How to Write Well

The skill of writing well is often pigeonholed in the same way as, for example, creativity or maths. We keep telling ourselves that some people are just born being good at maths or creative tasks or writing.

Well, here’s the thing: it turns out that we all can be creative, but some of us become more self-conscious or possibly a bit lazy as we grow older. Take one look at children playing: they happily spend hours turning sticks into rockets. They do not give up until they get the result they want. And all of you are good at maths to some extent: you may need to control your budget each month, negotiate prices, and measure things. Often we do not even realise that these skills involve maths – we just do it.

Similarly, an effective and well-written text will seem effortless, as if the person turned on a magic word tap. This simplicity is misleading though – think about an essay of yours that got you a good mark. Now, ask yourself how many re-drafts and edits this essay has gone through. So, while the end product may seem very polished, most of us start with a blank page, progress to a very messy first draft and take it from there. Writing is a process, and every stage involves hard work which pays off as long as you keep at it. 

In this article, we will give you some advice on how to improve your writing in general, while the future posts will tackle such topics as writing essays, CVs and job/grants applications.

Read lots and lots: read whatever comes your way. Read widely, whether it is fiction or non-fiction. Challenge yourself to read books you would not normally pick up in a booksho. How about poetry, a play or philosophical essay? To get a feel for how language works and what constitutes good writing you need to read a lot and read critically. If you like a piece of writing, focus on it a bit more. Analyse it. What works? What can you learn from it? Likewise, if you do not engage with a piece of text, take time to reflect on how you could improve it. Why not re-write it yourself?

Write every day: write to-do-lists, jot down ideas, short poems and diary entries. Whatever works for you – commit to a 10-minute daily writing habit and see where it takes you.

Ask for advice: never aim for a fully finished first draft. If you can ask for advice at an early stage of your writing to know if you are going in the right direction.

Redraft: make sure that whatever you have written is clear and makes sense. Is each point unique? Does your argument flow well? Normally, it is good to give yourself a couple of days away from your text and come back to it later. You will then see it with fresh eyes and will find it easier to spot mistakes and inconsistencies. And remember to be ruthless when you edit your text: get rid of the waffle!

Enjoy it: play with the language and sentence structure. If you feel stuck, why not turn one of your paragraphs into a haiku or a short story? That way you can uncover new layers in your thinking, as well as learn to be economical and more creative with your language. 

Use technology: there is a wide range of online tools that can help you develop your writing. Check this list out as most of the recommended tools are free and can make your writing life much easier.

Remember your readers: whether you write a blog for your friends and family or aim for publication, do not forget about the needs and expectations of your audience as that will determine what writing style you should go for.

For more writing inspiration, click on the links below and watch this space for Part 2 in which we will talk about writing great essays!

Read this:

Watch this:

Reflect: now that you have read this article, take a few minutes and jot down answers to the questions below. This will help you remember the most insightful points and put together an action plan that works for you:

  • What inspired you?
  • As a result, what do you want to do more of?
  • And what do you want to do less of?
  • What will you do next to achieve these goals?
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