Writing is a skill we learn over a lifetime of experiences. I used to think I would never reap any real benefit for all those hours we spent in the classroom diagramming sentences... now I realise at least some of that time was well spent, I suppose. What I've really learned over time, however, is that writing is not necessarily a skill like riding a bicycle, which is apparently a skill no one has ever forgotten. Indeed, writing is something that has to be used, or even better, challenged, if you want to stay good at it. It's kinda like training for a marathon- the 'training' part generally means you get better over time. Let's face the truth, however; some people are just born good writers and the rest of us have to claw our way up to the skill set. Even inherently good writers run the risk of their skill deteriorating over time if they don't keep their fingers and mind limber. Thankfully, there are strategies that both good and bad writers can use to keep their writing tight.
1. Be aware of all the written material that deluges you on a daily basis.
- While it is tempting to ignore those pamphlets and brochures that you see in the doctor's office or that overflow from your mailbox, don't. Somebody, somewhere, wrote that material and with a little careful dissection, you will start seeing patterns. Were they good writers or bad? Are you left with the feeling that you may have actually learned something? If not the subject matter at hand, at least you will learn the difference between a good writer and a bad one and, if you remain receptive, you can learn something from each.
2. Brainstorm to generate subject matter.
- Don't be terrified of the empty white page. Whether you have an assigned project or are trying to generate one on your own, brainstorming is the key to keep writing line after line of good content, fill that bad boy up with something-anything- and you'll start coming up with ideas in no time flat.
- Annoy friends and family or basically anyone who will stand still long enough to listen to you with your ideas! I know, it is hard to find people that will sit still long enough to hear you out, I personally have considered bringing out the duct tape on occasion. Should you find someone however, it is sometimes amazing what kind of input you can get from a third party.
- Keep a list of ideas or maybe even a jar of ideas that you can pull randomly from as things start getting tougher. I personally have a note on my iPhone notes app where I vomit all of my wild ideas for future use.
- Introduce a bit of randomness to the process. Perhaps throw all your ideas on a cork board and play a round of darts to pick your subject. Let the universe decide!
3. Research your material thoroughly.
- Use credible sources to get the real scoop on a subject. Wiki and HuffPo make for interesting reads but you need material that will stand up under scrutiny. Hit the journals and other credible material to personally find facts. Don't just parrot the so-called "facts" from a third of fourth level source either, we have Fox News for that.
4. Edit your work thoroughly.
- Writing is hard work, before submitting a draft ensure it is thoroughly edited. I recommend sleeping on an article before you begin the editing process- fresh eyes are second only to elf-eyes when it comes to catching details. As a matter of fact it important to take breaks during the writing process itself. If you are yawning more than you are typing, or actually nodding off to sleep at your desk, it is probably for a break. With fresh eyes you will be more productive and better able to catch even the most subtle mistakes.
- Read your draft aloud, let someone else read it to you, or send it through a text-to-speech program. I know that robotic voice can be annoying but it can be a useful aid in helping you see if your words are flowing from the page as you intended. Each of these approaches is a great way to catch word misuse (loose for lose for example) and other errors.
- It may sound really crazy but read each line backward, misspelled words and improper punctuation will jump off the page at you. Hey, if it's crazy and it works, is it that crazy?
- Obvs, run your work through a spellchecker. It's 2017, we have robots that do it in like a second now, you have no excuse.
To conclude, writing is indeed a skill. Fortunately, it is a skill that can be refined over time. While many of us are not born writers, most of us can learn. The tips presented above should help ease the journey.