There is No Magic to Learning to Write Well

Nov 2, 2021 | Better Writing

We went on a trip with some friends this weekend. While my friend was checking us in at our hotel, I got to talking with the young man who had custody of our luggage on a giant cart. In the course of conversation, he told me that he wanted to be a writer. He asked what he should do. When I told him, his face fell.

I’ve seen it before. He was one of many people who think that there’s some secret to writing well. It’s like they think there’s a secret writer society with a special handshake. Or maybe they believe there’s some magic incantation that will make all their words sing. No such luck.

Writing is a craft. Like most crafts, you master it by working at it. There’s no way around it. If you want to learn to write well, you’ve got to do the work.

“What work?” I hear you cry. Let me outline it for you.

Learn the Rules

You need to learn the rules of grammar and usage. Don’t know them and your writing will seem amateurish no matter how sophisticated your thinking.

Books like The Elements of Style will help you. Just about every year, there is another great little book on grammar. Once you’ve learned the basics, reading those “updates” will keep you fresh.

Use at least one of the grammar and spelling checkers available. But learn the rules first so you know when your grammar checker is leading you astray.

Read a Lot

Read a lot. Read good stuff. That’s how you develop mental models of what good writing looks and sounds like.

Read in your genre. Good writing looks different in a business book than it does in a piece of fiction or a book of philosophy.

Analyze good writing to see how it’s done

Study the best writers you can find. Notice how top writers structure their chapters and paragraphs. Study writers from popular genres to learn how they get you to keep turning the pages.

Deconstruct great business books. Learn how the best authors structure a book. Study their chapters and the way they incorporate research into the book.

Write a lot to develop your skills

The only way to learn to write is to write. So, write a lot.

You’ll develop your skills faster if you get knowledgeable feedback. Feedback is the bad tasting medicine that makes things better.


Learn the rules.

Read a lot to develop mental models of good writing.

Analyze good writing to understand how it’s done.

Write a lot to develop your skills.

Feedback is the bad tasting medicine that makes you better.

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