No matter what the title on your business card is, you need to be able to write really well.
Whether your niche lies in Public Relations or Marketing, Communications or Digital, your ability to write will make or break many of the opportunities that come along for you. It’s a core skill, and if you haven’t got it, you’ll soon be found out. Luckily, it’s one that can be learned and honed. I’m not going to patronise you with basics like spelling and grammar, or the need to proof-read before you hit ‘publish’- you already know all that. These tips are designed to improve the structure, style and tone of your content.
For some, a distinctive style comes naturally, while others have to devote more time and energy to developing the craft. In either case, practice will significantly enhance your ability to turn around compelling copy under tight deadlines.
Weird and wonderful ways to dramatically improve your writing
1. Sketch out your piece out with pen and paper
No one likes the feeling of a cursor blinking accusingly at them. Getting your ideas down on paper gives you the opportunity to think them the whole way through before you get started. Your thoughts become more structured and coherent, and almost automatically you’ll find that you’re able to link themes more fluidly.
2. Read all the things
Read broadsheets and read the tabloids. Read that columnist you love and the one you hate. Read romance, comedy and sci-fi, read history and mythology. Read poetry. Read plays. [Well, preferably watch plays, but reading them is also good] Read blog posts and tweets and Instagram captions and hashtags. Read the classics. Read short stories. Read biographies. Read kids books. Read magazines. Read comics. Read.
3. Play with words
We’ve all been there: You’re sent a dreary, jargon-heavy email chain or bulky, lifeless piece of text and told to make it accessible, readable, creative or even fun. You approach the task with considerable trepidation. Have a little fun with it. Try writing it out as a haiku, the trailer to a blockbuster movie or a love letter. Why? Stripping a piece of text like that from its context and putting it in a completely different one will force you to distill the message down to its core, which is exactly what you need to do.
4. Become your own editor
It’s not easy to edit your own work. We are naturally inclined to think the way we wrote it the first time is just fine, thank you very much. Leave a gap between writing your piece and editing it (ideally one that includes a night’s sleep in between, so you can look at it with fresh eyes.) Read your words aloud; this is the easiest way to root out awkward sentence structure or clumsy punctuation, and make sure your work has a natural flow. It can help to edit other people’s work too as it’s easier to spot mistakes in their work than your own to begin with.
5. Overcoming writer’s block
As you can tell, I believe that even the most seemingly mundane writing task requires an abundance of creativity. Unfortunately, writer’s block can hit at any time. Plenty has been written on the topic in the past, but here are some strategies that work for this blogger: get outside and leave your phone and other tech behind – spend some time in nature; listen to a playlist you haven’t heard in ages turned up loud; watch a Disney film or a subtitled movie; spend a few minutes dancing naked in your living room. When you’re done with all that, force yourself to write. It doesn’t have to make sense, it doesn’t have to be good – it just has to get you back in the flow of what you’re doing.
Bonus quick tips
- Keep a dream diary and write in it as soon as you wake up every morning
- Do the crossword, play Articulate and find other games and brain teasers that build on how you communicate
- Up for a challenge? Sign up for NaNoWriMo and write your first book in a month
- When you read a sentence and you don’t understand a word, don’t skip over it – look it up and think about ways of using it
Now it’s my turn to hear from you. What do you do to improve as a writer? What tips would you add for people who are struggling? You know where the comment section is.
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