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Confessions of an English Tutor: 5 Simple Tips to Improve Your Writing

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Confessions of an English Tutor: 5 Simple Tips to Improve Your WritingI just want to say, I’m beyond thrilled to write another guest post for Livehacked. My last article covered the two writing errors everybody makes, which are fragments and run ons. For this article, I compiled a list of the top five simple tips and tricks I suggest to the students I worked with.

Note from Nick: I’m beyond thrilled to welcome back Jessica Ruane. Her last post here was extremely well-written and researched, and received many compliments. 

These suggestions can be utilized by any writer, at any level, from someone just learning how to write an essay, to a seasoned novelist composing a best seller. At first, some of these tips may sound rudimentary, and you may have even heard them before and written them off as “silly” or a waste of time. But, I can assure you, that even though this advice is basic, simple, and easy to do, it is still extremely effective and is guaranteed to improve your writing.

There is no hidden secret, or magical mystery to becoming a great writer. All you need is an unparalleled work ethic, rigid consistency, and bottomless willingness to keep going.

Here are the top five easiest, most effective ways to become a better writer.

1) Read Your Writing Out Loud

This is the single most valuable piece of advice, and I repeat it often. However, I have to tell on myself and say that for the longest time, I never did this. Every English teacher and writing coach I ever had would say to always read your writing out loud, and for years I ignored this wisdom and made my life a lot harder.

Many professional writers (including myself) turn their nose up at this suggestion because frankly, it sounds pretty rudimentary, and because reading something out loud to yourself as an adult just feels weird. But, I promise you once you get over the strangeness of it, you’ll see how useful it is. Your editing time will be cut in half, and you will no longer stare at your computer screen reading the same sentence over and over again trying to figure out if it “sounds funny.. You will be able to instantly hear what works and what doesn’t.

Usually a good rule of thumb is if you stumble over a sentence, or have to go back and reread something because it didn’t sound right the first time, that is a good indication  you should go back and revise.

2) Follow the Writing Process

All too often, seasoned writers and bloggers abandon the traditional writing process of brainstorm, draft, revise, edit, proofread. I’m guilty of this as well. Professional writers are usually working under tight deadlines, and it’s easy to feel like you just don’t have time for brainstorming, outlining, and drafts.

When I first switched from tutoring English to professional blogging, I saw why so many people throw the writing process out the window when they get an assignment. It sounds good in theory, but then when you have to write something you just panic and start frantically typing, praying that you have a perfect draft on the first run.

Recently, I forced myself to follow my own advice and adhere to the writing process. Just by brainstorming and outlining, I cut my writing time in half! Also, if you can help it, never write and edit in the same day. It’s hard enough as it is to edit your own writing, and you will be ten times more effective. Sometimes I go back and re-read a piece I wrote earlier in the week, and I’m shocked by what I missed the first time. Try to get your drafts done early so you can leave yourself some space between writing and editing.

3) Have Someone Else Read Your Writing

If possible, have another person besides yourself read the final draft. Another set of eyes will always see something you didn’t. This is especially true if your doing technical writing, or blogging about a complicated subject. Just because you can follow your train of thought doesn’t mean other people can. Your style of explanation may require clarification.

Unless your intended audience is other subject matter experts, it’s always best to ask someone with no experience with the topic to read your stuff and make sure it’s accessible. For example, if you’re writing a detailed article on Google’s Panda and Penguin algorithms, ask someone who has never even heard of them to read it. If they can understand your point, then your writing is nice and clear, but if they get lost in technical jargon, so will other people.

Making your work easy to understand and widely accessible will help you draw in a larger audience, and increase your overall appeal.

4) Read and Write as Much as You Can

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”

? Stephen King, On Writing

This is perhaps the truest and also most frustrating piece of advice for writers. I wish there were an easier, softer way to get better, but there’s not. Getting better means taking the long, hard road and working your tail off until it becomes ingrained in your soul. That may sound extreme, but it’s true. What you can commit to is different for everyone, but at the very least, you should try and write something everyday. Even if it’s just a freewrite, if you can manage to get something out on a regular basis, I promise you WILL see a difference in your writing.

5) Less Is Usually More

Long winded, verbose prose is simply not as much fun to read as it is to write. Hemingway is often hailed as the master of simple, effective writing. When he was a journalist at the Kansas City Star, he became a believer in these four tenets of journalism:

  1. Use short sentences
  2. Use short first paragraphs
  3. Use vigorous English
  4. Be positive, not negative

These four rules ring especially true in the industry of web copy. When I first started blogging, I quickly learned the that flowery prose I worked so hard to cultivate in college only did me a disservice when it came to writing press releases, blogs, and manage social media accounts. In the attention-challenged world of web copy, it’s all about being short, sweet, and clear.

Overall, you just gotta love the written word down to your bones and constantly expose yourself to it and practice it. These five simple tips are often told to us early on, then slowly forgotten as we grow older. Reworking some of these basic practices into your routine will pay off more than you might think!

Jessica Ruane is a former English tutor who currently blogs for Instant Checkmate. To read more articles written by Jessica, check the company out on Facebook.

  • http://twitter.com/jessicaburde Jessica Burde

    I definitely tend to get lazy on the writing process. Far too often I find myself behind schedule and throwing together a blog post the night before it’s supposed to go live. I finally have a buffer now, and I’m hoping to be able to keep to deep enough that I feel safe taking my time to outline and edit.

    On reading out loud – an alternative that I’ve found works well is text-to-speech software that will read your work back to you. I work in the library a lot and reading aloud isn’t always an option, but I can plug my headphones in and have my computer do the reading for me. Not as good as reading aloud, but still better than re-reading silently.

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      Hmm, great idea! I know Macs have a built-in voice processor that has some pseudo-realistic voices, but I hadn’t tried them to this extent yet!

    • Jessica Ruane

      Thanks Jessica!! I’ve always wanted to try text-to-speech software. Is there a specific program you would recommend? Thanks for your comment!

      • http://twitter.com/jessicaburde Jessica Burde

        I use the free version of NaturalReader – the voive isn’t very realistic, but it works well enough if you read along. I haven’t tried any others, so I don’t know which are actually good. You do need to watch out for readers that don’t let you edit while they read – Dragon NaturallySpeaking (which I love) has a built in text-to-speech reader, but if you edit the text at all, it stops the reader and it starts over from the beginning – not too big a problem for a one page article, but a real pain for editing a chapter.

  • http://twitter.com/DeloraDennis Delora Dennis

    Thank you for this very useful post.

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Delora!

    • Jessica Ruane

      Thanks Delora! They really work!

  • http://growwithstacy.com/ Stacy

    These tips are great, thank you. I’ve found it useful to read my writing on different devices. I find different errors when I read it on my laptop as I do when I read on my kindle because they’re different reading experiences.

    Giving space between writing and editing is also important, I’m always surprised at what I missed even after only a day’s break.

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      No problem, Stacy! Thanks for commenting and stopping by (again!).

    • Jessica Ruane

      Stacy, that’s a really good point about leaving space between the writing a editing process. Hopefully one day I’ll actually catch up on my work load and have enough time to do so! But I totally agree editing is so much easier when you don’t do it the same day you wrote something. Thanks for your comment!

  • http://twitter.com/michal_siwiec Michal Siwiec

    Very interesting post, especially the part about reading our work out loud. Have to try it some soon.

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      Thanks, Michal!

    • Jessica Ruane

      Michal, it sounds weird and simplistic, but once you try it, you’ll see how much easier the editing process is. Thanks for the comment!

  • http://www.facebook.com/photojennifer Jennifer Moss

    Great advice! Going to forward it to my writing group.

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      Awesome — let them know!

    • Jessica Ruane

      Jennifer, I’m glad you liked it! Hopefully your writing group will find these tips useful as well :)

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