By now, you’ve probably heard that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at anything.
There’s some debate as to the truth of the 10,000-hour rule, but there is definitely truth to the notion that nobody’s born a master at the craft of writing. It takes time, energy, and practice to become a truly proficient and professional writer.
Personally, I think 10,000 hours sounds about right, although some people will become experts at 7,500 hours (those lucky talents!) and others might need to put in 15,000 hours before they’ve mastered the art of writing. It doesn’t really matter how much time it takes — if you want to become a pro, you’ll invest the time necessary to constantly and consistently improve your skills and produce better writing.
Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take toward producing better writing, and maybe these steps will help you become an expert just a little bit quicker.
How to Consistently Produce Better Writing
- Read. Listening to audiobooks and surfing around the internet do not count as reading. Don’t get me wrong — audiobooks are wonderful. I love them! But you won’t pick up spelling and grammar skills while listening to audiobooks. That doesn’t mean you should avoid them. You can learn many things about writing while listening to audiobooks. But don’t confuse listening with reading. They are different. So curl up with a well written novel, brush up on your nonfiction reading, flip through some poetry collections. Reading is the single best way to naturally acquire writing skills.
- Write every day. My music teacher said it’s better to practice for fifteen minutes every day than to practice for five hours once a week. I think the same is true for writing. Even if you can only dedicate a few minutes to writing every day, it will become an ingrained habit. Writing will become an integral part of your life.
- Brush up on grammar and style. It’s rare for a piece of writing to be so amazing that readers are willing to ignore bad grammar. Many writers are lazy in this area because learning grammar is a lot of work, and it’s academic work rather than creative work. The good news is that once you learn the rules, they will be with you forever. Make sure you know which style guides are pertinent to your chosen field of writing and make sure you include them in your collection of writing resources.
- Cultivate creativity. Have fun with your writing. Fill it with color or scale it back to a minimalist style. Try new words and off-the-wall images. Creative writing keeps readers interested!
- Collect tools and resources. Find out which writing tools work best for you. Some of us like notebooks or note cards and fancy pens. Others need nothing more than a computer or electronic tablet. Make sure you have a nice stockpile of writing resources, from blog and magazine subscriptions (on the craft of writing) to books and mentors you can call on when you’re faced with writing-related questions.
- Conduct thoughtful research. If you work in the nonfiction arena, make sure you’ve got your facts straight. Even in fiction, there has to be some alignment with reality for a story to be believable. Resources are abundant. Use them (and be sure to check their credentials).
- Develop a process. Find a writing process that works for you. What steps do you need to complete to tackle a writing project? Maybe you need to start with an outline, or perhaps you do better when you dive right in. You could have one process for fiction and another for nonfiction. Know yourself and know your process, whatever it might be.
- Proofread, edit, and revise. It’s blatantly obvious when a piece of writing has not been properly proofread. Typos, grammatical errors, and other crimes against language will assault anyone who attempts to read your work. So fix it.
- Share your work and invite feedback. One of the quickest ways to improve your writing is through feedback. Get a real, live, well-read person to review your work. Embrace the feedback, even if it hurts, and then put it to work for you by ironing out all the wrinkles that your friendly reader found. Return the favor: when you edit or critique another writer’s work, you’ll see a piece of writing from the editor’s angle as well as the reader’s. This will give you a better perspective on your own work.
- Make writing a priority. It will be almost impossible to succeed if writing isn’t high on your list of priorities and commitments. If writing is last on your daily to-do list, maybe it’s not something you’re all that serious about.
- Experiment with different forms. Every fiction writer can learn a thing or two from reading and writing a little poetry and vice versa. Nobody’s asking you to start rooting for a different team; just dip your toes in different waters so you know you’re swimming in the right body of water.
- Set goals and pursue them. Make a conscious commitment to strive for better writing every day.
Better Writing is at Your Fingertips
Using these tips, you can improve your writing, and you can start right now. Set aside twenty minutes a day to tackle the action items on this list and you’ll quickly become a more skilled writer.
What do you to improve your writing? Do you have any tips or ideas to help others produce better writing? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing.