This is a guest contribution from Larry Alton
You could be a prominent authority in your industry, with multiple bestselling books and a successful business around your writing; or you could be a novice who just launched their first blogging website – as long as writing is a significant part of your life, there’s one thing you’ll always want: to be a better writer.
There are two surefire ways to become a better writer, and they’re universally effective: reading and writing.
Reading lots of outside material helps you expand your vocabulary, sharpen your communication skills, and become exposed to new topics and perspectives that help inform your writing. Writing itself serves as practice to gradually hone your craft.
So if becoming a better writer is (apparently) so simple, why isn’t everybody on their way to becoming a great writer?
Time and Patience
Reading a book doesn’t instantly take you to a new tier of writing ability, nor does a handful of written articles instantly make you better at your craft. To be effective, you need to spend tons of time reading and writing—and only after years of commitment will you start to show the results.
Most of us would prefer something a little faster, and something a little less repetitive when our eyes start to bulge out of our skulls. That’s why we’ve come up with these seven small ways to become a better writer:
1. Talk to strangers
Writing is a form of communication. Even though it is, in many ways, distinct from verbal communication, verbal conversations can still improve your writing by teaching you new vocabulary, exposing you to new styles, and introducing you to new concepts.
Talk to strangers wherever you can—at the grocery store, at a coffee shop, or on the bus to work. It’s important to break out of your element and communicate with people outside your traditional circles. That’s the only way you’ll learn anything new.
As an exercise, challenge yourself to meet a certain quota; for example, you could commit to talking to a new person three times a week, or if you’re especially ambitious, every day. Take note of their word choices, and walk away with new nuggets of information about the world.
2. Eat healthier foods
It may not seem like eating habits could impact your writing ability, but according to a recent study, excessive consumption of processed and unhealthy foods can actually impair your cognitive abilities.
Stick to fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains when you can.
As a long-term benefit, you’ll be able to think clearer, you’ll have more energy, and you’ll be more motivated to accomplish your goals. As a short-term benefit, you’ll get a boost of energy immediately after eating thanks to your body’s pleasure receptors and metabolism.
And as long as you’re eating foods rich in complex carbohydrates and protein, you won’t suffer from a sugar crash afterward! If you can, keep a store of healthy foods in your desk, or wherever you work most frequently.
3. Work on pet projects
Don’t limit yourself to only writing for your career, or only writing for your blog. Adopt some pet projects to expand your linguistic horizons.
For example, you could commit yourself to writing poetry on the side, or start work on a novel you’ve been planning.
All forms of writing can improve all other forms of writing, so find something you’d enjoy writing about and write about it! Not only will you build and diversify your writing skillset, you’ll also relieve stress and introduce a change up to your routine—no matter how much you love writing, working on the same project ad infinitum can lead to burnout.
Meditation has tons of physical benefits—it helps you lower stress, reduce anxiety, and may even help prevent the onset of certain mental health conditions.
Even putting these benefits aside, meditation can help you clear your mind of clutter and zero in on what really matters. If you practice meditation regularly, you can enter a meditative state with relative ease—which comes in handy as you anxiously prepare to write something significant. Taking just a few minutes before an article can clear your head of the clutter; with a clearer head, you’ll write more productively, and in a purer, more intelligible form.
Over the long-term, meditating daily will lead you to a more relaxed, productive, and mentally healthy existence, which can only help your ability to write.
5. Set rules for yourself
Create rules to control your productivity and limit yourself from distractions or damaging habits.
For example, in the context of writing quality, you could set a rule not to use a certain buzzword in all of your articles moving forward, or you could set a rule to avoid any first-person or second-person pronouns.
In the context of productivity, you could set a rule that you’re only allowed one distraction until you finish your current article, or set a rule that you must start working within X minutes of turning on your computer.
You could even construct rules about your habits, such as mandating that you write at least 1000 words every day, in order to reinforce behavioral patterns you wish to adopt naturally.
6. Watch lots of movies and TV shows
Most people would agree that TV is a time suck, and it can be, but it can also be a useful exercise in linguistic analysis and communication improvement, if you allow it to be.
Turn on the subtitles, and watch programs known for their exceptional writing (especially dialogue). Pay close attention to what makes the writing especially believable, compelling, or intriguing, and treat it with an analytical eye.
Even though you probably aren’t writing scripts for TV shows and movies, you can advance your skills by doing this (though, depending on your definition, this could count as “reading.”).
7. Learn a new language
You won’t be writing much in this new language, but learning the rules of a foreign language can help you better conceptualize your thoughts and speech patterns.
To illustrate, when learning a new language, non-native speakers are forced to experiment with new situations in both written and verbal forms. These situations force you to think carefully about your responses, rather than allowing you to fall back on the colloquialisms and phrasing you’re used to.
These new conversation patterns will help your mind work harder to find the right words for any situation, and might even expose you to new linguistic concepts. Plus, learning a new language will force you to re-familiarize yourself with basic concepts of grammar, such as sentence structures, giving you a bird’s-eye view of how the world communicates.
These strategies aren’t an excuse to stop reading and writing to become a better writer; they’re designed to serve as complements to those two pillars of writing success. Like it or not, you’re still going to have to read and write—often—if you want to succeed. These tactics won’t take you from “novice” to “professional” overnight, but they will help you refine your approach, clear your head, learn some new perspectives, and strengthen your command of language.
Combined with enough practice and repeated exposure, you’re sure to hone your skills in due time.