How to Improve Your Writing Skills in 6 Easy Steps

Why is it worth the time and effort to become a better writer?

As you continue to write books and grow as a published author, it’s important to work on improving your craft.

But what does ‘writing craft’ really mean?

Think of it this way: we all know what carpentry is. We know what a bookshelf looks like. We know most of the tools we’d need to build it. But that doesn’t mean we can all make one. Just like carpentry, writing seems very straightforward, but there is a lot of specialized knowledge that is necessary to improve the skill.

If you want to be a skilled writer, you have to know there’s a difference between sentences that flow well and are easy to understand and ones that are difficult to read and make a reader lose interest. Writing is so much more than just stringing words together. It’s about composing words in a way that tells a story, evokes emotion, captivates a reader, and leads to an end-goal.

Think about it: if you start hitting random notes on a piano with little rhyme or reason, would you consider that a song? Unless you’re a musical prodigy…probably not. Whether you’re an aspiring carpenter, musician, or writer, there are ways to improve your skills and become better at your craft. It just takes a bit of work, attention, and patience to get there.

And keep in mind: even if you’re skilled at something, there will almost always be more ways to improve! There’s always more to learn, whether it’s new techniques, trends, or other ways to set yourself apart from other authors.

Remember: becoming a better writer is about more than just learning to cut unnecessary adjectives and use the correct punctuation. It’s about changing your habits and adopting the mindset you need to open yourself up to critique, try new things, and break the rules a little bit.

How do you become a better writer?

1. Write, write, write!

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the easiest way to improve your writing skills is simply to write.

Like with anything—whether it’s writing, painting, or driving a car—practice makes perfect. The more you work on something, the better you get.

But you don’t have to write five books before you start seeing improvement. Work on stretching your writing muscle by regularly writing things outside of your normal comfort zone.

Try out different exercises to test your boundaries and see where your imagination takes you.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Write something you’ve already written, but from a different point of view
  • Try writing in a genre you’ve never written in before
  • Find an interesting image or painting on the internet and use it to develop a short story
  • Write from the perspective of a character who is the complete opposite of you
  • Throw a bunch of people, settings, concepts, and themes into a hat, pick a few, and try to write something using them
  • Use one of the writing exercises suggested by authors on the ALC site

Also, don’t focus too much on improving your writing skills. Many improvements come with time and experience, so don’t force it too much.

At the end of the day, you should be working to finding your own writing voice, not creating a new one. These exercises aren’t meant to change what makes you unique as a writer, but rather to help inspire you and find ways to freshen up your style.

“So there’s writing, and as a subset of writing, there’s storytelling. I think with storytelling as a craft, there isn’t as much out there in formal education.” – Eric Penz, Writing as a Craft

2. Read with purpose

If you’re not already, you should be spending just as much time reading as you do writing.

Stephen King once said, “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

Think of it this way; what if a musician told you they never listened to music? If a politician never stayed up-to-date on the news? How about if a doctor didn’t keep up with new medical research?

If you want to be an author, you must constantly consume new ideas, stories, and methods if you want to improve your own ideas, stories, and methods.

But it’s not just reading that’s important—it’s how you read. If you want to be a great writer, you must also learn to be a prolific reader.

As you read a book, you should be aware of what is happening, the choices the author is making, and how you feel about those choices. That way, you’ll be learning as you go.

If you’re up until 3 AM reading, unable to put a book down, try to understand what about the writing specifically made you feel so engaged.

If you stop reading, try to figure out why it was easy at that moment to leave the story.

From there, you should become more in-tune to the mechanics of what makes writing good or bad, and utilize it in your own work.

“If you want to be aware of what’s happening to you as you’re reading something so you can try and learn the craft of how that author did it, pay attention to the things that you read and the way you feel when you read them.” – Jason Schmetzer in The Importance of the Craft of Writing and Tips to Improve

You should also make sure you’re reading books outside of the genre and space that you normally write in. 

Getting inspiration and ideas from unique sources will make your writing more fresh and exciting. If you only read books similar to yours, you’ll never bring anything new to the table.

So much of becoming a better writer is subconscious: if your input changes, your output will change. Without really trying, your own writing voice could become even more unique and interesting.

An exercise to try: Dissect and imitate writing you admire. Try copying down a piece of writing from a work you particularly like, then take some time to write something unique in the same style of writing. Not only is this a great exercise in writing from different character styles, but it will help you get a feel for the tone of other authors and find ways to integrate it into your own work.

3. Edit your writing (and others’ too)

Now that we’ve covered some basic ways to improve your writing skills, let’s get a little more specific.

Becoming a better writer is not just about becoming a better storyteller, but also learning how to find and fix your own mistakes.

Even if you hire a professional editor, learning how to revise and edit your own work is extremely important. And not just little errors—but the way you structure sentences, describe settings, pace your plot, and more.

You can’t rely on editing tools and software to help you improve your writing. You can rely on professional editors, but if you’re not actively finding and fixing these mistakes, you’re not going to learn how to improve them.

“The basic automated tools like those that come in word processors are very good at catching typos. They’re very bad at grammar. They’re very bad at sentence fragments. They’re very bad at what we generally consider ‘style’.” – Jason Schmetzer in Self-Editing Strategies and Tools for Writers

Improving your writing skills and style is much more than fixing simple grammar errors. Revising your own work can help you notice the larger choices you’re making and find better ways to tell your story.

Objectively editing your own work is difficult, but it will give you a lot of insight into what you like and dislike about your own writing.

If editing your own work is too challenging, editing others’ work can also be helpful in getting you to notice things you like and dislike about certain writing styles.

Here are some ideas of things to look for:

  • How much of the word count is used on things that aren’t necessary for moving the story along?
  • What’s the pacing like? Should it be faster or slower in some areas to build or ease tension?
  • When describing scenes, settings, or characters, are you using enough sensory language? Too much?
  • Do the sentence and paragraph lengths vary enough? Do you tend toward long, drawn-out sentences with a lot of commas or short, quipped phrases?
  • Are there too many unnecessary adjectives or adverbs?
  • Do you repeat the same metaphors and similes frequently? Are you using clichés?
  • Try reading your writing aloud. Does anything sound awkward or confusing?

4. Learn what readers want

A big part of improving your writing style is not only catering to what you like but also paying attention to what types of writing receive the most positive feedback from readers.

Sure, a lot of what’s “popular” has to do with timing and luck, but that doesn’t mean writing style isn’t an important component.

Readers pick up books to enjoy them. They have expectations. They won’t waste their time on writing they dislike. If you want people to read (and recommend) your work, you have to cater to their preferences—at least a little bit. 

“People’s tastes in books and entertainment change quite rapidly, so it’s a good idea to frequently take note of what books get (and stay) on the New York Times bestseller’s list, are always checked out at the library, or receive the most attention online.” – The 5 Ws of Market Research

So how do you figure out what readers’ like? Check out the reviews. Sites like Amazon and Goodreads are great places to find thousands of reviews from many different types of readers, all eager to share their opinions.

Skim through the reviews of books similar to yours and see what people have to say. What did they like and dislike? What made them excited to recommend it or eager to rate it poorly?

Use this market research—including reviews of your own work, if you have them—to improve your own writing skills to match the current market. Remember: book trends change frequently, so remember to repeat this exercise every so often just to make sure you’re up-to-date!

5. Get feedback

If you’re pouring over your own work, struggling to figure out how to improve—or you just want some outside perspective—consider joining a writing group.

Writing groups could be great resources because everyone there is like you: eager to improve.

Obviously, you can’t take everyone’s opinions to heart, but listening to what others like and dislike about your writing can give you more direction on how to get better.

“Remember: great writers are not great writers because they can write without errors; they’re great because they are able to listen to others, take feedback, and fix their mistakes in order to get better.” – Why Writers Need Community

If you’re nervous about receiving critique, make sure you’re clear on the difference between constructive criticism and others’ opinions.

Just because someone says they dislike your main character doesn’t mean you have to throw all your hard work away.

Instead, ask them if they have concrete reasons for feeling that way. The root of it may not be that your character is bad, but rather that you were inconsistent with their voice or motivation. These are all things you can change—and will make you a better writer in the long run.

If you struggle to find a writing group in your area, go online or start your own!

6. Learn from experts

A fancy degree is not necessary to improve your writing skills. However, if you’re really eager to invest some time or money to improve your craft, a class or program can be a great option.

Start by making a small investment, like participating in a local writing class or joining a live webinar on the ALC, and see if it helps. If you like it, then keep seeking out new opportunities to learn from experts.

Oftentimes, just hearing some author success stories is enough to motivate you to try new things and keep working on your writing skills.

Or take it a step further. Network with some authors in your area or at writing conferences and see if one of them would be willing to mentor you.

“Unless you’ve got it all figured out, chances are you have a lot of blind spots…a mentor would hopefully be candid and honest with you and say, ‘hey let’s talk about this’.” – Ron Brumbarger in The Importance of Mentoring and What Authors Should Look for in a Memoir

Partnering up with authors you admire or can learn a lot from is a great way to improve your writing skills.

While they may not be able to devote tons of time and attention to you, they will likely have some great tips, advice, and expertise to help you through the process. 

Ready to start improving your writing skills?

Improving your writing skills and building your craft is a lifelong process. While you can’t become a bestselling author overnight, you should never give up on your pursuit to improve.

There’s no better time than now to start taking definite steps toward your writing goals. And when you build them into your regular writing routine, you’ll find yourself getting better without even noticing.

On top of these six steps, the Author Learning Center offers many great opportunities to learn from experts and connect with other members for feedback and advice. Join today to start taking advantage of the knowledge and expertise that’s available to you.

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