I’m going to preface this article with the fact that I’m no master in the finer points of linguistics nor am I an accomplished author with best sellers adorning the shelves of your local Books A Million. That being said, I have been writing for various blogs for years, have proofread everything from books to college papers on Fiverr, and am slowly finishing my first book as time allows so I have picked up a few things here and there through my own experiences.
I’m not going to get in to the finer points of writing as this article is primarily centered around helping those fledgling writers out there improve their own writing proficiency by utilizing a few basic concepts. Let’s begin.
Structure Comes First and Foremost
One of the easy indicators of a novice writer that I see very often is the fact that their writing has very little structure, if any. Their articles or papers are very scattered and often jump back and forth in their points for no apparent reason. If you want to immediately improve the quality of your writing, sit down with a piece of paper and a pencil before ever sitting down in front of your computer. There are various styles to structuring your work, but here’s what I found works for me:
- Create your working title. This can change later on, but it gives you something to center the rest of your piece around.
- Write down the main points you want to convey in the article. You don’t have to write out a full paragraph here. You only need to write a few keywords down so you remember to touch on them when you actually start writing.
- Arrange your points in the order you want to discuss them. This can be done in several ways depending on your own preference and what you’re discussing. If one of your points requires you to discuss other points on your list first in order for it to make sense, then you obviously need to put that point after its prerequisite. You can also arrange them based on importance or whatever simply flows best.
- Begin writing your article. Using your main points to keep you on the straight and narrow, begin writing your article and fleshing out the finer details for each section. Just remember, the structure itself might be rigid, but feel free to make changes within each section. Don’t be afraid to change the wording around if you believe it improves the quality of the piece.
- Review your work. Read over everything again SLOWLY to make sure you don’t have any glaring typos and make any changes to your headers or title if you think of one that’s better.
Read It Like You Are the Audience, Not the Author
This is a principle that I actually learned in a creative writing class back in high school. Our brain loves to fill in gaps and is remarkably proficient at it as it turns out. Oftentimes, especially for new writers, we will write something that will make perfect sense to us, but won’t for others.
Some of the common minor infractions include, but aren’t limited to:
- Leaving out commonly used words such as “the.” While this doesn’t necessarily make your writing illegible (though it can if you leave enough words out), it will likely annoy the hell out of your readers.
- Improper use of pronouns. No, I’m not talking about the whole progressive politically correct nonsense. What I mean is changing the subject of conversation without correctly identifying who you’re referring to. My general rule of thumb is give the proper name of the person I’m referring to and then I can use pronouns. If I’m going to change to another person, I repeat the process of proper noun first, then pronouns.
- Jumping around with little or no warning. This happens a lot when a new writer tries to cover a complex topic. They want to make a lot of points but, due to not properly structuring their article (see my first section in this article), they wind up bouncing all over the place with little logic behind it. This can leave the reader completely bewildered as the transitions from point to point might make no intuitive sense and leave them wondering where the connection between everything is supposed to be.
Pick a Lane and Stay in It
This is more of a pet peeve than a hard and fast rule, but I believe it bears saying just the same. If you’re writing about a particular subject, stay on that subject. Don’t inject your political beliefs in an article about how to replace your car’s alternator or ramble on about your vacation to the Bahamas in an article detailing how to prepare hardboiled eggs (looking at you, cooking blogs).
- Body of work supporting your thesis
Now this doesn’t mean you can’t have a blog that covers a variety of topics. If that’s what you want, go for it! Let’s just please keep the subjects of discussion separate instead of turning it into a giant word salad.
Individuals writing novels get a bit more leeway in this regard, but I’d still suggest sticking to one primary genre with a secondary genre splashed in.
If you follow these rules I’ve listed above, I can almost guarantee that your level of writing will dramatically improve immediately. Oftentimes what separates weak writers from good writers are the basics listed above. After that, it comes down to your own creativity and knowledge on the subjects you’re discussing.
Because I’m feeling generous, here’s a couple of bonus tips that has greatly helped my own writing:
- Avoid clichés. Clichés are just that… cliché. If you MUST write a cliché somewhere in your writing, rewrite it so that it’s your own. For example, instead of saying “He’s as ugly as sin.” change it up to something like “He’s uglier than the devil’s hairy ass.” The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is an excellent book to get your creative juices flowing in this regard.
- Listen to audiobooks. Before I started writing my own novel, I listened to a TON of audiobooks in the same genre. Doing so not only gave me an idea of what did and didn’t work, but it also helped me improve my own inner narrator. As I write, I’m listening to what I write in my head as it would be narrated. Is it compelling? Does it sound hokey? Am I conveying the feelings that I want to get across? Listen to audiobooks with purpose. Take the useful bits that will improve your own writing and incorporate it into your own work.
You can find Jacob on Twitter @TheGentlemanJak