There is perhaps no greater indication of someone’s ability to think than reading what they write. Whether it’s sending a company email, generating copy writing content, or merely firing off a text, you are being assessed on your ability to articulate a message through language. But there is something fundamentally important about writing that often gets overlooked. Writing is, among many things, a projection of any deep practice of critical thinking. And there’s nothing sweeter than when one endeavors to encapsulate perfectly the result of that process in language.
To be clear, however, writing and thinking are two very distinctive processes. Separately, they represent discipline and creativity. In harmony, these practices come to embody one of the most coveted skills of employers today.
I say discipline and creativity because in writing there are fundamental rules you must abide if you wish to make sense. Grammar and syntax are the road signs of any sentence, and sentences the roads themselves. If you want to transcend your readers beyond the inaudible markings of your pen to the psychic touchstones of your mind, you must write cogently and comprehensively. That is, you must acquire some knowledge of the rules, which can in no way be achieved without any degree of discipline. And, of course, you cannot break the rules without creativity.
Improving Your Writing Skills
Writing, since time immemorial, has demanded no lack of courage. To put into words what it is you may be thinking is one thing, but to share it is something else entirely.
So, of course, you’ll want to be at your best before you ever decide to share anything.
There are guides all over the internet that will tell you exactly which steps to follow and in which order to improve your writing skills, and although they can be very helpful, it is important to remember that the only rules about writing are the technical ones.
If you abide by those, then, well, nowhere in the world is it written that you must listen to anyone else about how you must go about writing. To put it paradoxically, abiding by the rules will set you free.
Reading to Improve your Writing?
Before the internet, developing writing skills was a much more localized process, one which often meant you had to said down and read.
Reading is the whetstone of any writer’s mind. This practice is tried-and-true, and almost every successful writer, whether it is Stephen King or a humble blogger, has idols who they revere and have learned from.
Some fiction writers even go as far to say that one must read an entire library before they endeavour to write a novel. True or not, the primary takeaway for you should be that reading is an invaluable exercise.
Another important takeaway is that if you’re going to be writing in a particular form, I.e., op-eds, fiction, copy writing, you should be acquainted with some of the existing literature. Writing takes courage, yes, but not blind-stupidity. If you want to blog, go read blog posts. If you want to write stories, go read some stories.
Neil Gaiman, in one of his inaugural speeches for writing, suggested that genre was a loose contract between the reader and the writer, so that when someone read your writing, they knew before doing so what to expect.
Each genre, each style, each form of writing carries with it its own set of conventions and things to pick up on. This practice, of watching and learning, is universally accepted. A football coach won’t sit his team down after a game and make them watch bowling; they’ll watch game footage and learn from it.
Finding the Time
There are no shortage of excuses when it comes to finding time for writing.
And, well, why not? We live in an age of distraction.
Philosopher John Locke had a clever way of avoiding distraction. When the clock struck 9:00pm, he would be rolled up in his blankets, like a mummy, to sleep. At 4:30am, someone would unravel him, then he would write the quiet hours of the morning away.
Locke’s devotion to writing was strong enough that he was able to dedicate some of the day for just that.
Setting aside that time is crucial if you want to really hone your writing skills. And if you’re able to do that, make sure to eliminate any other distractions. Whether it’s your phone, your friends, your cat, you finding the bottom of your coffee cup, make sure you do not bring anything with you into the process that might take you out.
There are so many nooks and crannies within the rules of writing that it can sometimes appear daunting. The simplest solution is to keep a grammar and punctuation guide tableside.
If you are embarrassed about using one, then consider for a moment the function of a calculator. Not a lot of people diagram their sentences anymore, just like how a very small amount of people do math by hand.
It’s completely acceptable, and you’re really stunting yourself by doing otherwise.
Furthermore, there is no better way to improve your writing skills than by simply writing. Write anything and everything. Write journals. Write memoirs. Write jokes. Write advice to yourself. Write daily reminders. Write your goals and your dreams. Write 100 words a day.
Improving Your Editing Skills
We all know that a first draft is usually our worst draft.
Editing is the chance to make your writing sound like what you initially intended for it to.
A first draft usually contains many errors that you won’t catch while initially writing it. This is probably because when you’re writing your first draft, you’re not as particular about detailing the more tedious aspects, like style, grammar and punctuation, or phrasing.
The goal of the first draft is to get your thoughts on the page. It is to be unapologetically forward, fearless, unflinching and ridiculous. It is to be without fear of showing it to someone else. It is a complete and total expunging of what is within.
Think of how a landscape painter begins with just a blank canvas. Then a horizon and foreground appear. Subtly, the more granular details materialize. A distant mountainscape becomes a range of distinct angles and shadows, trees become visible by the colour of the buds on their branches. Maybe a bird cuts an arch through the sky in a form no more discernible than the etchings of a pen.
Editing is much like this.
How to Edit
Editing can be a tricky job, but, like anything else in life, if done enough, it becomes second nature.
Essentially, when you edit you are looking for the things that you would typically miss in the writing of the first draft. And there are many things.
Here’s a quick list of thing things you need to look out for when you edit…
If that list scares you, don’t worry.
Think of editing like a grocery list. You’re not looking for everything all at once. You’re going through the list one by one. Go through your writing word by word, sentence by sentence, to pick up on these things.
And if you’re worried about how long it takes, remember that editing is truly what strengthens your writing skills.
After editing enough times, you will pick on these things as you write. You will condition your mind to sniff out errors with the exactitude of a bloodhound.
The Fruits of Your Labour
When someone praises you on how well you wrote something, it generally feels better if you have edited it.
Well, the first draft is almost the happenstance of mediated causality. Your brain made the right connections at the right time and this led you to produce a draft. Funny, that afterward, without reading it, you are almost never able to retrace the steps which led you to have such ideas in the first place.
Yes, if the human memory were more amenable, we might not need to edit as much.
Getting praise for the things we do is almost always a good enough reason to do it again. Be good to yourself and respect your craft.
It will make you a better writer and person.