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Be a better writer

Why read this? : We look at different ways to be a better writer. Learn the ideas, habits and routines great writers use to sharpen their writing skills. Plus, we dive into editing and share some of our favourite books about writing. Read this for ideas on how to be a better writer.

Be a better writer

How this guide raises your game :-

  1. Learn key tips on how to be a better writer.
  2. Explore useful habits and routines to tackle the challenges of writing.
  3. The role of editing and reading in helping you be a better writer.

Learning how to be a better writer is an ongoing process. This guide explores different ideas on how to improve your business writing. To make it sharper. Easier to read. And to give it more oomph.

We also look at useful habits and routines to help get you into a better groove with your writing.

And finally, we also cover the key skills of editing and reading like a writer and how these improve your writing’s quality and impact. 

Young woman sitting cross legged on a couch reading a book in front of some bookshelves

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Be a better writer - where do you start?

Anyone can write. But it takes time, effort and patience to get good at it. Great writers are persuasive and influential. That’s where the value of business writing comes in. It helps you persuade customers to buy into your brand’s purpose and values. It influences them to do things, like buying your brand. 

No one starts as a great writer. It’s a skill you learn. And even if you’re just editing or giving feedback on someone else’s writing, you should understand the key principles of what makes writing great.

There are many great books about writing to learn from. Plenty of advice about what makes writing great. We’ve picked out 7 of our favourite ideas to sharpen your writing skills.

7 key ideas to help you be a better writer

We chose these as they’re easy to action and greatly improve your impact. Use these to make your writing sharper and more likely to engage readers.

1. Define the goal

You should always start writing with a clear goal in mind.

Know why you’re writing, whether it’s writing advertising copy, blogging or sales copy.

You write for a reason. That reason is usually to make your target audience think, feel or do something differently. It’s why you write, and why it matters.

7 key ideas to be a better writer.

The clearer your goal, the easier it is to write clearly.

A clear goal focuses your writing. It stops you from wandering off on tangents and helps eliminate unneeded words when you edit. It makes sure your words focus on delivering a result for your business.

Your writing goal is usually to move customers through a journey. In marketing terms, it’s to drive trustawareness, consideration, trial or loyalty. 

But what you write to move customers through each step will differ. Customers have different expectations at different steps. You tailor your writing to what the customer needs at each specific step. 

The brand choice funnel - trust - aware - consider - trial - loyalty - repeat purchase

Writing and brand choice goals

For example, awareness-building writing has to grab attention. It should be concise. Immediate. Think advertising headlines and short social media posts.

But to drive consideration, your writing has to hold interest for longer. It should be more informative. Tell a more engaging story. Think articles and blog posts. 

Trial-driving writing focuses on sales copy. The right mix of factual and emotional writing to persuade customers to buy. Think product pages and sales promotions. 

If you don’t know the impact you want, your writing will sound waffly and confusing. Customers won’t know what you want them to do, because you don’t know what you want them to do. So, you can be a better writer simply by defining why you’re writing. Define your writing goal.

2. Plan how you’ll write

Once you know the why, the next step is to plan how you’ll write. Plan your writing process.

For example, when will you write? What steps will you go through? How long will it take?

For each piece of writing, you need time to research the topic and the audience, for example. To do keyword research to see what’s relevant and popular. 

You’ll also need to block out time to write your draft. Plus, allow time for rewrites and editing. Published writing usually goes through several editing rounds, which adds time. 

Person holding calendar with 9 days crossed out with the letter x

Regular writing means getting into a habit or routine. For example, specific times of day, or days of the week when your writing flows better. Specific locations where you like to write. Maybe a dedicated quiet place where you can write undisturbed? Or a bustling coffee shop where you can absorb the atmosphere? You have to find when and where works best for you.

The more prepared you are, the more effective you are when it’s time to write. Stick to your plan. Remember the adage, failing to plan, means planning to fail.

3. Research the audience and topic

The next step to being a better writer is research. You gather information about the topic and the target audience. The more you know, the easier your writing will flow. 

Writers usually do lots of secondary research, especially keyword research. If there’s a brief for the writing task, you review any research which comes with it. 

Your writing is better when you write with a specific person in mind. Ideally, for business writing, there’s a customer segment persona to help bring the target to life.

Plus, you also need to understand the topic you’re writing about. What key points must you make? What will make your writing stand out from other writing on that topic? Your writing should sound credible and well thought-out. 

Customer Experience Personal Template Blank.001

You also have to understand customer needs. You need clear insights into their expectations. Are they looking for information, for example? If so, you want that information to be easy to find. Your writing has to be very clear. Very direct. Or are they looking for entertainment? More of a story to see if they like your brand, rather than a specific fact? That writing style differs from fact-driven writing. 

Your research should also show you what else they may have already read about the topic. For example, check which articles come top on search for that topic. Your writing has to offer something different or better than those, or customers won’t read what you write. Your research helps you be relevant and original.

4. Plan what you’ll write

It’s usually worth writing an outline of the key points you want to make before you start writing. These help you organise your story and often become section headlines later. Landing your points in the right order makes your reading flow better. 

This outline also makes sure you cover the essentials of the topic. It helps make sure you don’t miss anything. You can also use it to help cut unneeded content as you edit. 

An outline also helps you break down a big topic into smaller chunks. This is more readable than writing long passages without a break. (See also our design psychology article for more on chunking). 

man in a blue T-shirt looking at the ceiling

5. Beginning, end and middle

Your outline plan also helps you figure out the best structure for your writing. If it’s a story you’re telling, most stories come in 3 clear sections. Start, middle and end. 

The start is the most important. If you don’t hook readers early, they’ll never read the rest of your stuff. Spend the most time making sure your introduction is clear and compelling. Set out the problem or need you’ll be writing about.

The next most important is the end. That should cover your call to action, so it’s clear what you expect the customer to do next. A good ending usually shows the change in the “hero” of the story (the customer) from where they were at the start. It’s where they’ve found the answer to their problem or need. 

Lastly (in terms of writing order) is the middle. It should cover the key story points, which get the reader from the problem at the start to the solution at the end. 

6. Be concise

Great writing is concise. It expresses big ideas in a small number of words. As you get to be a better writer, you learn to choose your words carefully. Every word should be there for a reason. 

Most beginner writers overwrite. Long words where shorter words would do. Long, rambling sentences, where the reader forgets the initial point of the sentence by the time they reach the end of it. No varying the sentence length to make it easier to read. No short sentences after a long one to give the reader a break. Don’t be that type of writer.  

The reader is reading your writing for a reason. The sooner you get to that reason, the happier they’ll be. Don’t be long-winded. Make sure in the edit that you cut all unneeded words. Here are some ideas on how to do that. 

Earn $1 per word you cut

One great bit of advice we heard, is to imagine you earn a dollar for every word you cut during the edit.

Focuses the mind, right?

You aim to say the most, with the least number of words. It’s great motivation, even when editing feels like a challenge. 

You should see cutting words as a positive. It means the words you don’t cut are stronger. Clearer. They say exactly what you need them to say. Nothing more. You pan for writing gold and look for only the most valuable nuggets. 

Person holding 6 hundred dollar bills in front of them which have been set alight

Use the active voice

Another conciseness tip is to use active voice as your default. The order of the sentence in the active voice goes subject-verb-object. The subject is the focus of the sentence and comes first. The subject does (verb) something to the object. (See our books about writing article for more on this). 

That’s an easier order to read than the passive voice. With the passive voice, the order is object-verb-subject. The object is the focus of the sentence. Something is done to the object in the passive sentence. It’s the ‘victim’ of an action. 

Passive sentences can be spotted when you see a variation of the verb “to be” and a past participle. So, for example, the sentence you just read is passive. “Passive sentences” are the object, which can “be” spotted. A more active version would start, “You can spot passive sentences when you see …”. This uses fewer words and shortens “spotted” to “spot”. 

It might not sound much. But over an article, it can cut your word count by around 10%. You make the same points with fewer words. You’re more concise with the active voice. It also sounds better to the audience. More direct. More assertive. Easier to read.

You can throw in an occasional passive sentence for effect. To focus attention on the object, for example. But this should be deliberately done. Make active voice your default, and passive only by exception. 

Adverbs

Adverbs describe verbs. They describe how something is done. But if you want to be more concise, they’re often something you can leave out, unless they change the meaning of the verb.

For example, consider the difference between, “She smiled.” and, “She smiled happily.”

Happily doesn’t add much to the sentence, does it? It’s usually safe to assume someone smiling is happy. If you leave the adverb out, the reader still gets the meaning. 

But, what if instead, the sentence was “She smiled unhappily.”?

See how the adverb now changes the meaning. It adds an unexpected twist, a surprise emotion to what you normally think a smile implies. That adverb adds value because it changes the meaning of the verb, rather than just amplifying it.

Use gerunds with care

Gerunds are where you make verbs into nouns by adding -ing to them. For example, “understanding” is the gerund from the verb “to understand”. But this makes the word longer. It’s harder for the reader to process. Try to avoid gerunds where you can, and stick to verbs. 

For example, here’s a different version of a sentence we wrote between our first and second drafts of this article. 

1st draft : When you’re working on building your skills as a writer, you find yourself reading other writers differently.

2nd draft : When you build your skills as a writer, you find you read other writers differently.

In the first draft, you have 3 different “-ings”. Working, building and reading.  But working isn’t needed and can be cut. And the other two read better as verbs, than as gerunds. Using (!) verbs shortens the sentence. 

There’s no blanket rule against using gerunds. But, when you use them a lot, it makes your writing less readable. So, only use them deliberately and by exception.  

7. Be conversational

For the reader, great writing feels like you’re having a great conversation with the author. That through their writing, they’re talking directly with you. 

So use the techniques you use in talking to people in your writing to make it more conversational. 

For example, use “you” in your sentences a lot. Ask open questions, so the reader can pause and think. Write about things you know the reader will find interesting. Read the writing out loud, and listen to how it sounds. Imagine the reader on the other end of that listening. Make your writing sound like a good conversation with an old friend.

Two people sitting at a table with coffee cups in front of them having a conversation

Habits and routines

These 7 ideas are all great ways to be a better writer. But great writing doesn’t happen overnight. It takes practice. It takes habits and routines to keep getting better at writing. 

These build from the initial plan of how you’ll write from earlier. They’re more specific tips about when and where you write. Getting into good habits helps you maintain your energy and enthusiasm for writing. You need these because writing regularly isn’t easy. Good habits help you overcome the many challenges you face when you’re a writer.

When you write

Try to make the time you write a regular part of your schedule. Set yourself a target to write (or edit) a certain amount of words every day, or every week. Once you get used to the idea of this regular “writing time”, you’ll find it easier to write at those times. 

It’s like doing exercise, but the exercise is your writing skills. You’ll find it easier to start, be more productive when you write, and help keep your energy levels high. 

Set writing times also help you make sure you don’t overdo it. You also need to factor in rest times to let your writing “muscles” recover. 

Close-up of a clock face showing dial sitting between ten and twelve

Where you write

Think also about where you write. For example, you need good internet access to do research. You need somewhere you can work without interruptions when you write and edit. And if you like to read your writing out loud to see how it sounds, you’ll get some funny looks in your local coffee shop.

In short, you need a writing place where you can focus on your writing. 

Also, think about the technology in this writing place.  

Do you just work from a laptop, or do you have a separate screen and keyboard, for example? 

Do you turn off alerts and notifications on your phone when you write? You don’t want to keep getting disturbed.

Going to this writing place and making sure others know you’re writing when you’re there is a good habit to get into. It helps you get into your writing zone.

Just write

One particular writing challenge is when you get ‘writer’s block’. You stare at the screen and literally no words come into your head. No words at all. 

It happens to every writer at some point. It’s usually when you’re trying too hard to find the ‘perfect’ piece of writing. Your brain makes you afraid of writing something you know isn’t quite right. 

There’s no guaranteed way to get around this mental block. But there are many options you can try to just start writing.

Getting around writer’s block

First, remember writer’s block isn’t the end of the world. It’s rarely permanent. The best way to get past it is usually to divert your attention away from it. 

Change your environment, for example. Move away from your writing place and go somewhere else. Go outside. Go for a walk. Being outdoors shifts your brain’s patterns. Your thoughts go elsewhere, and when you come back to write, you often find the block’s gone.

Or go do something else that isn’t writing. Make a coffee. Put the washing on. When you ask your brain to do something else, the thing it was stuck on (writing) often becomes unstuck because you’re not directly thinking about it. 

Coffee mug with the word begin sitting on a wooden table with blurred chairs in the background

Use the Zeigarnik effect

The Zeigarnik effect is named after Soviet psychologist, Bluma Zeigarnik. Watching the waiters in a cafe, she noticed they could easily remember orders without writing them down. But once the customers had finished, paid and left, they couldn’t remember the orders so clearly. 

It was like they had an active memory for “open” tasks. This “closed” when the task was complete. A bit like having an open file on your computer, but in your brain. You pay more attention to open tasks, and often your subconscious brain will continue to think about them, even when you consciously walk away from the task.  

You can use this to jump-start your writing.

Let’s say you have to write a 1,500-word article tomorrow. Sketch out an outline and the first 100 words at the end of today. You’ll find when you start it tomorrow it’ll be easier to get going. Your brain will have had ideas and thoughts in the background, and you’ll find it easier to write. (See our thoughts about thinking article for more on the Zeigarnik effect). 

Set writing targets for yourself

Another way to become a better writer is to set yourself writing targets. For example, a target to write something every day. That might only be an idea, a social post, or a paragraph for a future blog article. But just write something. 

And when you have a dedicated blocked-out writing session, use targets to keep yourself going. No coffee until I’ve written 500 words. No lunch until 1,000 words. And the laptop stays on until I’ve reviewed the last paragraph. 

The more you write, the more you build a bank of things you’ve written. And if and when you get stuck, you can go to this bank of writing to help inspire you. To help you get unstuck. 

Archery target with arrows in bullseye to symbolise marketing targeting

The amount of business writing you need to produce depends on your business’s context. But if you need to write regularly, set yourself targets and track and measure them.

How often do you need to update your blog, for example? Most bloggers aim for about once a week. What about your website content, how often do you need to update that? You should set yourself a schedule to review website content say every 3 months to check it’s still up-to-date. 

Track ideas and progress

Keep these extra ideas and bits of writing in a notebook or notebook app. You can use this for inspiration, and to track what you write. 

Not all your ideas appear when in your writing “zone”. You need somewhere to hold ideas which appear when you’re not in front of your laptop.

Keep a note of ideas you thought were good, but discarded when editing. They might not fit that topic, but you often find a use for them elsewhere. 

Take notes on other people’s writing that you like. Note down why it works and what you can learn from it. 

A row of people sitting in the audience taking writing notes into their notebooks

Don’t copy, obviously. But take what works, and make that work for you, in your writing style.

To keep yourself motivated and confident, it also helps to track how much you write and the impact it has. So for example, if you write to update your website, track :-

  • the topics you cover.
  • your overall and average word count.
  • your use of keywords.
  • how well you do on readability.
  • how long people spend on each page. 

Trying to improve your writing “measures” is a good way to be a better writer.

Manage your physical and mental energy levels

Writing can take a lot out of you. You may not be physically active when you write, but you use up a lot of mental energy.

Then getting feedback on your writing can also leave you feeling drained. Plus, you’ve got the stress and pressure of writing well enough to deliver on your business goals. 

With all these challenges, you must look after your physical and mental well-being.

Take regular breaks. Eat healthily. Stay hydrated. Make sure you have other things to do which don’t involve writing. Make sure you let the writing part of your brain recharge.

Reach out to other writers via online groups and forums. You’ll find writers all face similar challenges. It helps you realise it’s not just you who finds writing hard work. 

Woman in exercise gear sitting cross legged on a yoga mat and twisting to one side

If you know other people who write, reach out to them or join online groups and forums. You’ll find writers all face similar challenges and it can be useful and motivating to know you’re not the only one facing the challenges of writing.

Editing

Next up on the journey to being a better writer is editing. 

If you read your first draft and think what a pile of crap it is, then don’t panic. 

Every writer faces that. Writer Anne Lamott in her book Bird by Bird famously calls these shitty first drafts. 

So, that’s why you edit. And then re-write. And then edit again. Over and over until the writing is good. It takes time, and effort to craft a great piece of writing. But going back again and again to edit is how you get there.

Our editing process always has at least 3 rounds. Each editing round focuses on a different area. 

White box with text - write without fear. Edit without mercy. Box is behind an out of focus cactus plant.

First review

The first review looks for obvious and embarrassing mistakes. Bad spelling and grammar errors, for example. When you meant to say assess, for example, but accidentally omitted the final ‘s’. (this has happened to us). 

Your word processing software should highlight obvious mistakes, but won’t pick up everything. 

In particular, words which look similar at a glance, but have different meanings. Identity and identify, as an example we often struggle to spot. 

This review should also check areas like spacing between words and sentences if writing online content. You should be consistent in how you do these. You should also check all the links work. That they take the reader to the right place. 

This review is about checking the writing makes sense. That there are no unfinished sentences or paragraphs. That happens more than you’d think.

Second review

The next review is about crafting the writing so it’s tighter. You make it more concise. 

You swap long words for short ones. Break up long sentences and paragraphs. You use all the tactics we covered earlier to make the writing concise. Using the active voice, getting rid of adverbs and cutting (!) unneeded gerunds. 

You can use online tools like Yoast as per our SEO writing guide to do some of these checks. It helps highlight whether you’re writing is readable or not. 

This review is about making your writing simpler. 

Third review

The first 2 reviews might be enough for short content like social media, or if you’re pushed for time. But if you do have time to park your writing, and come back to it at a later date, do so. It can be very beneficial to improving your writing. 

Reading and improving something you’ve written with a fresh perspective is a big part of what helps you be a better writer. You read your old stuff like a reader, not the writer of it. 

This fresh view helps you assess the work more objectively. You can more clearly see the structure and the ideas you were trying to convey. You get a better feel for how the writing flows, and whether it all makes sense. 

Coming to it fresh makes it easier to be ruthless in the edit. Cut everything which isn’t necessary. If you’re unsure, cut it anyway. Only include what you’re absolutely sure needs to be included.

Re-edit stuff previous work

It can be helpful to go back to published work (especially blogs and website content) and review it every 3 to 6 months. You often spot areas you can tighten. Spelling mistakes you didn’t spot. A sneaky passive voice you could change to active. There are often little things you can do to improve the writing. To cut that unneeded adverb. To make that word easier to understand. All of which help you to be a better writer. 

Reading makes you a better writer

Finally, you should also include reading as part of your plan to be a better writer. Reading is how you put yourself in the audience’s shoes.

But there’s another dimension to reading when you’re a writer. You don’t just read to be informed or entertained. When you read as a writer, it’s not just to enjoy the reading. Or be entertained or educated. It’s also to help you learn how to be a better writer.

Read about writing

In particular, you should read about writing. 

Young Girl reading book

There are plenty of online resources like Copyblogger, The Content Marketing Institute and Reedsy, for example. 

Plus, there are many books about how to write. Some of our favourites include :-

Telling Lies for Fun and Profit

Telling Lies for Fun and Profit* by Lawrence Bock was first published in 1981. It has some real gems of wisdom about the art of writing. Just ignore the outdated references to typewriters, and visiting the library for research.

On Writing Well

The classic On Writing Well* by William Zinser dates back to 1976. And if you can get past the curmudgeonly style, it’s also worth a read for its tips on how to be a better writer. Plus, it gave us the excuse to use the unneeded adverb curmudgeonly.

On Writing

Finally, if you’re looking for a book from this century, Stephen King’s memoir On Writing* from 2010, is also a clear and insightful read about writing. It’s worth a read just to know even Stephen King had to put up with many rejections and negative comments before finding success as a writer.

(See also our lessons from books about writing article for more tips on what to read).

Read like a writer

When you start to build your skills as a writer, you find you start to read other writers differently.

You’re more likely to look at their writing style and technique. You spot the types of things we covered earlier. The passive voice. Unnecessary adverbs. Complex words and long sentences you want to simplify or cut. 

You realise you’re reading like a writer. And that’s a good thing. It’s part of what helps you be a better writer.

When you see good writing technique, think about how you can make it work for you. Question why something’s written the way it was. Could you have written it in a better way? That’s how good writers think when they read. That’s how they learn to improve their own writing.

Young woman sitting cross legged on a couch reading a book in front of some bookshelves

Read widely

Our final piece of advice to be a better writer is also to read widely. It’s helpful to look at what your competitors write but look at other categories too. What can you learn to make your own writing better?

Read different genres. Look at different tones of voice. Listen to different opinions. Seek out new ideas to boost your writing skills. There are always more ideas out there you can bring into your writing. For everything you read, think about how you can use it to be a better writer.

Conclusion - Be a better writer

Great writing helps you connect with your target audience. It “talks” to your customers when you’re not there. It helps them solve their needs, and move through the customer journey. 

But great writing doesn’t come easy. It takes time, effort and a lot of dedication to get good at it. So keep at it. It’s worth the time and effort to get it right. That’s what being a better writer is all about. 

*As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

Three-Brains and Business Writing

We have a lot of experience and expertise in blogs and business writing. From creating and commissioning writing to editing and refining it to deliver on marketing and e-Commerce objectives. Get in touch to learn how our coaching and consulting services can help you raise your business writing game. 

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