Would you believe that even after writing and publishing nearly 200 books, including 21 New York Times bestsellers, I still take daily steps to hone my writing skills?
Whether you’re a beginner or have been at it for decades as I have, writing well takes work.
No shortcut, no secret sauce will turn you into a bestselling author overnight.
But there are steps to take if you want to become a better writer.
Focus on These 15 Tips to Become a Better Writer
- Write what inspires you.
- Establish a writing routine and stick to it.
- Become an avid reader.
- Start small.
- Write, write, write.
- See yourself as a writer.
- Become a ferocious self-editor.
- Join a writers critique group.
- Master the craft.
- Grab your reader from the get-go.
- Search and destroy passive voice.
- Use powerful verbs. Avoid adverbs.
- Always think reader-first.
- See Writer’s Block for the myth it is.
- Listen to the experts.
1 – Write what inspires you.
Sports became my passion as a kid.
I ate, drank and slept baseball until an injury took me out of the game and I started sportswriting.
I remain passionate about sports, so more than 20 of my titles are as-told-to autobiographies of famous athletes.
When I felt called into full-time Christian work, I thought I’d have to give up writing and become a pastor or missionary. I was thrilled to discover I could use my writing to follow that call.
What drives you?
What’s your passion? Your strength?
Write about that.
Your passion will carry you when the writing becomes difficult — and if you’re doing it right, it always does.
2 – Establish a writing routine and stick to it.
Treat your writing schedule like it’s your job.
Show up and work.
There’ll always be something to do: writing, editing, researching… You’ll be astonished at what you can get done when you plant yourself in your chair for a specific period every day.
And let people know that aside from an emergency, you’re not available for that block of time.
Respect your writing time and others will too.
3 – Become an avid reader.
Writers are readers. Good writers are good readers. Great writers are great readers.
Want to write in a favorite genre? Read at least 200 titles in it first.
Read everything you can. You’ll soon learn what works and what doesn’t.
4 – Start small.
Take time to build your craft and hone your skills on smaller projects before you try to write a book.
Take a night school or online course in journalism or creative writing.
Attend a writers conference.
5 – Write, write, write.
Dreamers talk about writing. Writers write.
Keep writing even when you don’t feel like it.
Write every day. And don’t expect to be good at it at first. You were bad at walking until you learned to walk, bad at riding a bike until you learned how, bad at baking until you mastered it. Allow yourself room to grow.
6 – See yourself as a writer.
If you’ve read this far, I assume you’d like to become a better writer.
Don’t let imposter syndrome* crush your dream before you even give yourself a chance. [*Feeling as if you’re pretending because you don’t feel like a real writer.]
Do you have a message to share with the world?
Don’t listen to those who tell you you’ll never be good enough — even if they’re just voices in your head. You’ll guarantee failure if you don’t muster the courage to try.
If you’re writing, regardless how well or how successful, call yourself a writer and stay at it.
7 – Become a ferocious self-editor.
Agents and editors can tell within the first two pages whether a manuscript is worthy of further consideration.
That sounds unfair, and maybe it is. But it’s a reality we writers need to face.
Learn to aggressively self-edit, and never submit writing you’re not entirely happy with. Learn to:
- Show, don’t tell
- Avoid throat-clearing
- Resist the urge to explain
- Avoid clichés
- Avoid telling what’s not happening
Click this link for my complete 21-step self-editing checklist where I explain each principle. Apply these to your writing and see if it doesn’t make you a better writer.
8 – Join a writers critique group.
One fast way to get better at writing is through valuable input from other writers.
Find a writer’s critique group or mentor who’ll be brutally honest with you.
Be prepared to take an ego-bruising at first. But I promise you’ll become a better writer if you’re held accountable, not allowed to quit, and encouraged that you’re not alone on this journey.
One caveat: Be sure at least one person, preferably the leader, is experienced and understands the writing business. A group of only beginners risks the blind leading the blind.
9 – Master the craft.
Every writer needs to regularly brush up on the basics.
I’ve read The Elements of Style at least once a year for more than 40 years. This short easy read covers everything from style and grammar to usage.
Make it a major tool in your writing arsenal.
10 – Grab your reader from the get-go.
The opener to any piece of writing is the most important work you’ll do. Lose your reader here, and you’ve lost him for good.
Your goal with every word is to make your reader want to read the next and the next. Hook him and don’t let him go.
That doesn’t mean violence or chase scenes — unless you’re writing a thriller. It means avoiding too much scene setting and description and getting to the good stuff — the guts of the story — as soon as possible.
11 – Search and destroy passive voice.
I could tell you about subjects and objects and verbs and which is acting vs. being acted upon, avoiding adverbs, and all that. But unless you excelled at grammar and diagramming sentences, that’s going to sound like gibberish.
The easiest way to spot passive voice is to look for state-of-being verbs and often the word by.
Passive: The party was planned by Jill.
Active: Jill planned the party.
Passive: The wedding cake was created by Ben.
Active: Ben created the wedding cake.
Avoiding passive voice will set you apart from much of your competition and add power to your writing.
12 – Use powerful verbs. Avoid adverbs.
Ever wonder why an otherwise grammatically correct sentence lies there like a dead fish?
Your sentence might be full of those adjectives and adverbs your teachers and loved ones so admired in your writing when you were a kid. But the sentence doesn’t work.
Something I learned from The Elements of Style years ago changed the way I write and added verve to my prose: “Focus on nouns and verbs, not adjectives and adverbs.”
To learn how, read my post 249 Strong Verbs That’ll Instantly Supercharge Your Writing.
13 – Always think reader-first.
This is so fundamentally important that you should write it on a sticky note and put it on your monitor so you’re reminded of it every time you write.
Every writing decision should be run through this filter. Not you-first, not book-first, not editor-first, agent-first, or publisher-first. Certainly not your inner-circle-of critics-first.
Treat readers like you want to be treated and write what you would read. Never let up, never bore.
14 – See Writer’s Block for the myth it is.
“Wait, what?” you say. “I know it’s real, I’m suffering from it right now!”
Believe me, I know what you’re going through. I’m not saying I don’t have those days when I roll out of bed feeling I’d rather do anything but put words on the page.
The difference is, I know how to get unstuck, and you can too.
What we call Writer’s Block is really just a cover for much deeper issues:
If Writer’s Block were real, why would it affect only writers? Imagine calling your boss and saying, “I can’t come in today. I have worker’s block.”
You’d be laughed off the phone! And you’d likely be told never to come in again.
No other profession accommodates this malady, so we writers shouldn’t either.
Stand up to Writer’s Block like you would stand up to a bully. Allow your fear to humble you, and that humility to motivate you to do your best work. That’s what leads to success.
15 – Listen to the experts.
There’s no greater inspiration than learning the good and the bad from experts willing to share from their wealth of experience.
I asked 39 of the best authors, writing coaches, and publishing experts I know:
“If you could go back to the beginning of your writing career and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?”
Here are some of their answers:
- Joe Bunting, founder of The Write Practice:
Always be learning.
You think you’re pretty talented. You think you’re pretty smart. And you are. But the best way to fail at being a writer is to spend all your time proving you know what you’re doing rather than learning from the people and resources around you.
Stop posturing. Start practicing. And have fun.
- K.M. Weiland, novelist and writing coach:
I would want my younger self to realize that as wonderful as publication is, it isn’t the point of the writing process.
It’s just a stop along the road. Writing is more about the journey than the destination. As award-winning author Anne Lamott points out, “Being published isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Writing is.” So don’t let your non-published status get you down. Just enjoy where you are right now.
- Joanna Penn, novelist and writing coach:
Schedule time to write, show up for that meeting with yourself, and put words onto the page.
It doesn’t matter if those words aren’t very good — they probably won’t be, but that’s OK because you can make them better when you edit them later.
But you can’t edit a blank page, so get your butt into the chair and write!
- James Scott Bell, novelist and writing coach:
Don’t be so impatient!
It takes time to develop your craft.
You spent your 20s believing what so many told you, that you can’t learn to write. But then you tried, and you discovered you CAN learn.
Keep learning. Keep writing.
Click here to read each of the 39 answers.
Put in the Time, and You Can Get Better at Writing
I’ve made it my life’s work to coach writers because I’d love to see you enjoy the benefits I’ve enjoyed.
These 15 steps aren’t overnight fixes. The process can be long and messy, but don’t quit. Commit to putting words on the page every day, and remain a lifelong learner. Then share your progress with me.