7 Easy Steps to Improve Your Writing
Want to be a writer? Just write, is the simplistic answer. However, it is not easy to develop that discipline. Like anything else in life, it must become a habit that you constantly and consistently develop and practice, practice, and practice.
It is a skill and a craft that must be honed, practiced, and fine-tuned. Your writing will be terrible at times, but you will also be amazed at what you come up with and how your writing improves. Case in point: A while back, I was reviewing several articles I had written years ago. They were in a miscellaneous file folder, so initially, I did not realize I had written them. I read the first one. This is terrible, I thought, shocked when I saw I had penned it, knowing I could write it so much better today.
I read the second article. This is really good, I thought, stunned when I got to the end and saw my name as the author. Even years later, I wouldn’t have changed a word.
But enough about me. This blog is about you and how to get started writing. First off, you must ask the question, “what do I want to write about? Do I want to tell my story? Write about something I’m passionate about? Offer tips in my area of expertise that will help others?”
In my case, I started in radio, writing news, commercials, and promotional copy. Later, I went to work in a newsroom, rewriting copy and creating my own that went out to hundreds of clients around the country. Eventually, I started my own writing and editing business. Today, I help clients write and edit their book manuscripts and narrate and produce audiobooks. It is the best of many worlds. I get to help others tell their stories while utilizing my skills as a writer, editor, narrator, and audio producer.
For you, the journey will likely be much simpler. You have things you are passionate about in your life or a narrative that needs to be told. Maybe you are creative and can weave a tale, ala J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame. You might have a story of overcoming, such as my client Phyllis Phelps, who wrote about it in the book “Weathering the Storm.”
But how do I get started?” you ask. Great question. How about starting by writing a journal or a blog? Many websites allow you to post your thoughts or start with something as simple as Facebook. But let me suggest blogging as a good place to start. Why? Because blogging helps you develop several things:
· Discipline – Blogging teaches you the self-control and consistency you need to build a successful writing habit.
· Audience – To have a writing career, you need people to read what you have written, and ultimately, buy it or support you through subscriptions. Or pay you to write or edit for them. Building an audience will also sharpen your writing as others comment on what you have written.
· Marketing –Promoting and marketing your blogs are another form of discipline and routine. It also reveals to others the realistic world writers live in. We don’t sit by the lake, or the fireplace in our satin jackets, smoking a pipe while writing. However, I have been known to sit on my couch in my workout clothes with a snoring dog next to me! This realism also dispels the notion that we type our book on a 19th-century typewriter, magically get discovered, are published by Simon & Shuster and become rich and famous. Unless your name is J.K. Rowling.
But back to the question of how to get started without getting stuck. The biggest mistake beginning writers make is doing too much at once. In other words, writing, editing, and formatting as you go. One friend I counseled was trying to write a book and was hung up on cover design and chapter titles before writing one word. I gently told her she was working on step 52 when she should be focused on step one! Instead, try following these seven simple steps I’ve used in my writing career and taught to writers I’ve coached:
Step 1: Write. Just start writing. Do what I call a “brain dump” by recording your thoughts on paper, computer, or dictating them into a recording device. At this stage, you are only concerned with getting the information and ideas out of your head and into your computer. Write, write, write, without editing. This is most crucial. DO NOT EDIT at this stage. This is where most writers get discouraged because they try to edit while writing. Doing so stops the creative flow and can easily derail your momentum. So, DO NOT Edit. Just write, brain dump, and write some more. DO NOT worry about spelling, syntax, flow, grammar, and punctuation. JUST WRITE. I cannot emphasize this enough.
Step 2: Edit – When you have finished your “brain dump” onto paper (or laptop), step two is where you return and begin editing. I am old school, preferring to print out my rough first draft and red pen edit the printed copy. I guess it’s the news guy in me, but I see the bigger picture when dealing with “hard” copy. It is also easier for me to move sentences and paragraphs because I’ll number the paragraphs as I go, knowing I’ll be reordering some of them. During this step, you can fix the obvious errors before beginning structural editing. The latter consists of moving sentences, paragraphs, rewriting portions of text, and clarifying what you want to say. You can utilize software programs such as Grammarly and Hemingway to help with this process.
Step 3: Read Aloud – One of the things I learned early on in my radio career was the importance of reading copy out loud. That is critical because our brains will skip over dropped words or fill them in for us when we read silently. I’ll never forget hearing a newscaster on my local radio station read a story he obviously got out of the local paper. He read the story, including the words “see photo,” which was embedded in the text. It was apparent he did not pre-read his copy or read it out loud, and thousands of people heard his gaffe. Reading what you have written aloud helps you catch awkward phrasing or sentences that don’t make sense. I guarantee that it will make you a better writer.
Step 4: Re-Edit – Nobody writes perfect copy in one try. Nobody. You will likely have multiple revisions and drafts. That is okay; in fact, it is part of the process. Often, the finished product will barely resemble the first draft, and you will marvel at how much better each draft becomes. During this stage, I typically run my copy through Grammarly premium to catch awkward phrasing, repetition, and other errors I have missed. Sometimes, they are not even errors, but wordiness, where I could use one word instead of three. That helps tighten up and strengthen my writing.
Step 5: A Second Set of Eyes – If you have someone you trust and who is an encourager, show them what you have written. I almost hesitate to suggest this because too many people get blown out of the water by prematurely showing their work to others. Case in point, I am helping a writer by editing her manuscript, and she almost quit early on because she made the mistake of showing her first draft to someone in her family. That person told my client that her writing was “crap” and that she should give up. And she almost did. I gently reminded her not to show the first draft to anyone because she and I need time to polish it and turn it into a finished chapter. So be forewarned. However, as you near the end of your writing process, it is helpful to have someone else look at it. In my case, my wife edits and reviews everything I ghostwrite. She catches things I miss.
Step 6: Publish (GULP) – Publishing your first piece can be nerve-wracking. Will anyone like what I’ve written? Will they think it sucks and I should give up? It is somewhat like a novice Broadway actor waiting for the reviews to come in. Or it can be. Like an actor, a writer must develop a thick skin. Not everyone will like what you write or think it is any good, but others will. So, keep at it. And that leads to the next step.
Step 7: Persevere – This is one of the hardest things to do. To keep writing and publishing, even if you get limited feedback. Frankly, most people give up within six months. If you make it past that point, you are in the top 25-percent of writers, so take a bow. By the six-month time frame, you should have some followers/readers and a large body of material if you have been writing at least one blog or article a week. And, if you can persevere for one year, you will really have some momentum as you head into year two.
I’m coming up on ten years writing full time, and I probably learned the greatest lessons in the first two years. I made many mistakes, underbid on projects, and took on assignments I really did not want to do. You will, too, if you’re just starting out, which is okay because that is how we learn and grow as writers. Today, I work with authors who are writing books or want to turn their book into an audiobook. I pick and choose my clients and have a regular, sustaining income. You can do it too! I hope these steps I’ve outlined will help you in your journey to becoming a better and more prolific writer!
Dave Ficere is an Author, Editor, and Ghostwriter with over 30 years of experience in broadcasting and writing. When Dave is not writing and editing manuscripts for clients, you can typically find him narrating and producing audiobooks.
“Bringing Your Story to Life” is more than just a tagline at Ficere Writing Solutions. We provide clients with top-notch writing, editing, and audiobook services to get your book or audiobook ready to publish. Our portfolio of services includes: Ghostwriting books, editing book manuscripts, and narration and production of audiobooks.
To learn more about how Ficere Writing Solutions can help you and your business, click HERE.