You can always get better. Whether you’re just starting out writing seriously or whether you’ve been writing for more than half a century, you can always get better.
It’s easy. You write and get helpful feedback. You make changes and write some more. Everybody knows that. But, what else can you do? Here are three ways to improve your writing when you’re not writing.
Read Good Writing
Reading good stuff is the way you build up your mental model of good writing. It’s simple. If you know what good writing looks like and sounds like, you can create some yourself.
Some fiction writers write good, clean prose that will work in any genre. Study writers like Ernest Hemingway and Willa Cather. Writers like Bill Bryson can show you how to write humorously about an array of subjects. Historians like Nancy Koehn and Doris Kearns Goodwin show how to create vibrant descriptions of people and places.
Analyze Writing That Impresses You
Reading the work of great writers builds your mental model by letting their writing seep into your consciousness. But you need to do more.
When something about a writer impresses you, analyze the writing to see how the author does it. Many years ago, I was intrigued by the way Louis L ’Amour and Dashiell Hammett kept me turning the pages of their books. So, I took their books apart. I looked at the way they ended paragraphs and chapters to see what they did that I wasn’t doing.
More recently, it struck me that Adam Grant was superb at creating a chapter structure that worked for his nonfiction books. So, I analyzed the way he did it. Find writing that impresses you, then analyze it to figure out how the author does it.
The Writing Treasure Hunt
Scan your world for interesting stuff. Capture fascinating descriptions and facts. Grab hold of good stories. Make notes in your writing notebook of things that you like and things that you want to learn more about. Review that notebook from time to time.
Talk to people and listen to what they say. The other week I was chatting with a woman at the dry cleaner. She told me about a local person who knew a lot about a well-known business founder. I’ll follow up to get the stories. Treasures like that are everywhere, but you must watch for them.
Even when you’re not writing, you can work to improve your writing. Read great writing so that it becomes part of your mental model. Analyze the best writing to figure out how to do it yourself. Scoop up writing treasures that you find every day.