50 Tips to Improve Your Writing

I’ve been writing professionally for 15 years now – web content, newspaper/magazine articles, blogs, film scripts, straplines, social updates, press releases, radio ads, keynote speeches, award entries, short stories, you name it.

Impressed? You needn’t be. Some of it was rubbish. Especially the film scripts.

Why take tips from a rubbish writer? Because everyone starts out rubbish and the more you write the more you’ll flirt with rubbishness. The trick is recognising and minimising it. Stick at it and before too long you’ll be considered half decent.

My Favourite Writing Tips

I’ve been given all sorts of tips over the years. Some stuck, others didn’t. Here are the ones I try to keep in mind when tackling a blank page. Most are personal peeves, some are conventional wisdom and a few are tips from successful writers which struck a chord.

Would you believe it came out as a round 50? In no particular order…

  1. Use active rather than passive voice, e.g. the active voice improved my writing vs. my writing was ruined by the passive voice.
  2. Avoid/restrict the use of adverbs – they’re really quite unnecessary
  3. Be concise and avoid padding. You’ll be surprised how many words you can strip out and still have a sentence that reads well and makes sense.
  4. Keep sentence structures simple.
  5. Experiment with structure so every sentence isn’t the same.
  6. ‘That’ can almost always be removed. Removing ‘that’ ensures your writing will be more fluid vs. removing ‘that’ ensures that your writing will be more fluid.
  7. Favour readability over perfect grammar. Know the rules then break them.
  8. Try to eliminate distraction when you write.
  9. Whichever voice you’re using, use plain English.
  10. Every writer is a reader first.
  11. Broaden your reading list. “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” – Haruki Murakami
  12. Develop your own style. It’s ok to steal a little.
  13. Always edit with fresh eyes.
  14. Have something to say. Don’t write for the sake of it.
  15. Enrich the reader and give them something valuable.
  16. Avoid repetition and redundancy.
  17. Do your research, but don’t let it stop you telling a good story.
  18. Hook the reader with the first line/paragraph. Make them care.
  19. Get to the point.
  20. Show don’t tell. “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” – Anton Chekhov
  21. Treat writing like a muscle. If you don’t exercise it regularly it’ll seize up.
  22. Keep a notebook handy for jotting down ideas – especially by your bed.
  23. The thesaurus is your friend, but don’t utilise a big word if you can use a smaller one.
  24. Double-spacing is for 19th century typesetters.
  25. Justified text is never justified online.
  26. Know the difference between they’re, there, their, your, you’re, it’s and its.
  27. Put apostrophes in the right place for possessive and plural possessive
  28. Use apostrophes to contract words – write like you speak and imagine you’re talking to a friend. Read what you’ve written out loud.
  29. Be stingy with capitals. Proper nouns only, unless you’re using title case.
  30. Always spellcheck. Make sure your dictionary is set to British English.
  31. Always ask someone to proofread your work.
  32. Love words and study language – listen to how people talk.
  33. Accept mediocrity. Not everything you write will be a masterpiece.
  34. Keep learning and share your knowledge.
  35. Be disciplined, but don’t force it. Write when you’re in the right frame of mind.
  36. Spend as much time editing as you do writing. “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” – Blaise Pascal
  37. Understand your audience and what they’ll find valuable.
  38. Make clear, bold statements – don’t dilute them with woolly language.
  39. Avoid jargon. Unless it’s what the reader expects.
  40. Use examples to illustrate key points.
  41. Use first-person narrative (I, we and you) to create a relationship with the reader.
  42. Don’t be afraid of criticism. Use it constructively…
  43. …but be prepared to fight your corner.
  44. Don’t wait for inspiration, go out and look for it.
  45. Use semicolons and Oxford commas very, very sparingly. Better yet, don’t bother with them.
  46. Get your first draft down as quickly as you can.
  47. Don’t be precious. Kill your darlings.
  48. Check your sources.
  49. Write what you most want to read.
  50. Don’t take writing guides too seriously.

I hope you find these tips useful in your own creative writing. If you have some writing tips to share or disagree with any of these, please leave a comment below.

Happy scribbling!