Even if you don’t aspire to become a novelist, being able to express yourself clearly and directly through the written word is essential. It’s a myth that some people are born with a writing gene. Yes, some seem to have an aptitude for it, but anyone who desires to write, can write. It’s a learnable skill. Excellent writing takes practice and the employment of useful techniques, all of which we will discuss below.
Reading Your Writing Out Loud
The first technique to better, more compelling writing is simply to read aloud what you’ve just written. You might be surprised to find that the wording doesn’t flow quite the way you thought. It’s a great way to hear your words the way the reader will. If it doesn’t sound right out loud, it’s not good writing.
If you have to put too much effort into saying the sentence just right, you probably need to work on it. If you stumble with the flow, so will your reader.
This self-editing technique is also useful when a thought is stuck in your head. Speaking it aloud can help you find just the right words and give structure to your writing. Reading your writing out loud is one of the single best things you can do to improve your writing.
Make a Habit of Freewriting
Freewriting is the creative process of just letting it flow. You put aside your inner-censor and stop worrying about how it all sounds. No self-editing - you allow your words to flow. They don't always flow nicely at first, you might get stuck on a word or phrase, but with practice, you will eventually find a creative flow. This is an enjoyable and productive practice and will improve your writing.
Set a timer for 10 - 15 minutes, and don’t stop writing until the alarm rings. You can use your computer or write freehand. It doesn’t matter. This isn’t a speed exercise, so don’t rush. But don’t correct any errors, don’t rewrite any sentences, and don’t stop until your time is up. Don’t re-read it to judge or evaluate your work. The purpose here isn’t to produce a great piece of writing, but to learn to write fast and free.
If You’re Stuck, Ask Yourself 3 Questions About What You Will Write
When you’re blocked and can’t seem to find a way forward, ask yourself three questions. The idea is to ask, then answer the questions quickly, with the first ideas that come to mind. Write a lot or a little, just let it flow. You can come up with the questions yourself, or use the following as a guide:
- Who was that sneaking out of the back door?
- What were they carrying?
- Where are they going?
- Who is Ella?
- Why is she angry?
- What will she do about it?
Write with a Prompt
Writing prompts are a fun way to get your writing juices flowing. A prompt is a topic, a sentence, or even a picture that you will write about as a practice in creativity. Once you engage in this exercise, you’ll be able to get back to your other writing with a primed imagination.
Prompts can go well with the freewriting practice, where you can stick with the topic or flow into your own.
Then Rewrite It Using Pathos, Logos, and Ethos
Now that you’ve got a piece of writing, rewrite it using the three modes of persuasion. First, rewrite using pathos - the emotional appeal. Decide what emotion you want to evoke in your reader, and rewrite your piece with that in mind. Then go for logos - the logical appeal and finally, ethos - the ethical appeal. You can rewrite your piece three times using each of these modes. It will surprise you at how versatile your writing can be.
Rewrite Your Sentences but Avoid Using the Same Words
More than just using a lot of synonyms, you can rewrite your sentences to convey the same meaning without using the same words. This is an exercise in rethinking and restating. Often our sentences need to be simplified. The best writing isn’t overly complex or full of long words. Our communication should be clear and straightforward. Replace any complicated structures with simplified versions.
Tell a True Story About Yourself
Dig deep into your wells of memories. Find something interesting, not necessarily super-exciting, but interesting. Recount the experience in all its color and detail, and write about it for someone who wasn’t there. Practice describing, not just the physical environment, but your emotions at the time. Bring your reader into your memory and along the journey. Answer questions like how the experience changed you or what lesson you learned.
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Then Rewrite It From Another Person’s View
Now take that same memory and rewrite it from another person’s point of view. The person doesn’t have to have been present - create them. Or they can be someone you never saw but was a witness to the whole event. What do they see? How do you look to them? How are your actions perceived? Can they see that the experience changed you? This is a stretching exercise and shows how one writing can have many lives.
Use All 5 of Your Senses
When we experience things, we do so with all of our senses. Good writing will take the reader on a journey, so let them have a full sensory experience. Going back to the story about yourself, more than what you see, what do you smell? How do things feel to touch or be touched? Can you taste anything? What do you hear - not just what is being said to you, but the background sounds? Without using lists of adjectives, bring the reader into the full experience.
Use an Outline
One of the most constructive things you can do is employ an outline. They’re a way of organizing your thoughts beforehand and creating a structure within which to write. Outlines give you a clear path and keep you from rambling on or getting lost entirely. Pausing to develop a framework for your writing won’t hinder creativity, but can prevent writer’s block. They can free you to do your best writing and save you loads of time in the process.
The process of writing can be tedious and exhausting, but oh so rewarding! If you want to grow and become a better writer, you’ll need these techniques and practices. Take your time working through some of them, and others you should take on board right away. You decide. Like everything in life, creativity takes practice - words don’t just fall out of you. Do the work and see your writing improve.