Actively learning how to get better at writing daily will greatly benefit your writing style and craft. Set aside as little as half an hour per day to add something new to your writing toolkit. Here are 10 easy tasks you can set yourself:
- Memorize five new synonyms
- Copy a paragraph by a great stylist from memory
- Read a good grammar and punctuation guide
- Rewrite a scene from a favorite movie or TV show
- Review feedback on your writing
- Practice condensing overwrought sentences
- Structure your writing better
- Write an entry in your journal
- Rewrite a scene three ways
- Do something worth writing about
Here is why each of the above tasks can help you become a better writer (you don’t have to do each task every day: Aim for at least one or two):
1. Memorize five new synonyms
If you want to become a great writer, the broader your vocabulary, the better. It’s important to remember, however, that just because you know six-syllable words, you don’t have to use them in every sentence. Yet synonyms – words that have the same or similar meanings to each other (but often subtly different connotations or associations) – are a crucial part of your writer’s toolkit.
Adding synonyms to your vocabulary is like a painter adding new hues to their palette. You could write in primary colours, but sometimes a precise shade is exactly what you need to bring everything together.
Look up five synonyms for a word and memorize them. Google their etymology (origins). The Latin and other roots of words often contain connotations or subtle meanings that have carried over into current English. For example, a synonym for ‘disappear’ is ‘vanish’. Vanish is derived from Middle English which in turn is derived from the Latin word evanescere which means ‘to die away’. This morbid connotation makes the word ‘vanish’ excellent for describing an ominous disappearance such as a kidnapping or other unsettling disappearance, since possible death is implicit in the word at the root. Disappear, by contrast, comes from the Latin apparere (via Old French), and this meant to ‘appear, come in sight, make an appearance’. By comparing, you can see that vanish carries a stronger, more complete (and irretrievable) sense of no longer being in sight than the word disappear.
2. Copy a paragraph by a great stylist from memory
‘The style in writing can be defined as the way a writer writes and it is the technique which an individual author uses in his writing. It varies from author to author and depends upon one’s syntax, word choice, and tone.’
Great stylists are writers who please us with good syntax, effective word choice and appealing tone. Their writing has satisfying rhythm, emotional connection and clarity. To get better at writing every day, copy a paragraph from an esteemed writer. For example, you might copy this paragraph by Nobel-winning short story author Alice Munro:
My mother’s dress was not homemade. It was her best, too elegant for church and too festive for a funeral, and so hardly ever worn. It was made of black velvet, with sleeves to the elbows, and a high neckline. The wonderful thing about it was a proliferation of tiny beads, gold and silver and various colors, sewn all over the bodice and catching the light, changing whenever she moved or only breathed.
Munro’s paragraph is worth copying for many reasons: The beautiful description of the dress, the way Munro varies sentence length and the way the protagonist’s private impressions are shown and contrasted with how her mother’s dress appears to others publicly. It is complex and rich.
Simply copying out a paragraph word for word will help you see the inner workings of sentence structure and description closer.
3. Read a good grammar and punctuation guide
No discussion of how to get better at writing would be complete without grammar and punctuation. The nuts and bolts of language are what hold your story together.
Commit to read a section of a grammar and punctuation guide per day. You can find a good grammar guide at Capital Community College’s website here.
For example, on the ‘adjectives’ page there is a description of adjectival clauses. These are parts of sentences where a group of words that contains a subject and a verb acts as an adjective. The example the guide gives is ‘My sister, who is much older than I am, is an engineer’. The ‘who is much older than I am’ is an adjectival clause. When you read an example such as this, practice writing several of your own to really internalize this particular part of speech.
4. Rewrite a scene from a favorite movie or TV show
TV shows and movies are translated into something living and breathing from a script. You can improve your writing by doing the reverse: Attempting to capture the essence of a scene from a movie or series in writing. For example, if you were to rewrite the opening scene of the classic movie Cinema Paradiso:
‘The elderly woman sits knitting when the telephone rings. She hesitates, puts the knitting down carefully on her chair and, turning away from the window that looks out onto the sea, goes downstairs to answer. She doesn’t notice the ball of wool still in her pocket. Unseen, the wool dances around the needles upstairs, unraveling with her every movement.’
Whenever a scene strikes you with its originality, beauty or drama, rewrite it and attempt to capture what makes it memorable in words.
5. Review feedback on your writing
If you belong to a writing group and regularly receive feedback, keep all the constructive instances somewhere for reference. Copy and paste into a master document and read over it from time to time to note recurring patterns. If you repeatedly receive feedback that your characters feel one-dimensional, for example, work actively on making your characters more real.
If possible, get feedback on a new extract of your writing every week. Joining an online writing group will ensure that you have access to constructive feedback whenever you need.
6. Practice condensing overwrought sentences
Good writing is economical: It seldom says in 10 words what it could say in 4. The exception is when you are intentionally writing a character who is wordy themselves.
Learn how to get better at writing by rewriting any clumsy sentence you come across (either your own or another writer’s) using as few words as possible. For example, the previous sentence could be rewritten ‘Improve your writing by rewriting clumsy sentences (whether your own or others’) concisely.’
Saying things more concisely allows readers to process your writing seamlessly, improving your sentences’ flow.
7. Structure your writing better
David K. William in an article on how to improve your writing, gives this advice:
‘Varying sentence length, types and structures helps you avoid monotony and allows you to provide emphasis where appropriate. Use short sentences to emphasize an idea and create a punch. Use longer sentences to define, illustrate or explain ideas…Keep in mind that writing is more than just meaning—it’s also about sounds and can be about visual appearance on paper or screen as well.’
When you do your daily writing practice, experiment with writing in all short sentences, all long sentences or alternating both. Practice rewriting paragraphs with alternate structure, breaking them up into smaller or longer units. This will help you fine-tune your writing.
8. Write an entry in your journal
If you don’t journal daily already, start. Journalling improves writing skills and offers many benefits:
- Writing about your life as it happens lets you process and get in touch with complex emotions and thoughts
- You learn more about what matters in a story by seeing what you put in your journal versus what you leave out – what subjects and experiences do you mostly find worth recording?
- You record and can recollect interesting stories and experiences from daily life that can be used as inspiration for your own fiction
Besides being useful from a creative standpoint, keeping a journal exercises your ability to recount events meaningfully and purposefully – it’s essentially a way to stay in storytelling mode actively.
9. Rewrite a scene three ways
Have you ever written a story from one point of view only to realize that the story would make more sense if it were told by a secondary character? There are many ways to tell a story. To improve your writing, practice telling the same story multiple ways. Rewriting as a creative exercise gives you particular insight into ways you can improve your writing as well as your current story.
When you have a scene and you want to make it more dramatic or interesting, rewrite it three ways. Try changing the POV, whether you write it in first or third person, the setting or substitute some of the synonyms you’ve discovered for your current verbs. You don’t have to rewrite every scene but do this from time to time to see whether an OK scene could become a gem with a few changes.
10. Do something worth writing about
Some writing is mediocre not because the author lacks writing skill but lacks experience in the places or experiences they are writing about. If you are finding your writing stale or are struggling to come up with interesting turns of plot, plan activities that are out of your normal routine. Join an evening class in your city on an interesting subject, attend public lectures, or go travelling on an adventure if you can. Write down everything that strikes you as interesting. Learning how to write better is sometimes a matter of learning how to live bolder.
Join Now Novel and get tools and coaching to tell your best story.