Sunday, October 11, 2009

How to Improve Your Writing Skills

If you had some articles deleted for poor writing or "other," or if you just want to be a better writer, here are some of the things professional writers do.

1. Take a class. There's really nothing better than to have a teacher who can help zero in on your writing weaknesses, and a group of classmates to help you see problems from a different perspective.

2. Read writing books, magazines and blogs that are NOT about how to make money at writing. Really. Seriously. Honestly. Those "how to make money writing for eHow" guides don't teach you how to write. Go to your library or bookstore and read Writer's Digest. Do the "Grammar Grappler" column there. Read The Writer. Subscribe to Grammar Girl's blog or podcast on iTunes. Get grammar books like "Eats Shoots and Leaves". Get yourself a big fat style book like the Chicago Manual of Style (or even the "easy version") and a Dictionary. Not only can you look stuff up, you can improve your writing by just browsing for 15 minutes once a week.

3. Use Perdue University's Online Writing Lab.

4. Play Free Rice. Free Rice is a charity website with a vocabulary game/quiz. Their sponsors donate a certain amount of rice to feed the hungry for every answer you get right. The quiz has an algorithm that will give you easier questions when you get an answer wrong, and harder questions when you get the answer right. That way it's always helping you expand your vocabulary at just your level.

5. Read William Safire. He's a more advanced resource, but he became America's top guru on the English language and he never went to college, so he also understands lack of education. His How Not to Write: The Essential Misrules of Grammar is smart, clever, and it does a wonderful job of giving examples. The book is an expansion of his "Rules For Writing" in which he breaks each rule as he writes them. For instance in "Eschew Obfuscation" - Eschew means "give up" or "stop" and Obfuscation means "hiding your meaning behind big words like obfuscation."

6. Sign up for eZine Articles, or just read their blog. eZine Articles has an excellent set of tutorials to help you become a better writer. They are focused on internet business people and marketers - but that can help you with other aspects of your writing too.

7. Read the best writing in your field. This means, I am sorry to say, that you should spend less time reading and rating your fellow eHowers, and more time reading professionally written magazines. Read them at the library. Pick up articles for a dime a dozen at garage sales. Heck, buy them. (But also recognize that these magazines have different requirements than eHow.)

8. Practice with your own blog. Writing is like sports or music. Nothing boosts your skills better than just doing a lot of it. So start a blog. Write something every day. Get out of the eHow "how to" straight jacket. Practice anything you've learned from all of the above suggestions. Heck, concentrate on writing good posts on Twitter to practice your skills at being quick, short and direct.

9. Use a spell checker, BUT DO NOT RELY on a spell checker. Spell checkers are machines and they can't understand what you meant. They can't tell you when you've used the wrong word. For instance as I was typing the previous paragraph, I accidentally wrote "wrong work". A spell checker would not have caught that mistake.

Next up - Blog/Opinion. (Back to Series Index.)

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