I was an awful writer for the first 15 years of my life. Moreover, even today, I often find myself foiled by (my lack of) self-confidence and, thus, reluctant to publish anything—e.g. this post. When I was young, I wasn’t the adored, ideal kid who sat in the corner reading Mark Twain. I truly despised English class. I’m a lefty (which, as all lefties know, makes relentless writing horribly painful), my handwriting made (and still makes) me look like the long-lost spawn of Satan, and I could never find a way to capture in tangible reality the inert ideas I imprisoned in my head. In fact, before high school, I only wanted to contemplate math problems and explore geography and history; English was the class period for which I allocated my zone-out, be-ADHD-and-think-about-stuff time.
But people change; I learned how to cultivate my interests and channel them through writing, which I personally find much easier and, frankly, more interesting than talking.
So, here are some steps I’d recommend to those of you who don’t find writing easy and want to improve, whether you wish to start up a blog, compose better essays in school, or simply beef up the quality at which you communicate with others. (Keep in mind, however, that these steps are not always perfect, especially if, for example, you’re writing research papers for a person or entity that forces a writing structure or style down your throat.)
The Five Steps
Without inspiration, your words will potentially be hollow and tasteless. With inspiration comes research, curiosity, and interest. If you’re genuinely interested in the content you’re working with, you will find yourself able to discuss it with conviction and confidence, which goes a long way once your passion and information passes into another person’s head.
We all do it sometimes, but you should try not to write something without knowing how it develops and concludes. It’s just an unproductive thing to do. Write an outline if you’re diligent; take your time and think about what you’re going to say if you’re not—diligence is overrated anyway 🙂 . Having pre-meditated structure often prevents you from rambling off-topic and/or getting stuck. If you’re writing an argument, for example, you’ll need a thesis, body paragraphs that support it, and a conclusion that vindicates it. Once you get that done, you’re set. I must also remark that structure allows you to break up your sentences into readable paragraphs, forming a cohesive, effective body.
Style is like a fingerprint. Nobody has a correct or incorrect one; each of you has your own, whether you’ve discovered it yet or not. Needless to say, some styles (see: Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, James Joyce) are more cherished than others; this is the synergy of practice complimenting brilliance, both of which we all, as humans, can aspire to. I find my writing style very personal and narrative, sometimes pretty wordy, but I also try to keep it readable and engaging by using colorful, yet not deliberately over the top, vocabulary and flexible transitional phrases (both of which, by the way, you don’t have to learn through reading books, although books are obviously ideal; I built my vocabulary and ability to stitch sentences together harmoniously by staying updated on current events, reading lots of articles, and listening to loads of music—all on my phone). With style comes consistency, which, in turn, usually leads to objectively better writing. Find your style and develop it.
I mean, this one should be a given, right? You should make sure your work doesn’t have grammatical issues? In a perfect world, yes, but in today’s world it’s definitely a neglected step. I’m absolutely positive that the majority of even English majors I talk to capitulate in failure to the whole objective pronouns vs. subjective pronouns “———— and I” vs. “———— and me” mess. (You know, when people say “want to go to the movie with Jack and I” or “me and Sarah just got food.” Both of these are wrong.) Too many people don’t know how to use a semi-colon so they’ll just throw it in every once in a while ’cause it looks sophisticated. “Good” is used as an adverb as much as it is an adjective (e.g. “whip it good”). “Anyways” is casually used as a word, even though it isn’t one (drop the “s” next time, please). People kind of just guess when they’re supposed to use “whom” as opposed to “who.” Commas are incorrectly used as periods; periods are incorrectly used as commas. You get the point. Speaking of, in the summer, I made a grammar post (https://lukeatkins.wordpress.com/2015/07/31/7-ways-to-improve-your-grammar/) and you should check it out if you want to improve your writing furthermore. Anyway, despite all of this, bad grammar doesn’t yield bad writing, while good grammar doesn’t yield good writing, but when mistakes add up it’s distracting, displeasing, and overall a hindrance in the quality of the paper, post, text, email, or whatever else. There are plenty of apps you can install online that check your grammar and spelling anyway, so look into those if you’re interested (I suggest the free program “Grammarly”).
- Review, Review, Review
Read it out loud. Is your work boring? Does it make sense? Were you articulate? Could you get through it if you were a viewer? What could you change to make it better? Do you have a family member or friend who could help you correct something? (Feel free to ask me; I have a lot of free time nowadays.) There are plenty of stylistic choices and grammatical/spelling mistakes that computers can’t catch anyway. Nobody can write something on their first try that can’t be improved. It’s a sad realization, considering this will drive perfectionists, such as I, crazy (staring at the same sentence for 15 minutes, contemplating how to improve it), but it can also be a booster for those who aren’t confident in their writing. Remember: it’s hard to make a bad grade on a paper or write something you aren’t proud of if you scrutinize your paper and iron out anything perceived as a flaw. Review, review, and review.
Be confident. Don’t pull out a Thesaurus and substitute your words, which were already chosen to make sense in context, for long quasi-synonyms (especially, for example, if you’re writing something like this blog post, where I’m simply trying to reach out to a ton of people and give them advice—based off my limited 19 year experience). Know that you have the greatest database of questions, answers, facts, opinions, bad literature, and famous literature ever conceived at your fingertips; you have an astronomically high advantage over lots of the best writers in the history of mankind (besides, with this database—the internet—anybody, meaning you, can look like a genius on paper). Always keep in mind that you’ll improve with experience. Don’t listen to anybody who criticizes you with no avail.
Most importantly, love and enjoy what you’re doing; writing is an expression of the mind, of the heart, and, obviously, of the writer—you. Show us your powers.