4 Ways to Become a Better WriterFebruary 24, 2017
“Writing is easy,” said Red Smith, “all you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” That may sound a tad bit drastic, but the truth is, writing, in so many ways, is the pouring out of your soul. It is the depletion of self on paper. It is a wrestling match with thoughts, words, and syntax. Writing is ironic in that it’s therapeutic and unnerving. It’s relaxing and laborious. It is boring and inspirational. I dread it, and I absolutely love it.
In his book, The Conviction to Lead, Albert Mohler said, “Most of the words we deploy in any given day can be forgotten almost instantly. But the words we want to last, to influence tomorrow and not just today, are words best committed to writing.” History unfolds itself through words on a page. Think of any monumental event and you must connect it with a written account. Countries are formed, movements are birthed, and leaders are known through the inspiration of ink. “Beneath the rule of men entirely great,” said Edward Bulwer Lytton, “the pen is mightier than the sword.”
To those who frequently write, the pen and the sword are, at times, the same instrument. It can simultaneously soothe you and slay you. Although I do not consider myself a good writer, I do enjoy it immensely. I even consider it a part of my calling. And for that reason, I continually look for ways to improve. Whether you write in a public forum or in a private journal, there are ways to improve your writing skills. Here are a few:
In the writing process, reading is much more important than writing. Ask anyone who writes a regular basis (whether it be on a blog, for a publication, on a professional level, or in a daily journal), and they will be quick to tell you how much reading is involved with their writing procedures.
At any given time, I am typically reading three to four books. All kinds of books. Books from a variety of authors, backgrounds, and subjects. Reading helps expand the mind. It creates thoughts, ideas, conclusions, and convictions. Jospeh Addison said, “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” Though this is a sophomoric illustration, it is exact. Reading prepares the mind for the pen. It gives way to better expressions, statements, and declarations. Like a body-builder who precisely refines a muscle, reading helps sharpen the skills of the most elementary and seasoned writers.
Writers are readers, and readers are learners. In his book, The Spiritual Disciplines, Donald Whitney said, “A durable yearning for learning characterizes all those who are truly wise.” Do you have a “yearning for learning?” Writing, by nature of the task, must be accompanied with a constant ebb and flow of education.
Effective writers are constantly learning new things. How else can one express their thoughts in a fresh and enlightening way unless they are in a continual journey of discovery? Writers investigate, they ask questions, they observe, they verify resources. They learn how things work and why things are the way they are. The writing process may end with the author giving a final assertion, but it begins with the author asking a plethora of questions. As John Naisbitt said, “No one subject of a set of subjects will serve you for the foreseeable future, let alone for the rest of your life. The most important skill to acquire now is learning how to learn.” To write something fresh, learn something new.
One of the greatest things you can do to improve your writing skills is to put down the pen and walk away. A quiet room, a quiet hour, and a quiet heart are the greatest friends of a writer. There are times when solemn, sober thought is the required course of action in the writing process. Yes, there are times when all you must do is think.
Too often, we hurriedly pen down our thoughts without properly analyzing, with exactness, what we are trying to say. We should think about what we say before we say what we think. This is meditation. This is patience. This is hard. But it is necessary.
Meditation gives liberty and freedom to the mind as it discerns what needs to be written. It takes the pressure off. It gives way to new thought. It allows the proverbial juices to flow. I like how Alexander Pope poetically penned down this very thought:
“A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring;
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain;
And drinking largely sobers us again.”
If you want to improve your writing skills, there is one final thing you must frequently do and that is write. I know…this is a grand revelation; one in which you have undoubtedly have never considered. But it is true. Writing requires writing. Gordon MacDonald accurately declares, “Many people would love to have their names on the cover of a book. Admittedly, it is a marvelous feeling of accomplishment. But no one except the writer knows of the lonely hours spent before a keyboard testing thoughts and concepts through words on a page.”
To become a better writer, write every day. Write about things that interest you and disinterest you, things you love and things you hate. Start small, write a few sentences. Then a paragraph. Try your hand at an essay. Write about current issues. Write about favorite subjects. Put your emotions on paper. Sit down at a “typewriter” and “pour open a vein.”
Writing, for even the most accomplished author, is a continual trial-and-error effort. No one sits down and immediately writes the great American novel; but they do sit down and write. As you improve your writing skills remember the words of Francis Bacon, “Reading maketh a full man; speaking, a ready man, writing, an exact man.”