A few weeks ago, a friend looking to become a gaming content creator asked me how to improve as a writer.
I stood there, thinking for a moment. As a self-taught writer, I’d never really paid attention to how I learned to become a writer. I just knew that writing was what I wanted to do, and I did it.
Determined to help my friend, I sat down and tried to come up with a list of ideas that helped me improve my writing over the past decade.
This is what I found:
Some ideas that helped me improve my writing included:
- Reading quality content.
- Reading poor content.
- Reading widely.
- Writing every day.
- Striving to remove bad writing from my work.
- Always publishing.
- Always asking for feedback, and, finally.
- Always doing all the things above.
Ok, that seems like a pretty comprehensive list. In the following sections, I’ll look at each of the points made in this list in great detail.
Let’s get started with the first, reading quality content…
1. Read quality content
In this section, I’ll explain the importance of reading quality content to improve your writing.
The first and arguably the most important habit you should get into as an apprentice writer is reading a lot of good content daily.
And you should ensure you read lots of different types of content, especially the type of content you expect to spend most of your time creating.
For example, I spend 80% of my time reading non-fiction content because I write non-fiction content. Whether that’s books, blogs, magazines, or newspapers, I try to read all forms of great non-fiction.
But why should you read lots of great content if you want to become a great writer?
Simply put, you are learning how great writers craft great writing.
By reading great writing, you learn:
- How to structure your content most effectively
- How to form beautiful paragraphs and sentences
- How to select the perfect word for any given moment
- How to write scintillating introductions that capture the reader’s attention and never lets it go
- How to write conclusions that have the reader desperate to read your next piece.
- how to explain ideas in simple, understandable terms
- How to create relatable, flawed characters with which the reader can empathize.
- How to carve a plot that makes a book unputdownable
And this is just a short list of what good writing can teach you. The more you can read, the quicker you absorb all the key points mentioned above.
So the first thing you should do is read great content every day.
In this section, you learned that reading quality content can teach almost everything you need to know about writing. You’ll learn how to structure content, how to write introductions and conclusions, how to write beautiful poetic writing, and you’ll learn how to be evocative with your writing.
In the next section, I’ll explore the opposite side of the coin: Why you should read poor writing.
2. Read Bad content
In the last section, I looked at why you should read lots of great content. How great content alone can teach you how to be a great writer.
In this section, I explore the opposite of good content. I want to examine how reading bad content can teach you what not to do with your content.
Now, you’d think that, given your limited time, you should avoid lousy content like a particularly nasty strain of the bubonic plague. But that’s not so. In fact, you can learn just as much from poor writing as you can from great writing.
So you should look to read some poor content, whether that’s bad books, poorly crafted blog posts, news articles that make you crave something new, or poor magazine articles.
All have something to teach you. You see, reading poor writing is essential because it makes you aware of what is poor writing. If you only read the good stuff, there’ll be no contrast, you’ll never know what bad writing is, and you won’t know what to look for in your writing.
But what exactly can bad writing, poor content, teach you.
By reading poor writing, you learn how to spot:
- Illogical and poorly ordered writing structures
- Badly formed paragraphs
- Wordy, passive, and nonsensical sentences
- Bad word choices
- Introductions that induce sleep instead of excitement
- Conclusions make you thankful it’s all over
- Muddied and mumbling ideas that are poorly explained
- Characters that have the depth of a puddle and intrigue of a brick
- Plots that my dopey boxer dog could unravel
Poor writing teaches you so much. Yet most experienced writers will tell you not to bother reading poor writing. “You’re wasting your time!”, They’ll say. I’m going to take a stance and say that they have no idea what they are talking about above. Poor writing has so much to give. Just not in the original way that was intended.
In this section, you learned that reading bad content teaches you what to avoid in your content writing. Bad content will teach you how not to structure your work and what poor sentences or word choice looks like. Believe me, you’ve got just as much to learn from poor writing as good writing.
In the next section, I’ll examine why you should read as widely as possible.
3. Read widely
In the last section, I examined why you should read poor content. You learned how poor content can teach you what not to do with your writing.
This section will explore why you should read as widely as possible.
Reading widely across fiction and none fiction not only teaches you how to create technically excellent writing, but it also fills your mind with many ideas you can cross-reference with other ideas to create new ones. In other words, the essence of creativity is mixing old ideas to create something new.
When many writers create a new piece of content, they simply regurgitate old ideas. They have nothing new to offer, creative or profound, that moves their chosen field forward.
This is why reading widely is so critical. You can take ideas from any part of humanity’s collective culture and knowledge and apply them to the topic you are currently working on. This unearths new and exciting directions to move topics in.
For example, when I write about any subject, I often quickly browse my bookshelf. Within seconds, the dam busters have flown into my mind and obliterated the wall holding back the creative juice. The sight of the books lets my creativity flow. And flow it does in new and interesting ways.
The sediment heavy water of my mind mingles with the salt water of the new topic I’m writing about, and fertile alluvium is laid down, ready for the cultivation of yet another valuable article.
As you can see from the above paragraphs, I mixed and matched a lot of different ideas and evocative images to create a new exciting way of looking at the idea of reading widely.
Widely reading will give you a reservoir of ideas you can tap into to approach old topics with renewed senses.
And you’ll become a writer known for exploring topics in ways that most couldn’t imagine before you shone a helpful light forward to split the darkness of naivety.
In this section, you learned to read as widely as possible. Reading widely can fill your mind with many ideas that can be called upon when you are writing content to give the content a new exciting perspective.
In the next section, I’ll explore why writing every day is so important.
4. Write every day
In the last section, we explored why reading as widely as possible is important.
In this section, I’ll look at why your chances of becoming a great writer hinge on whether or not you can write every day.
You’ve probably heard many people say that if you want to be a writer, you should write every day.
Usually, I’m the first person to jump into the thought-sea to swim against the tide of the mass’s ideas. I’m a rebel at heart, you see.
But in this case, the masses are right. You should write every day. But why?
Simply put, like any craft, you must practice writing to become a good writer. You have to be obsessed.
Just like David Beckham would curl in hundreds of free kicks a day to keep improving, you too have to write thousands of words every day to keep improving your craft.
Every word you write, every sentence you squeeze out of your pen’s nib, will propel you ever closer to your goal of becoming a great and celebrated writer.
But there is more value to be had from writing every day.
You must pick areas of your writing, weak spots that threaten to turn into sinkholes, and fill them in with the concrete of targeted practice.
If you have a poor grasp of attention-grabbing titles, you must practice writing them daily.
If you crumble when faced with character creation, you must practice creating endearing and flawed characters daily.
The point is that not only should you be writing every day, but you should also be practicing your craft every day.
In this section, you learned why it’s so important to practice the craft of writing every day. We only get better by taking action on the knowledge we acquire.
In the next section, I’ll examine why you need to learn to remove bad writing from your good writing.
5. Remove bad writing
In the last section, you learned that to become a great writer, you need to write as often as possible.
In this section, you’ll learn that becoming a good writer is the art of removing bad writing to leave behind the good.
Filtering out the good writing from the bad writing is akin to kimberlite ore that surrounds diamonds in South Africa. For every ton of rock you rip out of the ground, you might sieve out one carat of diamond.
The difference between an experienced writer and a not-so-experienced writer then comes down to two things:
- How quickly they remove the bad writing to leave the good.
- How many bad words do they need to write to get all the good ones they need.
Over many years of writing, I’ve become pretty good at avoiding poor words in my first draft.
If I dredge up 1000 words, usually around 800 will be good enough to sell. The remaining 200 get thrown on the slag heap.
You want to become very good at removing the bad writing, so you only leave the good writing behind. This skill is developed with, you guessed it, practice. You do this by reading lots of content to learn how to grind away the poor writing to leave the good sparkling on the page.
In this section, you learned that a writer’s job is essentially all about removing all the bad writing to leave good writing behind.
In the next section, you’ll learn the importance of always publishing your work.
6. Publish, Publish, publish
In the last section, you learned that becoming a good writer is essentially learning the art of removing all the poor writing from an article so that only the good is left behind.
In this section, we’ll look at how vital it is to constantly publish your work.
Unpublished writing is as helpful as a bar with no beer.
The most beautiful prose that has ever graced paper could be sitting in your notebook right now. Prose that would have Shakespeare clapping in his grave at your sentences’ sheer delight and audacity.
Yet, your talent sits wasted, undiscovered, lost to the world if its sole home remains a tattered Moleskin.
Instead, you must publish. You must publish like Random House: every day, without stop, forever.
That poem you scribbled down while evacuating on the toilet: Take a picture of it, preferably before you wipe, and stick it on YouTube.
Give people the opportunity to enjoy your talent, to laugh with you, to cry with you, to love you, and your writing.
That article you’ve been working on about Animal Rights: publish it now, on Medium.
Your words have the power to change lives. But only if you publish them.
By publishing your work every day, without stop, you fence off a space to call your own in the infinite fields of the internet. And, as your content draws in the interested and intrigued, they’ll leave feedback. Feedback from which you can learn and grow.
So publish everything, publish now. Get your work in front of people. Because the world is a worse place without your writing. Step up, and make it a better place for us all.
In this section, you learned that publishing your work is vital to constantly get feedback about your writing. You also learned that you need to publish constantly to start building a following for your work.
In the next section, I’ll explore the importance of constantly asking for feedback on your writing.
7. Ask for feedback
In the last section, you learned that you should constantly be publishing your work.
In this section, you’ll learn more about the importance of getting feedback for all of your writing.
As touched on above, feedback is vital to a writer’s growth.
Feedback highlights shortcomings in your writing that you may not be aware of. Fissures in the structure that, if left unattended, will eventually crack open, leading to catastrophic failure.
Yes, sometimes feedback can be harsh. I’ve had articles handed back to me in the past with a single note scribbled in red saying, “Sory, but your not good righter.” As if they could talk!
Feedback can sting like a bullet ant’s mandibles latched on to the meaty bits. Yet, so much can be learned from feedback.
Whenever you are given feedback, take it humbly and gracefully, knowing that the words, however harsh or true, are a teacher, a mentor, that will propel you forward towards your dreams.
So learn to ask for feedback. React graciously and humbly to all forms of feedback. If acted upon, it will help you become a better writer.
In this section, you’ve learned the importance of constantly getting feedback on your writing and that you should constantly be acting on that feedback.
In the next section, I’ll explore why you need to be doing all the above over and over. I’ll see you there…
8. Do it all over again.
In the last section, you learned the importance of getting feedback for your writing and how it can help you improve.
In this section, you’ll learn how you should constantly be doing all of the previous actions over and over to improve.
Once you’ve read, written, published, and received feedback, it’s time to do it again. Becoming a better writer is a never-ending learning, writing, and publishing treadmill.
As soon as you finish one article, start the process again. Keep on writing. Keep on reading. Keep on learning. Keep on pulling the feedback onboard.
If you do, you’ll inevitably, inexorably, become the great writer you crave.
In this last section, you’ve learned that to become a great writer involves willingly running on that treadmill of reading, writing, and publishing. That the life of a writer is one of constant education, hunched backs over keyboards, and taking the often stinging blow of criticism on the chin.
In the last section of this article, I’ll end with a summary to drill all the ideas home.
We talked about many powerful tools to become a great writer above. But, to be honest, I touch on so many ideas in the previous 2750 words I can hardly remember them all.
To finish off, I think I’ll slip in a summary of all the main points, for me more than you. Let’s take a look:
- Read quality content
- It will help you learn what great content is so you can reproduce it.
- Read poor-quality content
- It’ll help you learn what bad writing is so you can spot it in your writing and remove it.
- Read widely
- Reading widely will give you lots of ideas to use in your writing.
- Write every day
- Writing every day will help you practice your craft
- Remove bad writing
- Writing well is the essential the art of removing bad writing to leave good behind
- Publish everything
- It will help you improve as a writer as you’ll get plenty of feedback.
- Get feedback
- You want to get as much feedback as possible about your writing as it’ll help you grow.
- Repeat all of the above points repeatedly to become a great writer.
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