Writing is and will always be an art, but that does not mean there is no science in it. There is as much to be said about technique and form as there is about freedom and creativity in the writing process, and it is the balance between these elements that lead to high-quality prose.
Writers must keep in mind that the process is never exactly the same for everyone, but there are a handful of concepts that cut across personal differences when it comes to improving the quality of writing.
The distance between good writing and great writing is often both hard to measure and to cross, but these five tips can help any writer close the gap.
1. Read, Read, Read
There is no better way for a writer to make use of free time than to read. It really doesn’t matter if it’s a book, magazine, journal, catalog or the back of a cereal box: all provide new ideas, examples of style and methods of delivering information.
It is also a matter of not underestimating the abilities of the human brain. Memory is not the same as retention, especially when it comes to absorbing literature. Words have a way of lingering in the mind, even if they can’t be specifically recalled.
This “secret” accretion of knowledge can have a tremendous influence on a person’s writing that goes far beyond any conscious memory of the actual text.
2. Maintain Exemplary Research Standards
Wikipedia is the TV dinner of research sources. It is cheap and easily accessible, and while it may provide a modicum of sustenance, a steady diet of it only encourages bad habits and the acceptance of poor taste.
Good research makes for good writing by demonstrating superior articulation in its presentation as well as inevitably leading the researcher on a more enriching and revealing quest than what occurs when settling for the shotgun shortcut to Wikipedia.
Using vetted sources of information like journals, news sites and peer-reviewed research sites not only ensures the writer’s readers are getting the best writing, it also encourages writers to demand more of their own product, which is an important step in improvement.
3. Take Grammar Seriously
Typing with abandon with the hope and expectation that Microsoft Word or Google will make everything better is a perfect example of a “race to the bottom” in writing quality. Writers need to accept responsibility for the first line of defense in this, the most fundamental of areas.
This is not to say writers should turn off their spell checkers; it is only to say that technology should not be substituted for skill and talent. Writers should take the time to learn foundational lessons in grammar and take steps to make improvements.
It may be a cliché, but it is nonetheless true: good grammar is an essential building block of good writing, and just studying the mechanics of the language can provide insight into how to better use it.
4. Beware of Technology
Technology can be a writer’s worst enemy, and the problem goes far beyond spell check or the deadening effects of Wikipedia addiction. The Internet provides a wealth of creative and technical information that can, if used without limit, render original thought a foregone conclusion.
Writers can avoid this by “unplugging” and letting ideas generate unaided by the Internet. Original, unique ideas are hard enough to hatch without battling against the influence of literally trillions of other thoughts, all of them crafted in their own style and voice.
Inspiration is a good thing and the Internet is a peerless source for it; however, writers should keep in mind that it’s often much harder to break a mold when trapped inside it.
5. Experiment and Learn
Writing is a profession wherein the practitioner never perfects his or her art. There is no summit to be reached and even bestselling authors know that there is always more to learn. This is in part because a writer never stops growing in life experience and talent, but also because the market and tastes evolve, creating a very fluid environment.
This means there will always be opportunities for writers to learn more and cultivate their skills and styles, whether the lesson comes in the form of experimenting with different styles or from another source.
Writing workshops or classes that target specific styles or genres can help expose a writer to new ideas, as can attending readings and joining clubs or groups that put writers in contact with one another so they may share ideas.
Following these tips will not always be easy, but if given a chance they can provide many opportunities for better writing.
Author Bio: This article is by James Madeiros, Staff Writer for Criminal Justice Degree Schools, a site providing information on criminal justice careers and earning an online paralegal degree.