Stop me if this has ever happened to you. You tell someone you’re a writer, and they immediately ask you to write their book, term paper, resume, best-man toast — whatever — for them. They assume that just because you’re a writer, you’re the best writer. It’s flattering, albeit annoying. (No, I will not write your college application essay for you, nephew!)
It’s a nice ego boost, even if the person doling out the flattery hasn’t read a single word you’ve written. And you probably are a great writer. But even great, seasoned writers can get better. So whether you’re interested in honing your general writing skills or learning how to write better blog posts, more engaging social media copy, enticing subject lines or something else, there’s room to improve. Here are four ways to sharpen your writing skills.
1. Write, write, write.
We say this over and over, but it really is true. There is nothing that will make you a better writer than writing. Write for work. Write for pleasure. Write for clients on the side. Take any chance you get and write. Take on a blog post that you would normally have a staff member write. Or ask to try a different kind of writing at your job. There’s little downside to cross-training, right? If that doesn’t interest you, start a blog of your own and write about, well, whatever you want! Or simply take up journaling.
2. Read, read, read.
Athletes watch game film. Teachers observe other instructors. Actors go to movies. So it stands to reason, writers can learn from reading. The more you read, the better writer you’ll become. And before you start having flashbacks to freshman-year English, you don’t need to dive into the classics. Read whatever books interest you. (There won’t be a test, promise!) Read magazines. Read a newspaper, read advertising copy, follow successful social accounts, subscribe to newsletters, etc.
While you’re consuming as much copy as you can, identify writers and brands you think communicate well, and analyze what you like about them. Is it their tone or voice? Is it that they respect your intellect? Is it that you always learn something? And before you unfollow a brand that doesn’t do it for you, ask yourself why not. Where is the failure? Are they too conversational? Too formal? Do the topics simply not speak to you? Is the writing confusing or sloppy? There’s something to learn from both ends of the spectrum.
3. Work with a coach.
Do you know an accomplished writer — someone you aspire to be like? Ask him or her to mentor you. You can also hire a writing coach to work with you to improve your writing. This is especially important if you’re trying to break into a new medium.
When I launched my Kiddos in the Kitchen podcast, I sought out some individuals who could help me better understand the medium. I knew I needed help with the technology aspect of podcasting, but I also needed a partner who could help me better understand how to write in a way that would come across well via audio. I had ideas, but I needed someone who could coach me through the scriptwriting process.
I can’t say enough good things about my hiring decision. My coach read my scripts and helped me find my voice. She also helped me select a podcast recording platform and advised me on how to distribute the podcast. She was a lifesaver.
4. Take a class.
A little formal instruction can go a long way, whether you’re in it to get a refresher on writing tactics or to get a better handle on writing styles that didn’t exist when you were in college (i.e. social posts). Either way, it’s helpful to understand theories behind successful writing and to get feedback on your work, which you won’t get just by journaling at home.
You don’t need to commit to a credited class, either. College courses are useful, but webinars and writing workshops can be just as educational. Writer’s Digest has tons of online courses on everything from Writing Online Content and Advanced Blogging to How to Become a Ghostwriter.