Becoming a Better Writer

One of the more interesting people I follow on Twitter is Brian Clark (known to the Twitterverse as @Copyblogger), and a few days ago he posted a really interesting blog about how to become a better writer.

He listed ten simple steps that will undoubtedly make every person who follows them a better writer, and even though I have previously considered this kind of list a little obvious and trite, I now see the merit in actually putting it on paper.

  1. Write.
  2. Write more.
  3. Write even more.
  4. Write even more than that.
  5. Write when you don’t want to.
  6. Write when you do.
  7. Write when you have something to say.
  8. Write when you don’t.
  9. Write every day.
  10. Keep writing.

That’s his entire blog.

For years, I’d seen this kind of advice, and I scoffed at it. It was too obvious. If a person does anything repeatedly, he or she naturally becomes better at it. I had seen posters in school for years where the only rule to becoming a better writer is simply “write.” Well, duh. If one practices basketball every afternoon, he or she is going to get better. If one dances all the time, then guess what? Better dancer. If all I do in the afternoon is play Halo, then I had better be able to get a headshot now and again. I thought it was obvious that if you wrote more often that one would obviously become better.

It wasn’t until just recently, however, that I realized to what extent it helps.

Better WriterWhen I started this blog, I considered myself a good writer. After all, I had a Master’s in English, and I taught college English, to boot. I would write a good two to three research papers a semester for classes, and I thought that was enough to continually hone my skills. I thought I was pretty darn good. I would get A’s on my papers, and I had even helped friends get scholarships by assisting with their application essays. I knew the ins and outs of writing. But I wasn’t doing it often enough to really get good at it.

And then I actually started writing every day instead of only when the semester’s assignments dictated. I don’t know where it happened, or how, but it did—I became a better writer. Somewhere along the way, my prose became more easily readable and adapted to the medium of blogging rather than academic research (though I have no doubt my adaptation will help my research’s readability, too). Through nothing that I did purposefully, the continued practice actually made a difference. Even just jotting down a few sentences when I had nothing more to say made a difference.

I go back and read posts from the beginning of this blog, and they ramble far more than I do now—they don’t get to the point like I thought they had because the sentences are generally much more convoluted. Even in the few short months I’ve been keeping this blog active, I can see an improvement in the quality of my writing. And I like where it’s going. I seem to get to the point faster and include more pertinent details along the way. I haven’t consciously changed my writing style, but it has been altered nonetheless.

Taking a break from blogging to get things settled at work was a fantastic idea as far as stressors go, but I feel that little tug inside me where it’s hard to get back on track as far as writing daily. I never realized what a difference daily vs. weekly writing sessions would have on me, but now I do. I need to get even just a paragraph or two down a day if I want to continue the forward momentum I’ve gathered so far.

So my point, I suppose, is that even though the advice of “just write and you’ll get better” might come across as clichéd and a little “well, duh” at times, there’s a reason that it’s a cliché. It works. I look forward to seeing how I grow as a writer in the coming months and years. I hope you guys and gals will be along for the ride, too.

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About B.J. Keeton

B.J. KEETON is a writer, teacher, and runner. When he isn't trying to think of a way to trick Fox into putting Firefly back on the air, he is either writing science fiction, watching an obscene amount of genre television, or looking for new ways to integrate fitness into his geektastic lifestyle. He is also the author of BIRTHRIGHT and co-author of NIMBUS. Both books are available for Amazon Kindle.

4 thoughts on “Becoming a Better Writer

  1. Great post. I agree wholeheartedly. For me, part of blogging was finding my "voice" and learning how to write articles in a way that was unique to me and didn't sound too self-conscious. My first few posts were terrible in that respect :)

    The only thing that frequent blogging hasn't improved though is my spelling :)

  2. Well BJ the same is true with anything. I do not write never have and will never claim I can. I do however know math back and forth and for the same reasons. I do it everyday. All day most days. You are a first hand witness as to what that does for a person. So I have this to say: anything you want to do in your life and do well, do it all the time. If you want to be a good cook then cook everyday. Practice makes perfect always has and always will.

  3. Note that there's a difference between "writing" and "publishing" said writing.

    I find that my blog informality allows me to let more writing escape than I'd otherwise release in a more… academic environment. There are good reasons for rough drafts when you're trying to come up with something that actually reads well and communicates the intended ideas.

    I thoroughly enjoy writing, and have to rein myself in on my blog so that I actually get other things done with my time. As it is, I probably post too much, and too many *long* essays. Even so, I agree with the principle of writing practice. It's been far too long since I wrote an academic paper, and I'm itching to do so again for some odd reason. Maybe I've had my fill of semi-pithy, rambling ruminations and want to exercise the *thinking* behind the writing a bit more rigorously.

  4. Anonymous,
    You are certainly correct that "practice makes perfect" applies to any field. I do think, though, that it must be repeated more often in reference to writing because there is a commonly-believed myth that writing is some mystical skill that a person either has or doesn't have.

    One of my professors told us that Coleridge (one of the most famous British Romantic poets) claimed that he had written his poem "Kubla Khan" in a single sitting after waking up from a dream. Later, however, dozens of drafts were found.

    Writing is hard work. Does it require a degree of aptitude to be great at it? Of course. But when it comes down to it, it's just expressing thoughts in a way that can be understood and, just maybe, is eloquent as well. Practice is the only way to learn.