Writing is a skill that has to be honed over time, but today I’m sharing seven quick tips to take your writing to the next level.
1. Always say what you want in the least number of words possible
I’m a chronic rambler in real life. I used to ramble a lot in my writing as well (still do sometimes). But the reality is, the quicker and simpler you can say it, the better.
And don’t worry if you find this difficult. Ramble all you want in the first draft and then be brutal and cut, cut cut! A writing mentor of mine used to call it ‘changing up the gears’. Read through your writing and see if you can spot where you were changing up the gears and when you hit full speed. Cut the gears part. (Thanks, CJ Skuse!)
2. Consider planning what points you want to make ahead of time
Sometimes it can be helpful to jot down the points you want to make before you start writing. That’s what I did to write this article. This will help you focus on what it is you want to say without having to work your way up to it through writing waffle.
3. Interrogate your use of adverbs and adjectives
As a general rule, think no adverbs, few adjectives. You can definitely break this rule. In fact, I would encourage you to eventually. But remember you have to learn the rules to break them.
If you’re using too many adverbs and adjectives, chances are you just aren’t picking strong enough words. Rather than saying ‘he said loudly’, perhaps ‘he shouted’ works better. Again, it comes down to conveying meaning in the most concise and considered way.
4. Avoid overusing exclamation marks
Exclamation marks are very useful but like any device, when overused they can really bring down the tone of a piece of writing. Exclamation marks are used for emphasis. But don’t overemphasise!
If you overemphasise too much then it becomes meaningless! It can even feel like you’re being shouted at!
5. Learn your literary devices
I know it may remind you of dreaded English classes at school, but having a few literary devices in your toolbox can be a really great way to take your writing to the next level.
Some of the most common literary devices are:
- Point of view
You may think that these literary devices are only present in novels or pieces of fiction, but the reality is that these devices are used to engage the reader in all types of writing; including non-fiction. These techniques are present in the great classic pieces of literature because they work. Try using a few in your own pieces of writing and see what a difference it makes.
6. Avoid staccato sentences
Staccato sentences are short sentences written back to back. When used appropriately they can create tension and build pace within a piece of writing. When used incorrectly and too often, they make a piece of writing feel bland and monotonous.
Avoiding staccato sentences is all about understanding the rhythm of your writing. Rhythm in writing is about varying your sentence length. Think about how we talk. We don’t use sentences repeatedly with the same syllables and sounds. The rhythm of our sentences changes. Let me show you what I mean…
“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety.
Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”― Gary Provost
7. Really think about tone and how word choice impacts this
Tone and voice are all about how a piece of writing sounds and feels. What vibe or feeling does the piece of writing give off? Your word choice will massively impact the tone of your writing and so it’s always important to take extra care when it comes to choosing the right words. It’s not just about conveying meaning, it’s about how you convey that meaning.
Use too much industry jargon and waffle and your tone will be pretentious and condescending. Use over-simplistic language and you run the risk of insulting the intelligence of your reader. It’s all about striking the right balance.
Most of us will alter our tone and word choice appropriately automatically when in conversation, but it can be harder to get it right when writing things down. I’d advise reading your work aloud. Imagine you’re reading it to the very audience you’re trying to reach. Does the tone feel right?
Bonus tip! Tools like Grammarly are a lifesaver.
You don’t want to be reliant on these kinds of tools, but they can be incredibly helpful, particularly when you’re starting out. We’re not affiliated with Grammarly in any way, but it’s a tool I use myself and recommend to anyone trying to tighten up their writing.
If you found this helpful, then you might like the blog I wrote on the best pieces of writing advice I ever received.