Are you still working from home (WFH)? Or, as a client put it to me this morning, “living at work”?
As challenging as it can be, those of us WFH have gained back a little time in our days because we don’t have to commute. And there, as the one who wants everyone to be a better, faster writer, I see WFH as opening up just a weeee bit of time for people to work on the critical communication skill of writing.
Plus, I’ll be honest with you, as the farmer, I have had very little time this July to encourage anyone to do so—including writing this blog.
The result? A quick list of 14 ways to improve your writing skills during this strange time. If you’re not commuting, maybe you’ve got more time than usual. (Of course, if you’re homeschooling too, you probably don’t.) But maybe take a little of that time out of your day or your week to do one or more of the following:
1) Write, write, write, write. The only way you get better at anything is to keep doing it, whether it’s running, cooking, playing the piano, or writing. So look for ways (excuses?) to write outside of work.
- Sign up for writing prompts. Just Google “writing prompts” and you’ll get hundreds of ideas. Then set aside a little time to pursue them.
- Keep a journal, any kind of journal. Write down notes about your day or keep a prayer journal or write about what’s happening in the garden or what your kids are up to at various ages. Write about your childhood or a vacation.
- No one has to read it. You only have to write it. You don’t even have to make it public.
- Write letters to friends and family. Even a quick handwritten note is a treasure to the one who receives it, and a letter is even better.
2) When you’re writing, slow down, re-read, take your time, and take the pressure off of yourself to go fast. (See how dropping out of the cult of busy-ness helps your writing to improve.)
3) When you start to write, make sure your goal is clear. Ask yourself, why am I writing this? What do I hope to accomplish? You’re taking a little more time, remember? You have time to be clear on your goal.
4) Also take the time to make sure your facts are right. You live at a time when the world is at your fingertips. Use Google and fact check.
5) Learn new words. Reading or listening to audiobooks will help. Or sign up for the Word of the Day. Use the dictionary on your phone when you come across a new word. Or keep a dictionary handy like I do on the bedside table. There’s something satisfying about flipping through those pages to uncover the meaning of a new word.
6) Ask for feedback on your work writing. Even if you don’t have someone you consider a great writer as a coworker or friend, they’ll still have a different point of view and look at your writing objectively. If you do know a good writer, by all means ask them! (Or ask me!)
7) Learn to self edit. Did Ernest Hemingway really say “write drunk; edit sober”? I don’t know, but it’s a good reminder that editing must follow writing. And when you learn to self edit, your writing improves. Download Grammar Girl’s Editing Checklist here and keep it handy if you need some help. (Also watch this space for a free online editing class I’ll be posting this fall, or email me to say “Tell me when the class is live, Sharon.”)
8) Revise. Don’t think you have to “write right” the first time. Good writing comes from good editing, and in this case, I mean more than fixing the mistakes you’ll find with tip 6. Revising means moving paragraphs around, rewriting sections that aren’t clear, making sure your paragraphs flow, etc. When you have some extra downtime because you’re WFH and not commuting, you can take the time to revise. Doing so will help you develop a critical eye for your own writing. Do you think I wrote this list in this order the first time? Nope. I revised and moved tips around until I thought the order made sense.
9) When revising, be willing to cut some content. Just because you wrote it doesn’t mean you have to keep it. Practice cutting out content, whether it’s a word or a whole section, and see what you get as a result. You can always undo the edit and put it back it you need to.
10) Read books or listen to audio books. You’re getting the exposure either way. Exposure to what, you ask? To a writer’s style, to new ideas, to new words…reading is good for your vocabulary and writing skills as well as your mental health. (See 5 benefits of reading as little as 20 pages per day.) For me, the audiobooks are a godsend. As much as I love to read, I have very little sit down time, and I get through a lot more audiobooks while working outside or in the kitchen. Plus they are free from the library and portable on your phone.
11) Learn to be better. This is a shameless plug, but seriously, if you stick with me, you’ll be a better, faster writer.
12) Stop comparing yourself to others in a negative way. I know I’m not the best copywriter—or writer—in the world, but I can’t let that stop me from doing what I enjoy which is teaching others to do better, right? And your writing skills are what they are right now, but they can and will improve. So comparing your writing to someone else’s is pointless.
13) Step out of your comfort zone. Write something unusual for you or in a style that’s unlike yours. Hate it? Burn it. No harm done.
14) Finally, accept that writing is hard. And that it takes time and effort to improve, a lot of time and effort! We can always be improving. I recently went through blog posts I wrote for a client 10 years ago, to clear out those that were obviously out-of-date and to see if any should be tweaked and repost. I wrote all of those posts and I cringed to read some of them. I am a much better writer than I was 10 years ago, and I hope in another 10 years I can say that again.
I hope it for you too, that in 10 years (or even one year), you’ll look back and realize how much your writing has improved. And I hope these tips will help.