It doesn’t matter what you do with your life, whether you end up being a stay at home parent, working in a retail store, becoming an astrophysicist, or deciding to pursue a career in law; you’re going to need to know how to write. The ability to write well is a crucial skill to have in today’s world because it displays the ability to think effectively and communicate efficiently.
However, not everyone is born with the ability to write well, grows to enjoy writing, or is educated enough to be able to write, as can be attested to by the fact that approximately 16 percent of Americans over the age of 16 struggle with basic reading and writing. That doesn’t even count the number of people who are well-educated enough to read and write, but don’t like to or find it to be a challenging task.
Even if writing doesn’t come easy to you, it’s still possible to be a good writer with the right tools and practice. Here's how.
And when I say everything, I mean everything: cereal boxes, news clippings, book covers, magazine articles, advertisements, web pages, car manuals, movie guides, leaflets, brochures, and anything else with so much as a sentence on or in it. “Writing is a complex and complicated skill. While basic writing skills can be taught, it’s impossible to teach the art of fine writing. It is possible to learn, but this learning is only fully achieved through reading,” writes Melissa Donovan in an article for Writing Forward.
The more you read, the more you begin to understand the way that written language functions and flows, and the easier it will be for you express your ideas on paper in a way that is not only coherent, but elegant. Reading can also help you understand the differences between different forms of writing. For example, by reading an academic article, a book, and a news story that are all centered on the same topic, you will begin to see the different styles and tones each piece takes which allows you to better understand how to engage your audience depending on what type of writing you’re doing.
It’s highly unlikely that you can improve your writing without doing any actual writing; however, the type of writing you choose to do is entirely up to you. Some people and websites will tell you to write everything all the time, others will tell you that “write a lot” is terrible advice because unless you’re trying new things out in your writing, you’re not learning anything.
It’s up to you to determine what type of writing works for you and keeps you going. You may choose to write journal entries, or you may choose to write essays. You may write in one sitting, very quickly, or over an extended period of time with careful revision. However you choose to write, don’t let anyone tell you you’re doing it wrong. Just like with nearly everything in life, what works for one does not work for all.
Think about stuff a lot.
Sounds easy, right? You think about stuff all the time: what you’re going to eat for lunch, where you’re going tonight, what you think will happen next in the book you’re reading, and all that other good stuff that goes on in your head. That’s all great stuff to think about, and it really puts you ahead of the game if you find yourself thinking about things all day long, because thinking is essentially writing, just without the word processor or paper. As Bill Wheeler put it, “Good writing is clear thinking made visible.”
The challenge comes when you push yourself to think about things differently. For example, instead of thinking about what someone means when they say, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” think about why they would say that. No two people will say or do the same thing for the same reason. Take your thinking to the root of the issue. Think about those big “why?” questions.
Get some experts.
If you are not an expert in the field you’re talking about, you need to find some experts. I don’t literally mean that you have to go out and find a marine biologist if you plan to write about sea life—if you have the resources to do that, however, then by all means do—you can find experts online and in books.
Take this article as an example. I love writing and I’ve done a lot of it—relative for someone my age—so I had that going for me coming into writing this piece, but even knowing what I know, I needed to know more, so I went and got myself some experts. If I’ve cited ten experts, I’ve easily read twice that many articles, as well as drawn on the things I learned from my college English professors.
Stay relevant, but get weird.
Depending on what you’re writing about and for, there’s a certain amount of room for creativity—even in an academic paper or serious article—you just need to know how to draw from your weird side. Sometimes this is easy, a certain topic might instantly bring to mind an interesting movie scene or song lyric, other times you’ll have to work for it.
When possible, stay in the mind of your reader. You probably wouldn’t want to read an entire article about memory loss that says the same things as all the other invigorating articles on the subject matter out there, and neither will most of your readers, which means you need to do something to make your piece stand out. Don’t be afraid to get weird; throw in a clever pop culture reference helps to grab peoples attention, add an interesting comparison, or find a way to relate what might otherwise be a bland topic to something that’s currently big in the public eye or that you find interesting.
Nobody said writing had to be a chore, and nobody said it had to be boring either.