How To Improve Your Academic Writing Skills

Matt Lillywhite

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I used to suck at writing essays. Although I wish I was exaggerating, I’m not. The truth is that my spelling was terrible, I lacked original ideas, and I often found it extremely difficult to sit down and write. The worst part? I could barely string a coherent sentence together.

When I look back at who I used to be compared to now, it’s like I’m looking at a completely different person. The trajectory of my writing career has massively improved, and I’ve managed to write loads of incredible essays.

Chances are, you want to do the same. Which is why I want to share with you several strategies that helped me to write much better essays in high school and college. I’m sure they will do the same for you, too.

1. Remember, You’re Just a Smart Monkey With a Keyboard and a Word Processor

Several million years ago, humans and chimpanzees shared a common ancestor. But during the process of natural evolution, our brains became incredibly smart.

Now, you’re probably thinking, “Why is this relevant? Why should I care?” Let me explain. A monkey hitting random keys on a keyboard for an infinite amount of time will eventually type any given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare. And if monkeys have the potential to write something brilliant, then so do you.

This concept took me a while to get my head around. But once I did, my entire mindset changed for the better. Because as long as something isn’t impossible, it’s within the realm of possibility. All you need to do is find ways to increase the odds of making your dreams a reality.

For example, if you want to become a better writer, it makes sense to write as much as possible. Because if monkeys have the potential to write the entire works of Shakespeare (if given enough time), you certainly have the potential to write a great book or article. Which brings me to my next point.

2. Write 33 Words Every Morning

The reason? You won’t always feel like writing. However, it’s no secret that the hardest part of getting anything done is starting. Quoting an article published by Inc. Magazine:

“Procrastination gives you short-term relief by allowing you to ignore those uncomfortable feelings. However, that relief is temporary and fleeting. By putting off your writing, you’ve very likely increased your workload.
That’s why procrastination is harmful to your work and your life. If you have a blog where your readers are expecting regular content, for example, then it can affect your performance and engagement.”

That’s why I tell myself I need to write 33 words without fail. Once I begin, it’s much easier to continue. So upon waking up each morning, I have a shower, make a cup of coffee, and write.

This strategy has changed my life forever. It has enabled me to show up every day and remain incredibly consistent over the past 12 months. Without it, I wouldn’t have made anywhere near as much progress.

“The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.” — Steven Pressfield

Once your 33 words are completed, don’t judge yourself for not writing anything more. The only thing that matters is showing up and making a tiny bit of progress each day toward your goals.

3. Embrace Your Literary Discomfort Zone

For a long time, I thought the vast majority of non-fiction books were extremely difficult to comprehend and not worth my time. So if you told me a year ago that I’d be reading books on astronomy, physics, and psychology, I would have laughed in your face.

But recently, I’ve embraced my literary discomfort zone. I’ve started reading in a wide variety of book genres to understand a variety of concepts and ideas in much greater detail. The reason? Sticking to one genre would narrow my perspective on life. And as a writer, I want to have an incredibly open and curious mind.

So whenever you get a chance, consider reading something completely different from whatever you would typically choose. For example, you could explore thrillers, sci-fi, poetry, or philosophy. In short, anything that expands your mind, and challenges you to think in entirely different ways.

Step outside of your comfort zone and try something new. Understand how authors convey their thoughts and ideas in a variety of book genres. Then, apply what you learn to your own writing.

4. Study the Habits of Authors You Admire, and Then Implement Them Into Your Own Lifestyle

I already know what you’re thinking: “I’ve heard this before. Matt is probably just going to tell me to wake up early, go for a walk, and a variety of other things that successful writers normally do.”

I’m not talking about that. Instead, study the habits of authors you admire — that have absolutely nothing to do with writing. For example, Ryan Holiday doesn’t keep the Facebook application on his phone and turns off all notifications. Why? Those things make it much easier for him to focus on creativity and anything else that’s incredibly important.

That’s a habit I’ve started implementing over the past few months. And sure enough, it works. Because when I’m not distracted by my phone, it’s much easier to concentrate on my work, relationships, or any other aspect of life.

Small changes in your lifestyle can make a big difference. Make an effort to find inspiration in the daily routines of your favorite authors. Learn from them. The effect it will have on your creativity will be profound.

5. Find Passages From Great Books and Copy Them

Let me make something clear: I’m not telling you to plagiarize anything. So obviously, don’t write out passages from great books and then claim them as your own. That’s incredibly dishonest.

Instead, the point of this strategy is to trick your brain into thinking you’re capable of writing something amazing right now. After all, it’s a great way to eliminate self-doubt and overcome any fears of being unable to write incredible content that other people will enjoy.

Open a word processor and type out a paragraph from a book you love. Pay attention to the sentence structure and why the author chose specific words to convey a specific idea. Understand how they link one paragraph to another with ease. Take notes. Then, apply what you learn to your own writing.

I could’ve easily added a few more points about improving your grammar and getting feedback from other writers you admire, amongst other things. But chances are, you’ve heard all of that before.

The above unconventional strategies had the most significant impact on my writing. And once you apply them, I’m confident they’ll help you improve the quality of your writing as well.

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