Four Easy Steps to Improve Your Writing Skills

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How can one develop writing skills? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Ben A. Wise, writer, on Quora:

I can tell you how I’ve been developing my writing skills.

Read

Before I started writing, I read a lot. I was an introverted child. I didn’t have many friends.

I take that back. I had countless friends, but they were all bound and printed. I found the vast majority of them in the library. They never judged me, and they were all delightfully different.

Interestingly, most of the reading I did growing up was in Hebrew. And although I write in English, I feel that, nonetheless, all the early reading helped my writing a lot. Why? Because there is something subtler and more profound than the words themselves, the language they are written in.

There is the basic structure and tenets of storytelling; the moods and narratives that evoke emotions and draw the reader in; the creation of verisimilitude — the feeling that what we read is as real as our everyday life; that the characters are as alive as the people around us. That their lives matter.

Later on, I started reading in English. I still read a lot. I try to read books that I enjoy, and whose prose I admire.

Write

Practice makes perfect.

Repetition is the mother of skill.

For the past eighteen months, I’ve been writing almost every single day. The more I write, the more comfortable I feel expressing my thoughts, ideas, visions and stories through words. I write on Quora, I write emails, I’ve just finished writing a manuscript about my experiences living and traveling in India.

There is no way around spending time writing.

But before you write, try to have a good idea of what it is that you want to communicate. As you write, you may find new and exciting trajectories for your prose. Still, it is good to have a clear idea, or feeling, or mood, that you want to convey.

This will help to focus your writing.

Revise

When you read a novel or a book that is so fabulously written it makes you feel like you will never write that well, remember that the author started with a diamond in the rough.

I doubt there is anyone who can churn out impeccable prose in the first sitting. Especially when it comes to long form — e.g., writings that comprise thousands or tens-of-thousands of words.

Maintaining coherency, a smooth-flowing narrative arc; developing ideas consistently over many, many words; keeping track of several characters or concepts over numerous pages, is not easy.

Then there’s the clarity of expression, the aesthetic weaving together of words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, and paragraphs into chapters or a whole article.

A good writer will craft a first draft, and then go over it. A good writer will — when appropriate — put that first draft aside, sometimes for days, weeks, or even longer, work on a different piece of writing, and go back to that original draft when a space has been created from it, and the writer is able to gauge its worth and the work that needs to be done to improve and refine it.

This process may be repeated as many times as it takes for the diamond to be polished and glint in such a way that its radiance will please all who behold it.

I have written countless drafts of the manuscript I am working on now. I have deleted tens-of-thousands of words. I have removed characters and places. I have rewritten scenes innumerably until I felt I got them right.

At the end of the day, the only words that should remain on paper are the ones that shine, that move, that have meaning.

Get Feedback

Before I started writing I imagined the writer as someone who scurries off to some badly lit attic and hunches over a paper or a laptop undisturbed, shunning friends and relatives, avoiding food and showers.

And although it is immensely important to find a place where you can write undisturbed, writing does not happen in a vacuum.

I have gotten so much feedback about my answers on Quora, which has helped me become a better writer. My wife reads almost everything I write, more than once, and offers her views. I have several literary friends who read what I write and provide feedback. My manuscript is now in the hands of an accomplished editor, who will help me polish it further.

Those authors and writers I spoke of previously usually have a whole support team to help enhance their work. They may have a developmental editor to help craft a compelling storyline; a copy editor to check for plot consistency; a line editor to go over every single sentence and make sure that not only are there no mistakes, but it all reads beautifully. A journalist will also have one or several editors to go over articles.

If you are only starting, there is no need to hire anyone or spend money, but you can certainly get feedback online; or from friends and family you trust will give you an honest opinion — for good or for bad.

Conclusion

Read, write, revise, get feedback. Read, write, revise, get feedback. Keep doing this, and your writing will improve.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go over this post again and will then let my wife read it….

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