3 Ways to Improve Your Writing Skills
In an age of instant expression, you might wonder if there’s a need to improve your writing skills. Social media has proven that everyone can write with very little effort—or thought.
If, however, your goal is to make a difference in others’ lives with your words, it pays to improve your writing skills. Getting the right words in the right order with the right mix of emotion, description, and authenticity that draws readers into your work takes exceptional effort, vulnerability, and intention.
Writing well is a learned craft. It requires skill, practice, and a willingness to invest time and (sometimes) money into yourself as a communicator. Taking advantage of training, feedback, and coaching are three powerful ways to improve your writing skills.
Training can come in various forms, both paid and unpaid.
Books (and Audiobooks)
Reading is a simple and super-accessible form of training. When you read great books (fiction and nonfiction), you see the power of story at work. You discover what you like and what irritates you when it comes to the different ways writers string words together. Those insights will help you develop your unique voice as a writer.
In addition to reading for pleasure and personal development, authors need to read about writing. One author I recently heard speak suggested that writers read at least one book on the craft of writing each month. I like to vary things a bit by adding in a few books on marketing and building an author platform.
Podcasts are another source of training. I have a subscription library full of shows for communicators. Podcasts are free and can help you maximize your drive time (good ol’ Automobile University, as Zig Ziglar called it). I’ve also discovered that they are a great place to find new people to learn from and to discover upcoming writer’s conferences.
Conferences and writer’s retreats are some of my absolute favorite types of training. In my experience, the interaction, networking, and collaboration that happen at live events shift the learning from idea to application. Conferences and retreats aren’t free, but every time I’ve attended, spoken at, or hosted a live event, my career has leveled up and my network has expanded.
Feedback, too, can be free or paid, and if you pay attention to the right feedback, you can use it to improve your writing skills.
Comments and Reviews
Sometimes feedback comes from readers who leave reviews on your books or comments on articles and blog posts. What are people saying about your work? What questions do they ask? What kind of response are they leaving for you?
When it comes to book reviews, Thomas Umstattd Jr. recommends paying the most attention to those middle stars. Five-star reviews often come from the people who love you and will read anything you put out into the world. One-star reviews, he says, often come from people who are not in your target audience. Two-, three-, and four-star reviews, however, can give you insight into what your readers need or want more of from you.
Try to see reviews as feedback to improve your craft rather than as criticism or a valuation of your life. Impostor syndrome is a real thing, and negative reviews can feed it. If it’s too painful for you to read reviews that feel negative, ask someone you trust to read the reviews and summarize what people are wanting more or less of from you. It’s a way to soften the blow and still learn from the feedback.
Critique Groups and Paid Critiques
Critique groups can be another source of feedback. Swapping pages with other writers allows you to get input on your work before you release it into the world. Our local chapter of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) has a gentle critique time before each meeting when authors can share their work and get help on sticky areas. You can form your own critique group with a few fellow writers who are willing to meet regularly and read one another’s work.
Paid critiques can also be helpful. Many conferences offer paid critiques where you sign up and submit pages before the event and then meet at the event with the author or editor who reviewed your work. Editorial reviews are another form of paid critiques. It’s a service we offer at My Writers’ Connection. An editorial review is usually done by an experienced content or developmental editor. He or she will read your manuscript in full and offer suggestions on organization and content. This step happens between your rough draft and the developmental edit of your completed manuscript. Not every book gets (or needs) an editorial review, but if you are struggling to finalize your manuscript, it can be exceptionally helpful.
I like to follow Stephen King’s advice when it comes to feedback on manuscripts. I don’t share my work until I’m done with my revisions on the first draft. Getting feedback mid-project slows me down. This is why, when I coach authors, I ask them to submit their work as they go but have them wait until they’ve finished the first draft to make changes. This process provides accountability and allows me to offer guidance that helps them improve their writing going forward. It also keeps them from getting bogged down in editing before the first draft is complete.
And that brings us to coaching. As a book writing coach, developmental editor, and publishing consultant, I work with authors from start to finish on their projects. My goal is to help authors organize their thoughts and shape their messages so that it hits the mark with their readers. I’ve designed the program to keep people focused so they can get their books out into the world. One of the main benefits, aside from feedback, is the accountability to get the work done.
Coaching can be on a specific book project, but it can also be for career development. I’m currently working with two coaches who are helping me expand my career as an author and speaker. Getting direction from these coaches has increased my effectiveness as a communicator. The training and feedback I’ve received from them have helped me improve my writing skills and expand my reach.
4) Bonus Tip: Write!
You may have noticed that each of these ideas for improving your writing skills—training, feedback, and coaching—has one thing in common: writing. The saying is that school is never out for the pro, but you don’t get to be a pro without doing the work. If you want to be a better writer, you have to write. Whether it’s five minutes a day or 500 words a day, be intentional about making the time to write regularly. The more you write, the more chances you have to improve.