11 Tips For Becoming a Better Writer

By Jeffrey Jenkins on February 2, 2020

I have to start this off by saying: I’m still learning myself. I mean that quite literally; I’m still genuinely looking for ways to improve at this very moment. Writing to me is unique in essence because there seem to be fewer and fewer clear ways to become better at it once you reach a certain level. As a journalism major, and writing minor, I HOWEVER have observed some things that have helped me strengthen my writing over the years. Thus, I’ve come up with a list of 11 tips for becoming a better writer.

This may be somewhat of an unconventional list. Some tips presented here will sound standard, maybe even obvious, while others may sound irrelevant—that’s sort of the point (I promise to make it all make sense). The goal for these tips is to present a different perspective and insights that you maybe never thought of before. The beauty of it is that every last one of them is doable, and I believe you’ll find them useful when trying to improve your writing if you keep an open mind.

So, here is my list of tips for becoming a better writer (presented in no specific order of importance):

1. Be eager to learn – This tip could’ve easily been presented as an asterisk of sorts in the intro or ending, but it’s important enough that I decided to make it one of the 11. You have to actually want to get better first of all. If you don’t seek the opportunities, and knowledge to improve than you likely won’t. This entails a curiosity that no writing instructor or professor can teach you. Really this is a basic life principle. I’ll admit that I’ve only recently been truly eager to learn and seek ways to become better as a writer. But now that I’m on this quest, I ask questions—a lot of questions—to professors and other professionals primarily.

Ask. Research. Care to know more.

Yes, this is indeed one of those obvious tips.

2. Step out of your comfort zone – You may be used to writing essays and other formal school assignments. Try dabbling in forms of creative writing or even personal essays. I don’t fancy myself as a creative writer when it comes to fiction, poems, etc., but I’ve found that those rare occasions that I had to muster up some serious creativity for certain school assignments, was valuable practice towards developing my storytelling abilities—which I now know the importance of storytelling in journalism. If you’re used to writing news stories, try writing a feature story for your next assignment, or a profile. Do some research on the many business reports there are and try writing those.

Switch it up.

3. Be a little dramatic – My studies in journalism have engraved in me the value of setting the scene, and “painting word pictures” for your audience to visualize. Every character, setting, occasion, and atmosphere deserves, and is warranted proper illustration. You can do this with the use of descriptive adjectives and metaphors to enhance the subject at hand and add some depth. Here’s an example from a recent assignment of mine:

Her posture looked incredibly proper, and her calm, focused, concentration on the words on the pages exhibited a seemingly wise demeanor beyond her years. Additionally, her hefty backpack—which looks to have about twice as many books in it than everyone else– showcases her diligent studies and a firm grip on her aspirations. She has vivid ambitions– ambitions even bigger than her large backpack and more refined than the crisp pages on her book. 

To say this girl has “vivid” and “big” ambitions based solely on how many books appear to be in her backpack, maybe is a bit dramatic. And calmly concentrating on reading a book doesn’t equate to a “wise demeanor.” But, (hopefully) you at least felt intrigued to know more about her and more about where the story was headed.

4. Think outside the box – This goes hand and hand with tip #2. As a writer, you’ve likely developed a consistent rhythm and tone to your writing; you tend to write how you think in most cases. Try implementing a mix of words within your work that you usually don’t use. A thesaurus is extremely helpful in this regard, and is as easy as typing in a word in google, plus a keyword like “definition”, or “synonyms”. This helps to prevent the repetitive use of the same words and adds a little more color to your work. It also expands your vocabulary, which certainly is helpful. Try phrasing sentences in ways you’re not used to, imploring different words, sentence structures, and thoughts. A mix of short, few word sentences can be impactful when strategically placed. Intros don’t have to always be so formulaic, depending on the form of writing. Instead of going straight into your topic, set it up with a story, or brief details on its qualities and history; this can be done in a just a few sentences or less, but can help bring life to your writing.

5. Listen to others – This tip may be the least practical when it comes to writing. However, as a writer, the more you broaden your perspectives, the more versatile you’ll be. Keep an open mind. Make it a point to appreciate and examine the many personalities, emotions, thoughts, perspectives, dispositions, and overall qualities of people. You may be able to effectively connect and resonate with people better through your writing as a result.

6. Use your imagination – Yes, writing is a skill that takes time to mold. Additionally, technicalities such as grammar, vocabulary, punctuation use, etc., are musts to develop further as a skilled writer. However, outside of these nuances, your potential is limited only by your mind and imagination. Imagine scenes in your head, describe them, and relay this data to your audience in a concise, compelling manner to help sale your message. Allow your imagination to flow and guide your words. This may otherwise sound easy, but to do so effectively does not come naturally, even for skilled writers.

Don’t hesitate to write in ways you wouldn’t necessarily talk. Creativity in everyday conversations isn’t required to communicate … but in writing—let your imagination run wild the best way you know how (when appropriate).

7. Find ways to be unique – This is hard. I’d say tips 3, 4, and 6 are ways to help in this regard, but to take it further is a challenge. For starters, try implementing unique transitions between sentences, and intriguing ways to bring a thought together. Here’s an example from a recent assignment of mine:

You may also notice the occasional snapback on his head and maize-colored Michigan Wolverines logo on the backpack strapped to his shoulders. Go blue! Hail to the victors.

“Go blue,” and “hail to the victors,” are the Michigan Wolverines motto, and fight song respectively—just a quick way to add to the reference of their logo in the previous sentence. Also, a very simple method to utilize that is different is the use of italics, bold, and highlighting words. You don’t want to overdo it, but doing so on a few keywords or phrases here and there can be effective depending on your intentions. I’ve even tried little things like opening or ending an assignment with a quote, using subheadings in essays, and adding hyperlinks to something within an assignment.

Experiment.

8. Take notes/ organize your thoughts – This tip implies just as much care to note-taking as it does to writing your assignment. This would be my number one advice, not only to writers and journalists but to anyone (specifically for school): organization is key. Some of my finest work has been the result of tedious notes and structuring. Break your assignment up into sections, and assign information accordingly. This has made the completion of many assignments so much smoother. Filtering through your information may be tedious at times—but rest assured, the more meticulous the approach the better. That’s time well spent, that WON’T be spent wrecking your brain over what to do next otherwise. I’d also advise to not follow a specific format when taking notes (unless it’s yours, or if you feel like you can make it work). You may confuse yourself, or waste time trying to adhere to someone else’s method. Take notes the way you know how, and works best for you; there is no wrong approach. Also, notes don’t have to be formulaic either; they could simply be a matter of jotting down some key points to come back to later; as long as they help further your goal than its all good.

Highlighting can be useful for filtering through content. This (below) is a press release I referenced for an assignment. The blue highlighted text is info I ended up using and rewording; yellow was considered but not used.

blog

9. Write out of order – This likely isn’t something you’ll want to do every time, but this can be helpful whenever you’re stuck on where to go next with your assignment—simply go on to another section. It’s ok if you don’t write in sequential order—actually this can make finding good transitions to paragraphs/thoughts easier. However, usually, you do want to already have a strong intro in mind from the very beginning, as it dictates the direction of the assignment.

10. Be excited – Find reasons to be excited about whatever you’re writing! This can be extremely hard. You’re probably not excited about writing more often than you are. My advice is to try and find little things to be excited about—the smaller it may be, likely the more often you will come across or accomplish it, thus more time you will feel better about what you’re doing. Interviews, using a new word correctly in a sentence on the first attempt, writing a great lead—it may sound a bit corny, but try and feel somewhat enthused about these things. If you can’t find any reasons to feel excited: create reasons. If you can manage, it will be more enjoyable for you to write.

11. Heighten your senses in ways you otherwise wouldn’t – This here, is one phrase to summarize every one of the previous 10 tips. Similar to tip 1, this could’ve been presented somewhere else in the intro or conclusion. But, it is such a compelling way to relay the message I tried to get across in this post.

So I leave you with this piece of advice:

“Heighten your senses in ways you otherwise wouldn’t.”

This was advice given to me by Tennessean reporter, Jessica Bliss, when I asked her what she did, and would recommend to become a better writer. That to me was incredibly telling, and one of the most insightful things I’ve heard, because that statement is such a perfect way to describe what I’ve tried to do recently, without quite thinking of it in that way. I legitimately was enlightened by that comment—hopefully, you were too.

I am an ambitious writer with a passion for telling stories and using words to create meaningful perspectives. I aspire to use this passion towards a rewarding career as versatile freelance writer. I love music, basketball and am a die hard Michigan Wolverines fan.

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