Better Writing: Three Dimensions of Writing Improvement

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Terry and I have worked together for several years. Recently, he gave me the best piece of writing that he’s ever done, and I complemented him on it. “Okay,” he responded, “what can I do to get better?”

Terry works very hard at getting better at everything. He’s improved his writing a lot since we started working together, but he always wants to go to the next step. Lots of my clients and lots of other writers are just like that.

Do you want to write better? The process is simple.

  • Decide what you want to improve.
  • Track your performance.
  • Reflect on what you’re doing.
  • Keep making progress.

You can apply that performance improvement formula to any area of life. For writing, there are three dimensions that are most important.

Improve the Quality of Your Writing

One way to improve your writing is to improve your readability. There are plenty of programs and services that will help you write better. Microsoft Word has its own readability measurement tool. The best business writers turn out copy that’s somewhere between the 6th and 8th grade reading level. That’s a good target.

Perhaps you want to improve your explanations. In that case, readability statistics won’t be as helpful as direct feedback from readers. My personal favorite is intelligent 15-year-olds. They’re smart enough and educated enough to understand anything you have to say. They’re probably not subject matter experts in whatever you write about. And they’re fearless in giving you feedback.

Write More Copy

I went out on my own way back in 1982. At the end of my first week, I was feeling pretty good until a friend asked me an innocent question. “Well,” he asked, “what did you write this week?”

The appalling answer was, “Nothing.” I had not written a word. Not one. I had done plenty of other things. I had rearranged my desk. I had done research. I started collecting article ideas and put them in a file. But I didn’t write anything.

The next week, I decided that I would write 100 words a day. I took an index card and wrote “Have you written your 100 words today?” on it. I taped the card to my nightstand where I’d be sure to see it before I went to bed. Three nights that week, the question on the card sent me back to work instead of to bed.

I learned a lesson in those early days about quality. Just writing 100 words wasn’t a good enough goal. I added the word “finished” to my goal.

For years, “finished word count” was what I worked on. Eventually, I got to a point where I reached what seems to be my natural maximum of 2,000 words a day.

If you want to work on improving your word count, start where you are. Make a little progress every day and every week. Make sure you have a quality bar to clear.

Increase Your Writing Stamina

Most people can work productively on a project for between 50 and 60 minutes before they need a break. That’s an interesting statistic, but I’ve learned by coaching writers that many people need to work up to that amount of sustained effort.

If you can work only 10 minutes before your mind wanders and you start researching product reviews for the best felt-tip pens, start there. Keep records of the amount of time you work and try to increase it a little bit every day.

Cautions

You can improve just about any dimension of your writing but keep three things in mind.

Work on one thing at a time. You will make the most dramatic improvement if you work on one thing at a time. Don’t try to improve your quality and your quantity and your stamina all at once. It’s a fool’s game.

Keep records. If you don’t keep records of how you’re doing, you have no idea how you’re improving. You’re not serious about improvement, either. If you’re not keeping records, you’re just playing.

Reflect on your performance. As John Dewey said, “We don’t learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.”

Bottom Line

You can improve the quantity and quality of your writing. You can improve your writing stamina. Decide what you want to improve. Track your performance. Reflect on what you’re doing. Keep making progress.

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