What does being a writer mean to you?
Does it mean you spend a few hours on the weekends writing fiction novels, you write for your high school newspaper, or you make a living writing?
Hold up. Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know what type of writer you are. I just want to know that you are a writer. No matter what type of writing you’re doing, I want you to know there’s always room for improvement.
But making improvements is a daunting task. *Sigh.* You don’t have time to read heaps of novels to study the pacing of each story or to take notes on the author’s choice of words. You want to enjoy your writing, not turn it into a blood, sweat, and tears type of deal.
The truth is that improving your talents doesn’t have to take you hours of practice every day.
You see, writing is a process. Your writing is constantly moving forward and evolving, but these changes don’t just come through practicing your writing. They come from your experiences, too.
Each day you become a better writer, but how much of a better writer is my question. Are you taking your skills to a new level each day? Have you started your engines? Are you getting ready to send your writing skills to the moon? Or are you inching forward like a snail struggling to make its way across the rocket platform?
Don’t be a snail. I want to see you become a rocket and take your writing skills to the moon, and the truth is that it won’t take years of work to get there.
I’m not going to tell you to “practice ‘til you die.” It’s great, but it’s not worth your time.
Instead, we’re going to explore 7 real actions many writers aren’t using that will help you learn about writing and improve your skills. In each section, we’ll also explore how you can incorporate the method into your busy schedule.
So what’s it going to be? Are you going to inch your way to the edge of the platform, or are you going to jump on the ship and soar into space?
On board? Let’s explore 7 tactics that will skyrocket your writing skills no matter what type of writing you’re doing—from writing poems and novels to crafting sales copy and writing blog posts.
1. Start Following Writing Blogs
Want to get serious about improving your skills? Then writing blogs are the place to start. I can’t tell you how much valuable information you’ll learn for free by spending 10 minutes a day reading about writing.
Why not save time and run a Google search when you want to learn something? The best thing about following blogs is that you learn so much more than you would ever find on your own.
Not sure where to begin? Here’s a short list of the writing blogs I like:
- Be a Freelance Blogger
- Make a Living Writing
- The Write Practice
- The Write Life
- All Indie Writers
- The Renegade Writer
- The Creative Penn
- Write to Done
- Smart Blogger
- Helping Writers Become Authors
- Little Zotz
Wow! I must have loads of free time to follow all these blogs, right? Actually I don’t, and it doesn’t take me heaps of time to get super valuable information from all of them.
What is my magical secret? I use an RSS reader. This is an account you have on a website that organizes your favorite blogs. Simply add the blogs you love to your reader, and you’ll be able to access them all from one place. No more checking back to see if there are updates. Your RSS reader will let you know when there are new posts. No more keeping a list in your pocket of the endless blogs you want to follow. They’re all in your RSS reader.
Here’s a sample of what your reader will look like when you have updates:
On the side, you can filter the content based on the blog you want to see. Here, I’m looking at updates from The Creative Penn. On your homepage, you’ll see the latest posts from all the blogs on your list. Only have time to check your reader once a week? Don’t worry. All the posts from the last week will be waiting for you.
But which RSS reader should you choose? Just some you might like include:
Need more ideas on which blogs to follow? Discover 100 of the best writer sites here.
How to do this when you’re short on time:
- Sign up for an RSS reader account. This is an easy way to manage the blogs you love and save you time searching for updates.
- Skim the blog posts. Bloggers are clever. They know most people don’t read their blog posts word-for-word, so they make it easy for you by using subheadings and highlighting important points. Only have 30 seconds? That’s all you need to understand the major points in a 1,000-word blog post.
2. Get a Second Opinion
Doing a quick Google search is a great way to figure out how to improve your writing in a snap, but that’s only if you can pinpoint what you’re doing wrong. Getting a second opinion can help you figure out where your writing needs improvement since other people can offer a new perspective.
“Every time I’d get a critique or some redirection, I’d always just take it very personally. Now I have no problem with it. –Jessica Alba
It’s easy to take critique as a personal attack, but you have to remember that every review comes with the chance to improve your craft. Ask for feedback on your writing to determine where your weaknesses lie (and where your strengths are!).
Start by sharing your works with friends. If you’re writing a novel, ask friends and family to be your beta readers. (A beta reader is someone who reads your story to provide feedback before its final draft.) They’ll be able to spot inconsistencies with your plot and your characters or point out unanswered questions.
You can also join a critique group. There are plenty of forums and communities that allow you to post your work and receive suggestions on where you shine and where you could polish your writing.
Here’s a list of just a few critique groups you might consider joining:
- Critters.org: This free member website is for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror genres.
- Internetwritingworkshop.org: Join as a free member to get access to critique groups and discussion boards. This website caters to fiction, non-fiction, and poetry writers.
- Ladieswhocritique.om: Get paired with your soul-mate critique partner. Serving all types of writers, this free website offers a spectacular opportunity for female writers to connect with others and gather advice.
- Scribophile.com: With over 580,000 critiques posted on the site already, Scribophile is a fun, interactive community where you can critique other author’s works, enter writing contests, gain access to educational material, and collect your own feedback. You must review other works to receive critiques of your own.
- Writing.om: Over 1 million members have already discovered how Writing.com can help them improve their writing skills. Gather feedback, enter contests, and connect with other writers.
These are great ways to get some constructive feedback, but it’s also a good idea to hire an experienced editor. Editors are best at spotting structural mistakes. Not only can they help your project shine, but their suggestions will teach you about how you can improve next time.
Now you’re freaking out. Where do you find a freelance editor? Don’t worry. I’m not just going to throw you off the ship and expect you to find your own way home. Start with these ideas to help you hunt down the right freelance editor:
- Start at the search engines. When you search keywords like “freelance editor for hire,” “hire a freelance editor,” or “freelance editing services,” you’ll quickly find qualified freelance editors at the top of their field.
- Search editors on social media. LinkedIn is a great place to start to find an abundance of editors. Simply use the people search and type in the position in the “Title” box, such as “freelance editor” or “freelance proofreader.” You can also use a Twitter search to find people who are looking for work, or you can announce that you’re looking for an editor on your social media profiles.
- Talk to friends who have hired editors before. If you have writer buddies, chances are some of them have hired editors before. Talk with them about their editors and ask for the freelancer’s or business’s contact information if they sound right for you.
- Post your own job opening. Not having any luck or don’t have the time to search for an editor? Post a job opening on forums, social media, job boards, or Craigslist.
The best part about getting a second opinion is the feedback is all personal. There’s no beating around the bush with the issues you might experience in your writing.
Here’s what to do when you don’t have a lot of time:
- Update your Facebook status asking your friends if they’d like to act as a beta reader for your project. When you have a few extra minutes (in the morning, at your lunch break, after you put the kids down for bed, etc.) send a mass email to those who responded and attach your project.
- Sign up for a critique group and post your project. If it’s on a forum setting, subscribe to the thread so that you don’t have to keep checking back. You’ll get an email when someone replies.
- On the weekend, do a bit of research on editors you might hire for your project. If you’re short on time, post a job opening and let the editors come to you.
3. Take on a Mentor
Taking on a mentor is perhaps one of the best ways to improve your writing skills. With a mentor, you get the incredible opportunity to look up to one person and gain insight into the secrets that make their writing exceptional.
But don’t freak out yet. You don’t have to have crap-loads of money to hire a mentor. Sometimes it’s as easy as having a friend teach you the ins and outs of blogging or fiction writing.
Dictionary.com defines “mentor” as:
1. a wise and trusted counselor or teacher.
2. an influential senior sponsor or supporter.
This means you don’t have to work one-on-one with a mentor as long as they counsel you and you find them influential.
I’ve attended plenty of free training programs, read through heaps of blog posts, and paid for community memberships, and I consider all these people I’ve interacted with along the way vital mentors in my writing even if we haven’t interacted directly.
Some of the mentors and influential writers I encourage you to follow include:
- Sophie Lizard of Be a Freelance Blogger: Sophie is one of my favorite mentors. I’ve learned so much through her blog, and I even took her Client Hunting Masterclass. None of this is one-on-one training, but I still feel she’s an important mentor in my writing career.
- Carol Tice of Make a Living Writing: Specializing in freelance writing success, Carol Tice runs the blog Make a Living Writing as well as the popular Freelance Writer’s Den.
- Katie (K.M.) Weiland of Helping Writers Become Authors: Boy, Katie really knows what she’s talking about when it comes to writing fiction. I strongly suggest you engage with her on her blog if you’re into creative writing. You’ll be shocked at how much you’ll learn for free!
- Mary Jaksch of Write to Done: Mary Jaksch’s blog serves as a mentoring hot-spot for all types of writers. Plus, you can join her A-List Blogging Masterclass to get more detailed support.
Certainly these ideas shouldn’t limit you. These ladies are among some of the top writing mentors, but you can always opt for paid mentoring to get one-on-one advice from the experts. What’s more, there are plenty of free training webinars happening every week, so it doesn’t have to cost you much time or money to get great advice.
Why do you even need a mentor?
The truth is you don’t need a mentor, but you probably want one. The ladies I mentioned all had mentors before they got to where they are. You want to be influential and successful, too, don’t you? Since these experts have so much wisdom to offer, it makes sense you’d want to learn their secrets to success. Without that knowledge, you’ll waste a lot of time and effort learning these things for yourself.
How to take on a mentor even when you’re busy:
- Start following an influential writer you look up to. Buy their books, follow their blog, and read their advice in your spare time, such as when you’re on the train/bus headed to work or when you’re eating lunch.
- Sign up for a free webinar. They usually only last an hour but are packed with information.
- Read one blog post each morning from your favorite writing blogs.
- Talk to a friend on your lunch break and get them to spill their writing secrets.
4. Enter a Training Course
Training courses are my favorite! You receive so much valuable information in such a short period of time. There are plenty of courses available where you have to pay a fee to receive the material, but there are even more where you can get the training for free! The best part about online training courses is you can do them on your own time.
Why enter training courses instead of finding the information through a Google search?
Wouldn’t it be great if we could find absolutely everything via a Google search and it would take us two minutes to absorb all the information? Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way.
Consider these reasons you might want to enter a training course:
- While you can get plenty of free information at the tip of your fingers, there are still secrets valuable enough to save for paid training courses. For instance, when I went on a search to figure out how to land clients using my writer website, no one had a free answer for me. That’s what lead me to sign up for client hunting courses to gain this valuable knowledge.
- Some subjects are too in-depth for a two-minute speech. This is why many courses—even free ones—last for 4-8 weeks. There’s too much to cover in a single blog post, so instead, your mentors will send out articles, videos, resources, and other training material over the course of several weeks to help you better grasp the concept.
Free Training Courses You Might Enjoy:
- CopyPress’s Free Writing Guides: While you have to sign up for the community (free), these guides on writing online content are excellent for people looking to improve their copywriting skills.
- About.com’s How to Write a Comprehensive Feasibility Study: This self-guided free training program teaches you about preparing, writing, and presenting a business study.
- About.com’s Intensive Grammar Workshop: Need to brush up on your grammar? Enjoy this 13-week training course that teaches you the ins and outs of proper grammar usage.
- Writer’s Helper’s Write Verse for Children: Into creative writing? You’ll probably appreciate this free training guide on writing verse for children.
Paid Training Courses to Take Your Writing to the Next Level:
- A-List Blogging Masterclass: Get direction on how to blog effectively while improving your writing skills.
- Freelance Writer’s Den’s Boot Camps and E-Courses: The Freelance Writer’s Den offers a wide selection of boot camps and e-courses, including information about how to succeed as a freelance writer.
- How to Write Better: General Writing Class: Are you serious about getting right down to it and improving your writing skills (in just a month!)? Then perhaps you’ll consider the How to Write Better: General Writing Class by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, successful authors and speakers.
How to take courses when you don’t have the time:
- Sign up for a self-guided course and watch the videos or read the material on the weekends.
- Find a class offering audio downloads and listen in the car on your way to work.
- Cut down on your TV time and substitute an episode of your TV show for an hour-long training session.
5. Join a Community and Talk with Real People
I realize you enjoy curling up in your writing nook with your two best friends (your laptop and a cup of coffee), but there are more people influencing your writing than you think. Your mentors, readers, and editors all contribute to the evolution of your writing, but I want to add one more person to the mix. What about other writers?
The people you speak with in online writing communities don’t necessarily fit any of these roles above, but they can still help you improve your writing.
What does engaging in a community do for you?
- It helps you get real advice tailored toward your situation.
- It opens your eyes to new ideas and opinions.
- It creates a support system to help motivate your writing.
Want to join a community? Consider these online communities for writers:
- Goodreads.com: Love reading books? Then you’ll love Goodreads! Here, you can update which books you’re reading, leave reviews on the books, connect with friends, and join groups. You can even add your own books and get reviews from your readers.
- WritersDigest.com: This site is the perfect place for writers to improve their writing skills. With frequent blog updates, community forums, contests, and more, you’ll never run out of learning material. Plus, with over 100,000 forum members, you have plenty of opportunities to learn from other writers.
- WritersCafe.org: Join writing groups, get critiqued, enter contests, and do so much more at Writers Café.
- LinkedIn and Facebook groups. Do a quick search for your genre or niche, and begin connecting with other writers.
You don’t have to limit your options to online writing communities. Do a quick Google search to find writing groups in your area where you can meet and talk about writing face-to-face.
I love this quote about community:
“Some people think they are in community, but they are only in proximity. True community requires commitment and openness. It is a willingness to extend yourself to encounter and know the other.”
What I want you to remember about this is that you can’t simply join a community and let your membership sit there. Engage with others and get to know them!
How to do this when you don’t have a lot of time:
- In the forum section, post one question and comment on two others on Saturday mornings.
- Subscribe to your forum posts so you don’t have to keep checking for answers. You’ll get an email when someone comments.
- Subscribe to the newsletter so you don’t have to worry about the community unless there’s something worth-while to engage in.
6. Read Your Writing Aloud
Reading silently is quick and easy. Why read aloud, you ask.
Reading aloud can help you spot inconsistencies, discover areas of poor wording and phrasing, and pinpoint grammar mistakes easier than reading silently. This simple tip helps you hear your writing from a new perspective and gives you a better idea of what other people are reading since your brain processes the information differently.
What are some strategies to reading aloud effectively?
- Print your project and read it on paper rather than the computer screen. This makes it easier to jot down notes or mark places that need revising.
- Follow along with your finger. I know, that’s only for kids. But it really can help you spot mistakes. Missed a word? This trick will help you spot the error.
- Read the copy one sentence at a time in reverse order. With this method, you’ll focus on the sentence structure rather than the flow of the entire piece to help you pinpoint grammar mistakes.
How to do this when you’re short on time (or don’t want to look like an idiot at the coffee shop):
- Only read a little at a time, such as before you go to bed. There’s no need to read your entire novel at once.
- Incorporate it into your story time. Have kids who can’t go to bed without you reading a story to them? Use this opportunity to read one of your own works aloud.
- Don’t have time to read? Copy and paste your project into a text-to-speech program and listen to your copy as you perform other tasks. Start with NaturalReader’s online tool for a free option.
7. Revise, Edit, and Proofread Your Writing
This is so obvious it seem silly to mention, but honestly there are a lot of writers who don’t edit and revise their content.
Let me share just a few of my favorite quotes on rewriting:
“There is no great writing, only great rewriting.—Justice Brandeis
“Writing for me is largely about rewriting.—Khaled Hosseini
“I rewrite my books many times before submitting them, and after my editor takes a look I wind up rewriting some more! It’s a good thing I learned at an early age to keep on trying. Stick to it, and eventually you’ll get there. —Wendelin Van Draanen
Clearly, rewriting is a major part of the writing process.
It’s easy to get excited once you’ve completed your first draft and shout to the world, “I’m done!” I guarantee sending it out to the world at that moment will only disappoint you later when you realize you could have written a much more eloquent piece.
What exactly is revising, editing, and proofreading? For a long time, I thought these words were synonymous and it meant going back through your piece and fixing your grammar mistakes. But it’s so much more than that.
I love how Ali Luke, author, blogger, and mentor, explains it. In her article “The Three Stages of Editing (and Nine Handy Do-It-Yourself Tips),” she defines these elements as:
- Rewriting – adding and cutting whole chunks (scenes, chapters, paragraphs), and moving and reworking material.
- Editing – this is what I think of as “true” editing: reworking individual paragraphs and sentences, adding or cutting smaller sections.
- Proofreading – checking that what you think you wrote is what you actually wrote, and fixing typos and spelling mistakes.
I couldn’t have said it better myself. With these definitions, it’s clear there’s a lot of work that goes into your writing after you’ve finished the first draft, yet many people read through it once and hit the publish button.
Need some quick editing tips?
- Don’t edit while you’re writing. Creating and editing are two different processes, and you don’t want to disrupt one by doing the other simultaneously.
- Set your piece aside for a while (longer for large projects). This will help you clear your mind and come back to it with fresh eyes.
- Don’t always trust spellcheck! Sometimes it won’t flag homophones like “they’re, their, and there” since they’re spelled correctly, and sometimes spellcheck will mark things as improper when they’re actually correct.
How to do this when you don’t have a lot of time:
- Set your publication date farther in the future. This will give you more time to edit and revise even if you only have an hour a week to do so.
- Hire someone to help you out. Editors are there to save you time and effort. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
- Wake up a half hour earlier each day and use that time to revise, edit, and proofread your piece.
Mankind didn’t step on the moon thinking the sky’s the limit. I don’t want you to ever believe your writing skills have peaked. Go through these tips, and then do them again. Continue learning. Continue growing. And never stop becoming a better writer.
Ready to start your journey to becoming a better writer? Once you’ve taken one of these steps, I want to hear about it. Comment below, and let me know how this guide inspired you.