22 Incredible Tips to Help You Write Better Essays & Novels

Updated on May 20, 2019
Josh Mourne profile image

Family guy and dedicated high-school teacher in Florida. Aiming to help students with everything I can. Love reading and critical analysis.

More than 20 Tips: How to Improve Your Writing

As new technology transforms the modern world, we must constantly learn new skills to keep our resumes up-to-date. But some skills remain timeless. Knowing how to write well is useful whether you’re trying to become the next John Updike or just want to write better essays or novels.

If you really want to become a great writer, you have to constantly learn, explore, research, keep up with technologies. Despite I'm an English Comp teacher and a freelance writer, I found myself amazed with how helpful Grammarly can be even for experienced writers. And this is only one example out of thousands. And each time I'm writing about something I manage to learn and improve.

Plus, it’s pretty easy to learn if you follow these tips. So how about we start working on ourselves and aim for a greater success?

1. Write every day

Like any skill, writing improves with practice. So write every day, both to improve your syntax and get over the fear that you’re a terrible writer. The more often you do it, the less scary it will seem.

Want to be a novelist? Seek out writing prompts. More on the business side? Take advantage of all the writing you do already, editing each email carefully instead of just dashing it off. Write a blog, or even practice proposals or presentations.

2. Learn to edit

George Bernard Shaw once wrote,

I’m sorry this letter is so long, I didn’t have time to make it shorter.

Every one of us secretly thinks every word we write is genius. Good writers know 90% of it is actually crap. The key to a great piece is knowing how to edit. Don’t rely solely on your spellchecker; nothing will edit better than your own brain. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Read your manuscript out loud to catch odd turns of phrase.
  • Delete any sentence that doesn’t make a new point.
  • Use the active voice as much as possible.
  • Skip complicated jargon. A child should understand it
  • Rule of Thumb: Cut 10% from your word count.
  • Re-read it at least 3 times.

And these are only few examples on how to edit better. You can seek various guides, take editing course, practice by editing literally everything you read or be a good guy and help your friends with editing.

3. Ask for feedback

Editing your own work is crucial. But a fresh set of eyes will recognize any mistakes you consistently make or patterns you use too often. Don’t be afraid of criticism. You don’t have to use it all, but you do have to listen to it. Seek out a trusted friend or colleague to play editor. On the creative side? Join a writer’s group.

4. Read more

You will never be a good writer if you never read. Read anything you can get your hands on, whether it’s War and Peace or the cereal box. Reading improves your vocabulary, your syntax and enriches your perspective. But don’t just read for pleasure. The second time, read to learn.

While reading, you can ask yourself a couple of questions to yourself. Thinking about these questions and seeking answers to them will significantly boost your writing skills in the long run. For example:

  • Why is this sentence so powerful?
  • How did the author introduce this new idea so smoothly?
  • What exactly do I feel about this sentence or how would anyone else feel?

Apply these lessons to your own writing: it’s the cheapest master class you’ll ever take.

5. Take care of your health

Writing is one of those rare disciplines where your most important tool is your brain. But there’s a dangerous myth that you must be stressed, depressed, alcoholic or on drugs to write well. This is the exact opposite of what you should do. Take care of your brain and body, your most important instruments. Sleep. Eat well. Exercise. And while this won’t always be possible, strive to write when you’re happy and relaxed.

Of course, you can argue with me by saying "but writing is an ultimate form self-expression!!". For someone, yes. For most of us, yes. But you have to understand that clear mind and the power of thought is what makes writing process much more productive and easier.

6. Learn the rules

Many posts about writing say, “Study the rules, then break them.” The problem? Most people skip the first half. Is it “would of” or “would have”? What must come after “not only” in a sentence? What’s the difference between “your” and “you’re”? (Are you sure?) If you don’t know these rules, you’re not yet ready to break them. Basically what I'm saying is no matter how good you think you are and how perfect your grammar there's always more things to learn! And this comes from a teacher who still makes dumb mistakes.

7. Get a writing library

Don’t hunt writing resources when you need them. Keep them by your side. A good dictionary and thesaurus are indispensable. Most writers swear by Strunk and White’s Elements of Style and the Chicago Manual of Style. You should also keep any subject-specific references on hand, especially if you write a lot of technical material. No matter if you are writing for a tech blog or it's just your narrative or whatever essay, you have to understand what are you writing about. Otherwise your writing is pointless, right?

As I've already mentioned in my study hacks article, you can learn from countless sources and online libraries all over the Internet. So it's better to start now, don't you think?

8. Pay attention

At the core, a writer simply chronicles the world around. Yes, even if you’re just writing for work. So get off your phone and pay attention. For a few minutes each day, forget yourself and observe. Listen to others talk, especially if you’re writing fiction and need an ear for dialogue. Notice the little things – the little puff of steam that escapes your lips on a cold November morning, your barista’s manicure at the local coffee shop. Be observant and watch your writing glow with detail. Do not underestimate the importance of noticing the whole world around you.

9. Write the way you talk

Some of us are so afraid of writing we’ve developed a whole separate voice to do it. This voice is stiff, formal and frankly turns your readers off. They’re smart. They’ll read straight past your phoniness. Ditch the act and write the way you talk on your best day. You’ll sound authentic and honest, and your writing will be far better because of it. Having trouble getting rid of your writer’s voice? Try talking into a voice recorder and transcribing what you say to get a feel for your normal voice.

10. Look at your text

Nothing turns off a reader faster than a massive block of text. Pay attention to how your text looks, especially if your audience is online. Give each new idea its own paragraph. Use bullet points or indents to further visually format the text. And make each paragraph short about 6 lines each. Now how does my text look? Bet it is ugly as hell. But hey, aren't we learning here?

11. Be specific

Chekhov put it best when he said,

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

Being specific cuts word count, makes your sentences more powerful and eliminates any confusion. Use strong verbs instead of adverbs, e.g. raced vs. ran quickly. Add only relevant details, prioritizing examples over anecdotes. Keep your writing short and sweet; don’t dance around the main point. Need help? Practice by Tweeting, or self-impose word counts.

12. Be prepared for great ideas

The world’s best idea is useless if you can’t remember it. Always carry a way to collect your best ideas, like a notebook or a smartphone app. Get great ideas in the shower? Invest in a set of bathtub markers. Even if you’re not a creative writer, you might think of a great argument or turn of phrase.

13. Get offline

It’s tempting to stay on the internet while you write, just in case. But an innocent search for the perfect word often devolves into an hours-long foray into Wikipedia or YouTube. I believe you know how it happens.

Stay productive by staying off the Internet. Use placeholders for those terms or ideas you can’t remember, and dedicate a set time to look them up. Separate your research and writing time.

14. Use an outline

An outline is a great way to focus your writing. It forces you to think beforehand, so you’re not writing in circles trying to figure out the main point. Obviously, this isn’t necessary for all writing projects – writing an outline for a short email is a tad excessive. It also doesn’t work for all writers. Some need the creative process. But outlining never hurts to try, and gives some merit to your high school or college English class.

More on topic, if you're a student and you really can't keep up with all these essays, have no ideas, then you must use an outline. You can't even imagine how helpful it is for college students!

15. Deliver value

Too many people write when they have nothing to say. Skip the filler words, phrases and Facebook statuses. If you have something to say, say it clearly and concisely. Otherwise, be quiet.

This is especially true in the business world. Don’t bother responding to an email if your input isn’t needed, just so you have the satisfaction of seeing your own name.

Everything you write must have value. And make sure your words are positive – remember, if you have nothing nice to say, it’s better not to say anything at all.

16. Steal

Hold up! Not talking about students here. You already know the best writers steal great ideas and make them their own. But that’s not the only techniques you can steal. Go through your email inbox, ask yourself next questions:

  • Which ones had subject lines compelling enough to make you open them?
  • What was the last memorable newspaper or blog article you read, and how did it start?
  • What writing techniques used by others made you applaud?

And there's even more! Take what worked and use it.

17. Start and end strong

It’s sad but true: if your writing is on the Internet, your reader is likely skimming most of it. That’s why it’s so important to start and end strong. A strong beginning hooks your reader, while a strong ending shows the reader what the rest of the text is about if he/she didn’t read the whole thing.

This is especially important in emails, where much of the detail in the body is overlooked. Spend extra time crafting strong beginnings and endings, and your reader is far more likely to stick with you. Online, this beginning also includes a strong headline. A strong subject line or blog heading hooks your reader, so practice writing them.

This is also a great tip for every college or high-school student. A strong hook of the essay and a strong conclusion will definitely be a big win when it comes to quality and grades, as a result.

18. Find your audience

For all the benefits of journal writing, it’s useless when you are trying to improve your writing. You have to write to somebody to improve your communication skills. That person might be imaginary, but he must be in your head as you write. Of course, it’s always better if you can have a real audience.

Find a platform you can use. Blogs are a great way to do this, whether it’s on your company page, a WordPress website, or on LinkedIn. Writing letters to an imaginary or real person works too, even if you never send them. Having an audience in your head will help you feel more authentic and let your writing flow more naturally.

19. Set your own deadlines

This is a time management tip that has been suggested to writers more than thousand times, and it’s great for people who have trouble starting or can’t stop once they do. Set your own deadlines to become more productive. A time limit forces you to focus and teaches you to divide your writing and editing time appropriately, as well as ensures that you complete any emails or projects on time.

20. Tell stories

Writers contribute powerfully to society because they tell good stories. The ability to tell a good story will hook anybody, and improves anything from a basic email to a marketing story to a novel to an essay. Add stories into most of your writing. It will sprinkle some fun into a boring tome and is a powerful sales tool.

21. Be brave

Writing can be a terrifying act, especially if you don’t do it often. Even if you’re not writing anything personal, the way you write reveals a lot about you: how you organize your thoughts, your intelligence and education level. Fear of publicizing our inner selves often makes us create a false persona for when we write. But when you’re not honest, your writing suffers because your readers can tell that you’re hiding something.

So be brave. Write honestly. Take the risk of exposing your inner thoughts to the world. Write what you want to say. You don’t have to bare your deepest secrets, but you do have to let your thoughts flow as they come to you.

22. Don’t make excuses

Too many of us wait around for the muse to strike, and blame her fickle presence for our lack of productive writing. But your muse might never show up. The only way you’re going to write well is if you work at it. Stop making excuses for why you write badly. You have time. You can read more. You can learn the grammar.

It doesn’t matter how wealthy you are or how much education you have. Sure, give yourself permission to be bad – that’s what first drafts are for. But when you edit well and polish that text, you can have a beautiful piece of writing that shines. Stop allowing yourself to write badly. You can do better, even if you think you can’t.

Stay Focused on Your Goal

Why do you want to be a better writer? Why do you need to write better essays? Is your goal is money? Is it passion or just fame? No matter what your goal is, you have to always keep that goal in mind and work hard towards it.

Doesn't matter if you're a student or experienced writer, writing for money or to express yourself. You just have to follow your dream and achieve it with hard work and time investment.


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