I never considered myself a writer. I always told people that I’m not a writer, I’m a proofreader and editor, obsessed with correcting spelling, passive voice, and common grammatical errors (sometimes missing the more obscure ones; I’m not English-Major-Perfect) to improve pieces written by others. I edited most of the blog posts on this site. It has taken me a lot of practice and quite a bit of affirmation to start thinking of myself as a competent writer, and not just a proofreader who can also turn out a decent article when she has to.
If you find yourself in a position, as I have, where you, a self-professed non-writer, must create written content on a regular basis, I’ve got a few pointers for you. They won’t help you instantaneously switch on professional writing skills, because that’s not a thing, but they’ll help you practice your way to decent. Eventually, you’ll become good at it!
Nothing has helped me improve my writing more than reading. I grew up an angsty young escapist, reading lots of fiction. Through my many years of page consumption, I’ve internalized what I consider “generally correct modern English,” which I define as widely readable with no errors that are obvious to the average English reader with basic grammatical knowledge. I have come to realize that every lifelong reader already possesses a decent writer’s skill set, whether they are using it or not.
To write for a broad audience, you don’t want to sound too formal and rigid, but you can’t make common errors and expect to be taken seriously by intelligent readers.
So, read! Read anything you can get your eyes on, even if it’s not the kind of content you are supposed to be writing. Simply consuming well-written English on a regular basis will help you internalize the rules like I have. Read like an editor. Pay close attention to sentence structure, word usage, grammar and style.
Remember that some rules are more important than others. That’s just one of the infuriating blessings that offers such flexibility to the English language.
Whether it’s your own work or the work of others, proofreading is vital to understanding writing. Proofreading and editing helped me develop a flexible style and improve my own work.
When you improve the work of others, you are better able to revisit your own work with the same constructive mindset you enter when editing someone else’s writing.
Practice, practice, practice, practice. Practice.
I don’t believe practice makes perfect. I believe practice makes better, and that’s what matters.
Writing is too subjective to ever reach perfection, anyway. Embrace that. Make continual, small adjustments for incremental improvement. Add a phrase, delete a line, change a word. Write a paragraph five times over if you have to. Strive for a little bit better than good enough, and your work will be better than a considerable percentage of the content I’ve encountered on the Internet.
Next time, I’ll discuss some of the most common errors I encounter on an all-too-regular basis that really make my nose hairs bristle in an illustrated guide.