Learning to write well takes time, discipline, and effort. But there are some simple things you can do to improve your writing quickly.
Get Past the First Draft
Hardly anyone, even seasoned journalists, writes a good first draft. Assume that your first draft will be your worst draft, but that it’s OK. Plan for rewrite, revision, and editing and then make sure you implement that plan.
“Ugly Rest” For Your Writing
You’ll be able to see your writing more clearly if you let it rest some between drafts. This is not “beauty rest” where the rest makes the writing appear more beautiful. I call it “ugly rest” because when you go back to your writing you’ll see all kinds of things you could have done better. That’s a good thing. Now you can fix them.
Read Your Writing Aloud
It’s tempting to read your writing on the screen, and it’s OK as part of the process, just don’t stop there. Print your writing out. I don’t know if there are any studies on this, but in my experience with myself and my clients, we see things differently when they are printed on a full page.
You will also be tempted to read that page you’ve printed out silently. Don’t do that, either. Your tongue will find difficult passages that your eyes will miss. As the great writing coach, William Zinsser, said: “People read with their ears, whether they know it or not.”
Get Someone Else to Read Your Writing
This is hard to do if you’re writing something with a short deadline, like a blog post or even an article, but it’s absolutely essential if you want to do a great book. I had a good example of that with my last e-book, Become A Better Boss One Tip at a Time.
I wrote the original tips as individual blog posts over the course of a couple of years. I put them together and added some “connective tissue.” Then I sent the book out to a bunch of readers. They hated it.
Actually, that’s not right. They liked the individual tips, but they thought that it didn’t work as a book for a variety of reasons. So, I took a few months to do it again. I sent it out again. This time, the feedback was better, but not good.
There were several issues I could fix, and one that gave me a lot of trouble. My beta readers had suggested adding an index. That’s easy to say, but not so easy to do. The trick is finding categories. I asked friends for their ideas. I tried several different ones on my own. Finally, I found a way that worked for me and for the book. This time, when I sent out the book, the readers really liked it.
None of these things is difficult to do, but it takes discipline to do them. They require you to plan a little, leave a little more lead time, and be willing to accept criticism. If you do that, you’ll write better stuff.