10 effortless ways to improve your writing skills

There's a widespread belief that writing is (and should be) hard. I disagree.

In my opinion, writing is easy.

Finding the time is hard. Dealing with the crippling self-doubt is hard. Staying awake at 4 am to finish an essay is hard. Writing on a plane when the air pressure keeps making your pen explode is hard. Holding a pen when you're in a hospital with an IV drip in your hand is hard. 

The actual process of getting words out onto paper or a screen is not the hard part. Why? Writing, like most creative endeavours, is a process and any process can be refined, honed and improved. There are two key components of this: practice and technical skills.

This post to share some of what I have learned from years of blogging and studying English. Most of the tips below were uncovered in my own time and not in formal lessons. 

Even if you never plan to write at a professional level, learning a few basic rules is valuable for everyone. It’s necessary for most key parts of life. Be it in college applications, work resumes, emails, plans, wedding vows or blog essays, your ability to write dictates everything.   

I often get asked about advice for writing, blog essays in particular. So I’ve put together 10 simple, actionable tips from my own experience. Regardless of your education level, I am certain that at least a few will be helpful for you. 

1. Cut out the adverbs.

I use Ctrl+f+ly to spot them. Whilst using a few adverbs will not ruin your writing, too many might.  Adverbs tend to be vague and serve often no purpose within the text.  Learning to find other ways of constructing sentences is a quick method for upgrading any piece of writing.  

2. Cut out the abbreviations. I always use Ctrl+f+' to do this. Just like adverbs, a few are fine (such as in an informal piece.) Too many can add an amateurish tone or disrupt communication.

3. Check you are not using the same word too many times. This is my #1 pet hate in writing and often cause me to not finish reading a book or article. In particular, weak words such as ‘but’, ‘yet’ and ‘though’ tend to be everywhere. Keep track of those which you have a tendency to repeat, then try to avoid them altogether. I use EditMinion to check for duplicates.

4. If you only read crap, it will be obvious in your writing. Treat reading as an athlete treats their diet - with care. This doesn’t mean you must plough through classic novels and academic papers every day, though. I aim to keep a balance between heavier texts, and those which are relevant to my own work. When a particular person’s writing resonates with me, I like to study it in depth. I note down phrases, analyse techniques and pay attention to structure. Analysis is not just for GCSE English classes.

5. Use a thesaurus. But stop trying to sound smart. If you have ever read anything by Theodor Adorno, then you know how irritating an overgrown vocabulary is. Fancy words and endless synonyms are not needed in every sentence. Putting points across in a succinct, well-thought out manner is preferable. Ramit Sethi, Tim Urban, Colin Wright, and Cal Newport.

6. Learn how to use hyphens and semicolons properly. These are crucial for creating the right pace and for making sentences flow. A  shortcut to developing hyphen fluency (and general accuracy) is to download a free extension called Grammarly. It flags up any mistakes which most grammar checkers do not have the sensitivity for. here and hyphens here.

7. Spend AT LEAST twice as much time editing as you do writing. For a 500-word essay, I often write for just 15 minutes, or half an hour for a 1000 word one. 2-8 hours of meticulous editing then follow. The initial burst of writing produces a rough outline, nothing more. The editing is when I form the desired structure and tone. Take regular breaks throughout this part to avoid focusing on minutiae. For example, the outline of this post took me 30 minutes to write, yet the editing and finishing took around 5 hours. 

8. Keep paragraphs short and sentences shorter. Enough said.

9. Build the habit of writing every day, without fail. Add it to your calendar. Put it in your diary. Write it on post-it notes and place them everywhere. tattoo it on your hand if you must. Whatever it takes, write every day. I have done so on a consistent basis since I was a child and do not regret a second of it. At times it has swung into borderline hypergraphia. At one point, I filled a Moleskine notebook every 10 days. Now, I aim to write at least 500 words for this site per day, in addition to my university assignments.  10,000 hours to build a skill. video about forming this habit which you can watch here.  

10. Time yourself. I keep track of how long I spend on each essay for my site, or for my university work. At the moment, I am aiming to become more efficient. This is a productive practice to get into- both to ensure you are spending a reasonable amount of time it, and to avoid overworking a particular piece. More than 5 hours per day and I start to get burnt out, less than 2 and I struggle to keep up with commitments. 

Hope this is helpful! Let me know in the comments if you have tips of your own or questions.

// Rosie

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