Two ‘Secrets’ to Better Writing

“How can we become better writers?”

We ask this all the time. No matter how well we write, we always feel we can do better. What should we do to get there?

The secret to improving writing lies in establishing two simple habits: practice and reading good writing.

“WMountainhat?! I climbed up this stupid mountain to hear that? What a gyp!”

Were you expecting something more complicated? This seems too simple, but it isn’t easy. If it was easy, we’d all be great writers. There are loads of people who won’t do these two things, just as there are tons of people who won’t practice an instrument or do drills for a sport. They want to be great without having to muddle through the boring fundamentals. Good luck with that.

Let’s investigate a little more of what I mean.


Writers need to write. We feel compelled to do it. We can’t help ourselves. The trick is to make sure we write regularly and with purpose. I make sure I write a minimum of 30 minutes each day – every day. Most of the time, this is no problem for me. The trick is to make sure that I’m writing something constructive. I keep a personal journal, but I don’t usually count that toward my 30-minute minimum. What I write in that journal are emotions, things that have happened to me, dreams I’ve had, or observations about my life. I’m not concentrating on writing.

However, I also keep a writing journal where I write about how certain emotions might manifest in characters I’m developing, what the needs may be for certain audiences and writing products, comments about things I’ve found in other people’s blogs about writing, and tips and techniques I’ve read about that I might want to try.

I also practice writing actual products. For instance, right now I am working on coming up with a media kit for a group that wants to establish a local community center. I have been collaborating with them to describe the scope, vision, and goals of the project as well as to provide background on why the project is necessary. Eventually I hope to write a grant. I’m donating my time and talents, but it is for my benefit as well as the project’s. They get media and communications products, and I get to play in a writing “sandbox.”

By practice, I mean activities specifically geared toward the writing process.

Reading Good Writing

I love to read. I’ll read a cereal box if it is the only thing handy. I recently borrowed my grandson’s Percy Jackson series and read them in about five days. When I read for pleasure, I subconsciously pick up what makes the writing good. However, I’m primarily feeding literary “candy” to my brain.

When I read to make myself a better writer, I take a book, article, blog, or whatever and break it down to see what the author has done to make the writing seem so good. What words has he used? Where has he placed certain events or ideas? How has he built up to them? What is the rhythm in the words? How can I incorporate some of these things in my own writing?

I try to avoid poor writing unless I want to examine examples of what not to do.

Find something that is well written, and read it with a critical eye. Investigate writing you might not normally read to stretch those writing muscles. I can’t write poetry, but I have decided to start reading some to see if I can adapt some techniques to make my own prose writing better.

Sure, I haven’t offered any earth-shattering revelations here; however, it never hurts to be reminded that we need to consistently keep doing the things we already know.


2 thoughts on “Two ‘Secrets’ to Better Writing

  1. Recently I’ve begun writing out a detailed summary & analysis of stories, to force myself to really look at every chapter and scene, and ask myself “What’s the conflict? What goals do each character have? What’s the purpose behind the specific content written here?”
    It’s time consuming, but creating outlines that total approximately 10%, 1%, and .1% of the story’s word count has really helped me to better see how individual scenes and chapters simultaneously stand alone and combine into larger patterns.
    Of course I’ve met some who can simply breeze through a book and notice that certain sentence structures and words are used more frequently than others, but we all walk our own path.

    It’s definitely funny how often people seek after some “secret” to creative writing. I once remember reading a time where Neil Gaiman was asked that question, and he responded with this epic laundry list of tasks, which began with walking until you passed 7 trees all bearing fruit, plucking a specific one, planting seeds, and eventually required the quester to follow a newly hatched bird until it rested on a mountain top. It was a little hilarious.


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