other stimuli.
What you need to avoid are things that require a significant amount of your attention, and so
Music, OK. Instant messaging? Not so good.
Adverbs are OK, but like fatty food, cut back on them.
Don’t substitute adverbs for effective description. Things can be done quickly, furiously, happily,
whatever. The problem arises when you rely on those adverbs to describe things that are better
For instance, you might write, “He furiously shut the door.” That gets you a B. It’s decent writing.
But if you want to make it A level writing, you might want to describe with verbs and nouns what
Adverbs are also a problem when they become too excessive in and of themselves.
Use imagery and central metaphors to build emotional impact.
Have themes to your work. Use powerful images and metaphors to build a lasting emotional
Break up long sentences with short ones. And vice versa.
Write in a natural tone. Nothing stilted that would make your friends give you a questioning
If anything you write would make a close friend break out laughing – and not at your wit – then
there’s a problem. Think of your poor reader. Now go, make your writing simpler. Use as few
words as possible to say as much as possible.
Join a writing group. Group pressure means results.
Hold yourself accountable. Make goals and
Start small. Promise yourself that you’ll work at least 10 minutes a day on that big project you’re
passionate about but never do. Then meet that goal. Before you know it, 10 minutes – which you
can easily do – becomes 20, then 45. And at that point you’re making real progress on your dream
Know when you’re done.
Orwell thought his book 1984 wasn’t edited well enough. If he had listened to himself, he’d have
kept working on it, and we wouldn’t have a classic. Now, you absolutely need to edit your ass off
and make sure everything is great.
But there also needs to be an ending.
The vast majority of writing doesn’t use swearwords.
Cut out any unnecessary words.
Read a paragraph you’re not happy with. Find every single word that doesn’t need to be there and
delete it. Readability will skyrocket.
Feel free to disregard your first draft. It’s just paper or kilobytes.
You don’t need to stick to your first draft. Feel free to start all over again.
Using “I” is OK if done correctly.
You’re taught as a kid that “I” shouldn’t be in your papers. That’s not always true. When you have
a relevant opinion, it’s not a sin to put yourself in the paper. You’re the one writing it after all.
The more you write, the better you become.
I swear that I used to suck at writing. Teachers told me I had to redo work. I might still suck –
that’s your call – but hours and hours of practice writing have improved my ability a lot.
Even if you’re not happy with your writing as it is, it will get better. Just work at it.
Read great literature
Give yourself a writing space.
The best way to succeed is the Butt in Chair method. You sit, you work. No questions.
Realize that a critic may be wrong.
Have a consistent writing schedule.
Favor the most concise style, but you don’t have to be Hemmingway.
Don’t betray the readers trust with something absurd.
In writing, you first create a world – then have to follow its rules.
If casting a spell requires an animal sacrifice in chapter 1, then requires herbal potions in chapter
4, and finally in chapter 10 doesn’t require anything (George, our beloved protagonist, just starts
slinging fireballs with no explanation), you’re letting your readers down.
Follow the rules that exist in your world. Consistency!
Have a writing ritual. Myself, I always have a cup of tea first.
Cliches are best avoided. The problem with them is that they are too easy, and that they don’t
necessarily add a lot to your writing. You want to be original.
Avoid excessively witty, self-serving in-jokes.
A witty self-serving in-joke would have been to write “avoid cliches like the plague.” There is, as
always, a fine line, and err on the side of respecting your readers.
When being creative, suspend your inner critic.
You want to try something new? Cut off the electricity to the inner critic center in your mind, and
start writing! Magic is happening.
Listen to your inner critic after being creative.
After you have a creative breakthrough, you then have to take the hard road of editing and
Know the difference between British and American style.
Whatever you write about, do your research first.
Know what you write about
If you want to convincingly write about a car salesman, learn how they think. What phrases they
use, what makes them happy. Knowing those details will shine through your writing and give it
Show don’t tell for the most part.
Tell, don’t show, when doing otherwise would be boring or plain stupid.
Make your writing have an exciting, forward pace.
Don’t overuse ellipses or dashes.
Some authors liter their writing with… way too… often. Or – they uses dashes far too often –
making things that don’t deserve it have it. Ellipses and dashes can be very effective. Just don’t
You start writing to please yourself, but succeed by pleasing others.
Don’t be afraid to describe something that has to be described.
Fancy fonts, underlining and bolding work – in business writing. Not fiction.
Different genres have different stylistic rules. Always write stuff that works without highlighting,
italicizing, or whatever.
remember to take advantage of the presentation options you have.
Always prefer the word “said.” Grunting, snorting and chortling gets old fast.
Believe in yourself
Be dramatic by being subtle.
Write for your readers.
Mentioned several times, but explicitly said here. Don’t write for yourself. Write to help your
reader out, to entertain them, or to inform them. Their needs must be met, and you need to meet
Use punctuation appropriately.
Mix long paragraphs with short paragraphs.
Keep things moving along.
Take pride in your hard work, and reward important landmarks. Keep working hard and having
fun. You’re the most amazing person, even if only to those who love you. You owe it to them to
write your best!
David Gurevich is chosen by companies to make abstruse issues simple. You can check him out at
Health and Life, a Medical Blog
, where he blogs – logically enough – about health and
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Thank you again,