If you look up “writing tips” or “writing advice”, you’ll find that most of the content you discover is directed toward aspiring authors and passionate writers. But what if you’re not one of those people? What if you’re completely new to the world of writing or actually know you aren’t good at it but have to write for your job?
This post is geared toward the non-writers who want to learn how to write better and actually enjoy the process.
Whether you desire to write novels like F. Scott Fitzgerald or just want to produce a decent cover letter, writing is a skill that far too people undervalue. Even if the most creative thing you’ve ever done was write something in a Hallmark birthday card, you’re going to come across plenty of experiences in your life when you have to write — and write well — in order to achieve a desired result.
College admission letters, cover letters, and emails are just a few examples of everyday writing. And with the web becoming the preferred medium of communication for a lot of businesses, content writing is now a highly marketable skill to learn if you want to stand out.
So how can you get better at writing if you aren’t a writer? Here are my four best tips and some resources to help you out.
Break it Down
Instead of thinking that you have to write a viral blog post or bestseller, deconstruct writing into some key elements that will always have to be addressed whether you’re writing 500 words or 50,000. These are:
- Subject: Know what you’re writing about
- Purpose: Clearly understand why you’re writing it and what you hope to achieve, e.g. are you writing a blog post to get someone to subscribe to a newsletter or are you writing a short story to entertain?
- Structure: How is it going to be presented and how does this impact the way you write?
- Grammar: Good grammar doesn’t make bad writing good, but it does make good writing great. Learn the basic rules of grammar for writers as well as the most common grammar mistakes people make in their everyday lives. Check out Hubspot’s article “30 Common Grammar Mistakes We All Need to Stop Making”
Read What You Have to Write
Reading makes you a better writer; reading stimulates the imagination, makes you a more critical thinker, expands your vocabulary, and so much more. But for non-writers, the key isn’t to read a lot of anything and hope for the best. Instead, start to read the types of material that you have to write.
If you are going to be writing blog posts, read blog posts from sites that are in your field. If you have to write a cover letter, ask your friends to see theirs and look up some online to get a feel for the general structure people follow.
As you do this, you’ll feel more comfortable with writing and also learn to develop your own style. By reading and analyzing new content, you’ll start to identify qualities you love and want to emulate in your own work as well as things you’d never want to do and will avoid.
Want to add to your summer reading list (or just start one altogether)? Bustle put together a great list of “9 Books that Will Make You a Better Writer Just by Reading Them”.
Don’t Try to Sound like a Writer
One of the biggest writing mistakes non-writers make is trying to sound like a writer. They lose their individuality as they attempt to adopt eloquent prose and descriptions that just don’t sound authentic. It’s great if you enjoy writing and can weave beautiful narrations and breathe life into scenes with words, but writing doesn’t rely solely on beauty.
Writing is a form of communication. Whether it’s a novel or a newspaper article, writing is meant to convey a message.
The best way to get that message across is to write for people, not for the sake of writing. You aren’t writing words for the words; you’re writing words for the people who will read them.
Write like you speak. Your choice of vocabulary will change depending on your audience and structure (remember those key elements we talked about earlier?), but you should always write in a way that most effectively communicates a desired message.
A great way to get better at this is to speak aloud while you type. This may not always be possible, and when it’s not, copy and paste your writing into a text-to-speech tool like TTSReader and listen to what you’ve written read back to you. Does it sound natural?
Another common mistake writers make (especially new writers and non-writers) is not seeking out constructive criticism. No one likes to have their work taken apart, but feedback allows you to identify weaknesses or holes in your writing that you never would have noticed on your own.
Ask a friend to read what you’ve written. If they’re a writer, make sure that they offer constructive feedback and not just a rundown of how they would have written it. If they’re a non-writer, that can actually be even better because their response will let you know how well your piece does its job (this is why having a writing purpose matters so much).
If you’re a college student, most universities have writing centers on-campus and online. Here, you can ask questions, gain valuable writing and grammar knowledge, and get helpful feedback that shapes your writing into the most effective piece possible.
Don’t Forget to Have Fun
Writing might not be your niche, but it can still be fun. Don’t limit your writing to work emails and essays; you’ll learn the most from the moments you’re relaxed and enjoying yourself. Sit down one weekend afternoon and write something completely random and spend the next afternoon editing it.
Creating and polishing the piece from start to finish won’t feel like work if you’re writing about something you care about; it can be anything from a funny Justice League fanfic to hash out your feelings about Superman’s downfall or a long, heartfelt letter to your future self.
To become a better writer, follow this rule: For everything I have to write, I’ll write something I want to write.
Do you have any good writing tips for non-writers to share? Leave them in the comments below!