For some the writing process is cathartic, while for others it’s more like torture. As a college student, having good writing skills is more critical for certain majors than others. However, once college is over, to compete in today’s job market, good writing skills aren’t an elective — they are a MUST. We could all use a lesson or two on how to brush up on our writing. Here are some useful tips on how to become a better writer.
Listen with attention
How many people do you know who are good listeners? I’d bet not all that many. Listening is a highly undervalued skill, but it can do wonders in helping your writing to get better. Like novelist Chuck Wendig says in his terribleminds.com blog post, “25 ways to become a better writer,” a good listener can tell how words sound on the page (be advised this post has some naughty language).
“We read with our ears as much as with your eyes and so it’s critical you know what sounds good as well as what reads well,” Wendig writes. “Sit down at a bar, listen to a conversation. Turn on an audio book or a radio show. Listen to a stand-up comedian deliver jokes and stories. Write it down if you must — see how it lays on the page.”
Hearing yourself reading your own work out loud may seem strange at first, but once you get used to it, you’ll notice right away those areas of your writing that just don’t jive. If it doesn’t read well while you’re reading it aloud, it probably needs some tweaking.
Dave Kerpen, CEO of Likeable Local and NY Times best-selling author, posted to LinkedIn February 21, 2013, in “Want to be taken seriously? Become a better writer,” how reading out loud has saved him.
“It’s great to hear my writing the way others will ‘hear’ it as they read,” Kerpen said. “Especially since tone in emails is difficult to convey, it’s valuable to say what you’re writing aloud, and then consider a quick edit, before you put it out there.”
Honor your inner weirdo
Stretching that proverbial writing muscle takes some creativity. Whether you’re writing a term paper, thesis or presentation, we can all benefit from some off-the-wall hilariousness. Have an idea for a sci-fi romantic comedy? Jot down a short story or let the ideas flow. The point is to just let the words flow and it’ll be much easier to get back to that boring assignment you’ve been circling for days.
Let the criticism fly
So you know that I know that we are our own worst critics. Sometimes those criticisms are true, but usually they are inflated insecurities floating around in our heads. To get some perspective, it’s always a good idea to tap a friend for some good advice on said work in question. Encourage honesty and keep your trap shut, and you might just get the real answers you’re looking for.
Proofread like your life depends on it
Think no one will notice a couple of typos in that email you sent with your resume? Well, maybe if if the reader is your mom. Otherwise, good luck with denial. The worst case scenario is your potential new boss will zoom in on the error and not hire you. Nothing feels worse than telling yourself, “If I’d only…” We’ve all been there. One of the best ways to avoid this scenario is to get in the habit of proofreading your work, all the time. It’s amazing how even one pass over can save you from disaster.
In a March 9, 2013, post to the Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, “Be careful what, how you write,” Anita Bruzzese Gannett interviewed Helen Cunningham, author of The Business Style Handbook, to get the skinny on the benefits of proofreading.
“Take time to proof your writing,” Cunningham said. “Read over your emails before sending to make sure they’re well written, and ask a colleague to review important messages or reports. Never put anything in writing that you would not want to see on the front page of a newspaper.”
For more information on writing, visit Questia’s topic page on Communication.
What tips/exercises have helped you to improve your writing?