8 Failsafe Tips Anyone Can Use to Become a Better Writer

Shannon Hilson

You don’t have to be a natural talent to craft effective written content. You just need a reliable approach.

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I’m far from the best, most successful writer in the world. I’m not the most talented either, and I’m certainly not the most even-tempered. I have been doing what I do for a very long time and getting consistent results with it — consistent enough that I’ve been able to earn my full-time living via my writing for the past 15 years or so. I have a full roster of clients for whom I write professional advertising copy and web content. I’ve also earned a decent chunk of cash or two writing on various blogging platforms in my spare time.

I consider myself very lucky to live a life that’s as writing-focused as mine is, but actual luck doesn’t have much to do with it at this point. I genuinely know what I’m doing, and I’m confident in my ability to keep doing it indefinitely, but this wasn’t always the case. Like a lot of writers, I struggled with certain things for many years, and I’ve even had days when I was one bad day away from quitting altogether. Here’s a closer look at some of the approaches that helped me get from there to here.

1. Read as if your life depends on it.

Have you ever known someone who says they want to be a writer, but also admits that they don’t like to read or do it very often? I have. I’ve also read some of their writing, and let me tell you. It was a painful experience. The people I’m thinking of didn’t even realize how badly they sucked because they genuinely didn’t have a clue what good writing looks like and sounds like. How can you when you don’t read any?

The first step toward becoming a skilled writer is becoming an avid reader. Read voraciously and read as often as possible — every day, if you can. Devote the most substantial chunks of time to reading the type of content you’d most like to be writing. If you’re someone who loves getting lost in the language and cadence of what you read, even better. The more great writing you read, the more instinctual producing excellent writing of your own will become.

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2. Write every single day.

Read just about any article or resource on becoming a better writer, and you’ll see this listed in one form or another. That’s because it works — period. There’s also no real way around it if you’re serious about becoming a kick-ass writer other people want to read — especially if you also want to earn your living that way someday. You not only have to practice your craft, but you have to do so consistently to make steady, consistent progress with it.

Please note that I didn’t say you have to finish something every day, publish something every day, or write anything super-specific. I don’t write content for my clients every day. I don’t always write serious content I mean for anyone else to read either. I do those things some days, but there are lots of days when all I’ll do is write in the little private journal I keep on my phone or spend some time jotting down ideas I want to revisit at a later date.

The point is to turn writing into a habit that your day feels woefully incomplete without. The more you write, the more you’ll want to write, and the more deeply you’ll fall in love with the whole beautiful, messy process involved.

3. Turn editing into a diehard habit.

Nobody’s perfect, least of all me, but I sure try to get close enough for government work when I’m writing. If something’s worth doing, it should be worth doing well. That means getting into the habit of reading over your finished writing when you’re all done and ready to put it to bed. Proofread it thoroughly for obvious errors and polish it up as needed.

Do this even when all you’re writing is a private journal entry for your eyes only. It’s a great way to turn editing into an instinctual, systematic process. It’s also a reliable way to cultivate pride in your writing — something every writer should be doing however they can.

I also strongly recommend installing an editing assistant like Grammarly to help the process along, even if you think you’re too much of a writing boss to need it. I put off giving Grammarly a try for a long time because I thought it was only for sucky writers with non-existent grammar skills. Then one day, I caved and decided to give it a whirl. It blew my mind, and my writing routine hasn’t been the same since.

Grammarly is so incredibly helpful — an extra set of eyes to look over your work at a moment’s notice. I write with it enabled all the time now — even when I’m just posting a tweet or instant messaging with someone. Please do yourself a favor and try it (or something similar). If you suck at writing, it will most definitely help you stop sucking. If you’re already a good writer, it’s another tool in your shed that will help you become a great writer with time and practice.

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4. Establish a daily writing routine.

Everyone’s different when it comes to how they write best, but most writers don’t do their best work when they’re constantly interrupted. You need time to really dig into what you’re doing, get in the zone, and stay there long enough to work some magic. For most people, there’s a specific time of day that’s a better fit for this than others.

Figure out when this time is for you and set aside a chunk of it for your writing. Maybe you’re the first person in your household who’s awake and moving in the mornings or the last one to go to bed at night. Perhaps you’re in the habit of using your lunch hour to get things done. Set aside a chunk of that period to spend writing. Make it 20–30 minutes minimum, at least to start. Make sure you commit to what you’re doing, as well.

Approach your designated writing time as seriously as you would a work deadline or an important doctor’s appointment. Write it down in your day planner and schedule it on your work calendar. Tell your family what you’re doing and ask not to be disturbed during your writing time. Before you know it, you’ll have a spiffy new routine on your hands and a winner’s attitude about your writing.

5. Get comfortable with criticism.

By nature, I am the type of person who is terrible with criticism. I’m confident in my abilities. I work hard at what I do, I’m proud of all the different things I accomplish, and I approach the things I write with genuine integrity. For these reasons, it’s not always easy for me to receive negative feedback on my work, but it was ultimately to my benefit to make friends with criticism.

When criticism comes from a valid place — friends whose opinions you value, peers who are where you want to be one day, regular readers, or editors — it’s priceless. Even if you’re good at self-assessing, you’ll always have a blind spot when it comes to your work. These people can point out what you’re missing so you can work on it and make your writing stronger. Listen to them. Consider what they say. You’ll be glad you did.

And when the criticism you receive doesn’t come from such a positive place? Well, if you’re planning on getting anywhere with your writing one day, you’d best reach a certain level of comfort with that, too, because trust me. You’ll get it, and you’re not going to enjoy it, especially at first.

Wherever it might happen, you’re going to hit a home run sooner or later, and the further over that fence you slam it, the more trolls you’ll attract. You won’t know these people, but they’ll have a lot to say about what you wrote and probably about you or your character as well. They may have some genuine insight you can use to grow, but it’s a lot more likely they’re just pissed that you accomplished something they haven’t.

Don’t take it to heart. Don’t let it stop you. If anything, haters are a sign that you’re not only doing something right but that you look good doing it, so actively start looking at it that way.

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6. Experiment and mix it up.

I won’t speak for anyone else, but I get tired of writing the same thing the same way every single time I sit down to pound out some words. It shows, too. When I force myself to write about topics I’m tired of, the finished product doesn’t have the same spirit. This is the case whether I’m writing for fun on my days off or looking for work projects to add to my schedule.

I change things up a lot for that reason. Thankfully, I work entirely for myself out of my own home, so it’s more or less up to me what projects I take on. The topics I’ve written about professionally over the years are diverse — everything from sex toys, to automotive maintenance, to cooking, to beauty products. I love learning new things, so I’ve enjoyed diving into all of those topics to varying extents.

The day always comes when I’m ready to pivot a little and try something new, though, so I do that. The same thing goes for my “fun” writing that I do under my real name. Not only does doing that keep my writing career fresh and fun, but it’s turned me into a strong writer with a lot of range. It’s something I recommend every writer try for that reason. Think of it as a full circuit workout for your writing muscles.

7. Find your voice and let people hear it.

Unless you’re solely looking to write very formal academic papers or ghostwritten content for other people, your writing can only benefit when you use your real voice to bring it to life. Readers connect best with writers who aren’t afraid to seem human. One of the best ways to do this is to write how you talk — conversationally.

As I mentioned, I’m a big believer in knowing the rules of proper grammar and leveraging tools like Grammarly to make sure your writing doesn’t contain any horrifying mistakes. However, you’ll also notice that I use slang when I write. I add sentence fragments and other so-called no-nos for effect. Sometimes I even swear, dammit, or at least that’s the case when I’m writing something I plan on self-publishing.

It’s because that’s how I talk in real life when I’m having a one-on-one conversation with my husband or one of my friends. I want people who read my work to have the impression that they’re having the same sort of interaction. It helps me, as well, because the words just flow more naturally.

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8. Give your readers something of value.

I first fell in love with writing as a child through the act of private journaling, so I get something out of writing about myself and my life. I still journal privately on an extremely regular basis, as well as keep a blog where I allow myself to just talk about everyday life. That’s how I am on social media as well, for the most part.

It’s fun. It’s therapeutic. Sometimes it’s even entertaining to others (although I wonder sometimes.) I do try to remain aware that I’m writing things meant to be read by other people, though, meaning I aim to give folks something of value to take away from whatever it is they just read.

There are three primary ways you can do this. You can entertain, you can educate, or you can inspire. Yes, it’s possible to do one or more of those things while talking about yourself, if that’s what you like to do. You accomplish this by talking about yourself in a way that makes it clear you’re really talking about the reader.

Think about every book, story, or article you ever read that resonated with you. That author wrote in a way that helped you connect with the characters, the experiences, or maybe even the author himself. You saw yourself in this person’s words and took something special away with you as a result. That’s what you want your readers to feel when they absorb your writing.

I don’t claim to have the art of writing all figured out by any means. I’m still learning right along with everyone else, and I expect to be for the rest of my life. This is how I’ve made it to this point, as well as accomplished some decently cool things so far. If I can do it, then I know you can do it, too.

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Shannon Hilson is a full-time freelance copywriter, blogger, critic, and journalist. She is proud to have called Monterey, California her home since childhood.

Monterey, CA
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