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10 Ways To Improve Your Writing Skills Today

One skill that most people need in business is writing. Entrepreneurs working on their own will find themselves writing emails, proposals, blog posts, social media posts, on a regular basis. This is why developing your writing skills as an entrepreneur is essential. In this post, I’ll share my top 10 ways to improve your writing skills.

Write Every Day

When it comes down to how to improve your writing skills it can be hard to know where to get started. The best way to refine any skill is to practice it. With writing, you should be practicing daily. Chances are, you already are as you are replying to emails and sharing social media updates. If not, then you need to start.

Your daily practice can include writing that is shared with others like blog posts, social media posts, and comments on articles. Or it can include writing that is for yourself only, like Morning Pages, a three-page handwritten stream of consciousness done every morning to reduce stress and anxiety.

If you can’t muster up the enthusiasm for writing about your business, that’s ok. Write about other things that you are passionate about (although hopefully, you are passionate about your business too). Write articles on a personal blog about your favorite hobby. Write social media posts in groups about a particular interest. Write comments on entertainment and technology blogs that you visit for fun.

As you write more, you will find one of two things. You will find that the more you write, the easier it gets or you will find that the more you write, the more you need to polish your writing skills. If the latter is the case, definitely try the following.

Write Something People Want or Need to Read

If your writing falls into the realms of something people want to read or something people need to read, then you will have a successful piece of writing. Better yet, you will be more motivated to write in the first place because you will know that someone out there will consume your writing.

Here’s a handy guide to determining if your writing is what people want or need to read.

For example, let’s say you’re working on a blog post. How do you figure out if it is something people will want or need to read? You can use tools like Impactana to help. Start by signing up for an account and searching for the topic of your blog post. Then click on the Impact rating next to blog posts similar to the ones you were thinking about writing.

The number of views will show you if people actually cared enough to view the content. This tool will also show you things like number of backlinks (for SEO value) and number of social shares so you can further determine the popularity of your topic.

Alternatively, you can just do a Google search for your topic, click on the top articles, and see what kind of engagement they get in the way of social shares (usually shown next to social buttons on a blog post) and comments they receive. You can also use Q&A networks like Quora and Yahoo Answers to see what people ask about often related to your topic.

Note that some topics might fall into the “need to read” category, but not necessarily be popular, or terribly interesting for that matter. Take insurance. No one gets excited about reading or sharing articles about insurance with their friends.

But if you’re thinking about buying your first house, you’ll want to do some research into different types of home insurance. If you have a friend who is buying their first house, you might share articles you find with them.

Keep it Simple

KISS stands for Keep It Simple Silly. When it comes to writing, the simpler you make it, the better. Make your point and move on. You shouldn’t be focused on word count as much as you are focused on whether your reader will be able to get what you are saying and take value from it.

Write First, Edit Later

There is nothing that can stall a good writing session like obsessing about spelling, grammar, order, outcome, and anything else besides the process of writing itself. Focus on getting your thoughts out on paper or in your document first. Edit once you are finished.

If you have trouble doing this, then try dictation software. Dragon software will allow you to say whatever is on your mind and write it out for you. You will have to do some editing work after, especially until you get used to verbally adding in punctuation and new paragraphs. But ultimately, it can help you write faster.

Once you are finished writing…

Use a Professional Online Editor

Most text editors and word processors like Microsoft Word or your browser have a built-in proofing tool that helps to correct basic spelling and grammar. But the problem with these built-in tools is that they miss a lot of mistakes and teach you little about the mistakes you are making.

Grammarly and Hemingway are the best alternatives to hiring a professional editor for your writing. They are online editors that can help you improve your writing by identifying specific writing errors, letting you know why they are errors, and helping you correct them.

Grammarly’s premium version allows you choose from a variety of settings based on the type of document you are writing.

Additional benefits of using Grammarly include the following.

  • You can save your documents in Grammarly as to refer to the fully edited versions later down the road.
  • You can install the browser extension and get Grammarly editing advice in different applications (like Gmail and Facebook).

While you can save documents in Grammarly, I’d suggest writing in a different word processor (like Microsoft Word or Google Docs) and copying / pasting your text to Grammarly and back to your word processor. That way, you always have your document, whether or not you choose to maintain your Grammarly account.

Hemingway, on the other hand, is a free tool that offers similar advice, but in a more simplistic manner.

You can’t save your documents in this editor or use it in other browser applications. But you can toggle between write and edit mode so you can focus on writing, then focus on editing.

Read What You Write Out Loud

Even after you have done a full online editing of your writing, you should give it a final test by actually reading your writing out loud. There are some things that might be grammatically correct, but unnatural otherwise. If any portion of your writing is difficult to say out loud, then it might need to be rewritten for better clarity.

Alternatively, you can have someone else read your writing out loud to you. Being the recipient of your own writing could help you further improve it.

Follow Those Who Write for Your Target Audience

To get the best writing examples to study, look for writing done by those who write for your target audience. Subscribe to your competitor’s blog posts and email newsletter. Read the sales letters and landing pages on their website. Follow their social media posts. See if they published their investment pitch deck on Slideshare.

When reviewing your competitor’s writing style, ask yourself a few questions.

  • Is the writing formal or casual?
  • Is the writing serious or funny?
  • Is the writing verbose or succinct?
  • Is the writing first, second, or third person oriented?
  • Is the writing text heavy or light?

Be sure to analyze the writing of multiple competitors or others with the same target audience. That way you don’t model yourself after the one misfit in your niche or industry.

Create Templates

Templates are the answer to writing efficiency in business. Whenever you find yourself writing a similar document repeatedly, creating a template for that document will save you time (and frustration if you are not particularly fond of writing).

Email templates are going to be a huge timesaver for most entrepreneurs. Each time you find yourself looking back through your email archives to copy an email you sent to one person and paste it to send to another, that email content should become a template.

When using templates, pay attention to personalization fields throughout the template so you don’t address someone by another name or reference something from a different intended recipient. While templates can be great productivity boosters, they can also lead to some embarrassing blunders as well. Use them carefully!

Do Some Testing

If you liked science in school, then you will love A/B testing. When it comes to writing, there are lots of different things you can test. Start by defining your goal for a particular piece of writing. Here are some common goals for common types of writing in business.

  • The goal of your proposal will likely be to get funding for your startup.
  • The goal of your outreach email will likely be to get a blogger to write about your startup.
  • The goal of your blog post will likely be to get lots of social shares.
  • The goal of your sales page will likely be to get more sales.

Once you have defined your goals, you can start doing some testing with your writing to see what versions of your writing produce the most conversions, or goal completions. Start by changing the areas that are going to make a first impression in your writing: headlines, subject lines, bolded headers, and calls to action.

Change one element at a time so you can compare the results. For example, you can send 50 emails with one subject line and 50 emails with another subject line to determine which email received the best response. Once you know which one works, you can move on to testing different portions of the email content itself. Eventually, you will have an email that is scientifically proven to get the most conversions.

For A/B testing in direct email correspondence, you will need CRM tools like Salesforce. For your website, Optimizely, VWO, and Nelio are a few tools that will measure the results of your A/B testing so that you can quickly identify the best writing on your landing pages to accomplish your goals.

For email newsletters, several email marketing services offer A/B testing options for headlines and other aspects of your email content. These include GetResponse, MailChimp, and ActiveCampaign.

Don’t let the cost of investing in tools stop you from testing your writing. You can always go with good old paper and pen analysis to get good results.

Study the Art of Writing

If you are truly interested in improving your writing skills, take some time to study the art of writing itself. You can focus on business writing or expand your mind into the creative side of things. You will find lots of great books on writing on Amazon. If you prefer to learn while you commute, you will also find some great books on writing on Audible. You can even take a free course on High-Impact Business Writing from the University of California via Coursera.

In Conclusion

When it comes to writing, there is always room for improvement. Even if all you do after reading this post is invest in the professional online editor, you will have made a great investment in the future of your business through better writing.

Why I Built A Microscope Instead of Writing My Book

True story: I recently made a microscope out of an old computer charger box, the lens from of a CDROM drive, and a bunch of tape.

I may have also cannibalized an LED from the front of my bike (no night riding for me anytime soon). The whole thing took me a weekend, and when I was done, I could take digital photos of plant cells with my smartphone.

If you’re wondering whether I’m MacGuyver, the answer is yes. I am MacGuyver.

I have a novel hanging over my head, one I recently declared I would finish by the end of the summer.

When I shared this with my family, I got something of a mixed response. Universally, they agreed it was cool, but then universally they wanted to know why I was spending my days off making a microscope when I could be writing. In other words, why was I wasting time on these little projects of mine rather than tackling the much larger project of finishing my writing? Wouldn’t a weekend spent writing do much more toward knocking that out of the way than a weekend spent harvesting lens parts and fashioning cardboard harnesses for my phone?

Fashioning a microscope with cardboard and old Mac parts.

They’re right, up to a point. I have a novel hanging over my head, one I recently declared I would finish by the end of the summer. With this mental stone sitting heavy in the middle of my calendar, spending a whole weekend designing, cutting up pieces of charger box, testing an instrument with no guarantees of it working on the other side amounted to an act of pretty hardcore procrastination.

It works! Sand detail through my homemade microscope.

Being called out on this sucks, to be sure. In a culture that values productivity more than creativity, results more than process, being called a procrastinator is tantamount to being called lazy.

But here’s the thing: Not all procrastination is made equal.

There exists that special breed of procrastination that actually helps get our creative juices moving. For me, it’s working on weird craft assignments where I build scientific equipment out of e-waste. At least one person I know makes origami cranes when a deadline looms at work. My partner cleans the house when she has to start any big project (she’s writing a dissertation now; our apartment absolutely sparkles).

These are the useful acts of procrastination — the creative procrastination — in which the stress of trying to exist in a product-oriented, perfection-oriented culture transduces into the need to make a physical product. Yeah, we have forms of procrastination that are totally useless.

Yeah, we have forms of procrastination that are totally useless.

No, it is not the most useful expenditure of time to spend an afternoon obsessively checking social media or reading reviews of last week’s Game of Thrones finale on the internet (both of which I have done while writing this post). Indeed, that video of a cat slowly pushing a drawer closed after getting caught stealing food is the funniest thing ever posted to the web, but it will not get your project off the ground.

All of these amount to a kind of passivity in the face of a big workload, but when we respond to the pressure to produce, to perfect, to imagine ideas bigger than we know we can handle by creating physical objects, what we’re doing is using the physical world to shape our mental space into a creative space.

Our creative projects so often fail because the end seems so far away, the process so messy and imperfect, that the easier pleasures of passive procrastination seem better and more readily attained. This is the value of creative procrastination: it gives us a way to push back against the mental pressures of creativity and to sublimate stress, fear, doubt — all the negative emotions that can orbit around creative projects, threatening to fall in and crush our brilliant ideas — into a physical medium that proves to us we can make a project.

This is the value of creative procrastination: it gives us a way to push back against the mental pressures of creativity and to sublimate stress, fear, and doubt.

That’s not passivity. It’s not exactly productivity, either, but it amounts to a kind of active putting off of work that deserves to be seen as a valuable part of any creative workflow. When I finished making my microscope, I had opened up a world of new sights and creatures to myself. I had also proven to myself that I could finish a big project. When I started writing at the end of the weekend, I did so with a creatively charged mind and a will to get through the toughest writing problems.

Minnow Egg Detail.

I sincerely hope, then, that the next time you have a project coming due and decide to spend an afternoon gardening beforehand, you don’t chastise yourself for wasting time. Congratulate yourself for knowing your process well enough to incorporate productive procrastination into it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to finish a chapter. Time to look up how to build a telescope.

10 Fast Ways to Become a Better Writer

“Writing doesn’t just communicate ideas; it generates them. If you’re bad at writing and don’t like to do it, you’ll miss out on most of the ideas writing would have generated.”

— Paul Graham

The sun’s been down for hours and you are alone with a warm drink next to your laptop. You’re burning the midnight oil again in the back room, building your online business, and you know you need to put another post up on your blog, but you’re just not sure what, exactly, to write about.

The struggle of building your business and hustling on the side is that you don’t always have the time and luxury to write whenever you want, and while the idea of editors, proofreading, and revising your essays sounds great-you need to write something and write it now.

For people working a full-time job during the day, juggling families, and responding to other demands, having ample time to fill notebooks, draft, and re-write sounds like a pipe dream.

How can you quickly improve your writing?

What tools are there beyond grammar and spellchecker to make sure you’re doing your best work? In the world of online and email communication, writing powerful copy makes all the difference.

Sometimes we need tactical, specific, and immediately useful tips to make our writing better. Most writing tips, for me, always seem to feel good — and then I struggle with the actual writing and re-writing. How do you transform the writing tips of Stephen King, Stephen Pressfield, Seth Godin, and Ray Bradbury (amazing storytellers, all) into actionable outcomes?

Here are 10 of my favorite strategies that help when you’re self-editing, scrambling to make ends meet, and holding both a beer and a coffee in your hands while trying to write-and want to do your best work.

1. Start with a story.

Begin your piece with a fable that illustrates your point and shows the reader what it is that you’re talking about. Develop a scene and a scenario where people can nod their heads and say, yes, I see, that happens to me. I can picture myself doing that.

Despite how useful facts and lists are, stories are what resonate. We’re pulled into the grip of a helicopter crash, and most of us can’t look away when we see bright lights or hear loud noises. It’s the pull of the story and the unknown that captures our attention. Stories are memorable, and we can tell and re-tell them; they are, in fact, how we wire information into our brains.

Great writers on the web today hook readers in with stories, creating fictional (or narrative non-fictional) scenes with detail, specificity, and color.

Here are two great examples:

DANIELLE LAPORTE, ON MANAGING & LOVING MONEY:

“No one ever taught me how to manage money. My folks were young and working, Catholic High School didn’t give me any tips, and I skipped college. So that left me and my Visa card, which mysteriously showed up in the mail on my nineteenth birthday. I promptly went shopping that weekend. And the next weekend.”

If you look closely, the post is actually about a book launch, but the first paragraph isn’t about the book, the author, or the call-to-action at the end of the post. It’s a relatable, tangible story that outlines the problem all to common to many people: the problem of managing money, and the story of what happened when she got her first free credit card.

And a second example:

Caleb Wojcik, on The Metrics You Should Measure:

“You know the rush. A guest post you’ve written goes live on a huge site, you finally launch the product you’ve been working on for months, or an older article of yours gets Gizmodo’d. You watch your traffic spike and you can’t peel yourself away from the analytics for the whole day.

‘Look at all those visitors!’ you yell to your significant other as they feign interest.”

This post is about what you measure when you’re evaluating your blog, website, traffic, or product. The introductory story, however, is about that feeling you get when you see a post of yours go live, hit the charts, or make the rounds in Twitter-and the way your significant other may or may not be involved in your online business.

You can also use this strategically in personal emails. For example, rather than jumping to the question you’re dying to ask, you can start out with a quick story (or set the scene for where you are). This situates the reader (on the other end, perhaps in some place far different than where you are) within the framework of your life. Like Instagram but with words, you can give a little snippet of your life through language:

For example, change typical emails that begin:

“Hey Ryan, how are you? Hope you’re well.”

To a quick setting of the scene-showing where you are and what’s in your life:

“Hey Ryan,The other day, I was walking through the streets of San Francisco and grumbling about the never-ending fog. I realized that the city was like a refrigerator. Now that I’m in New York, I miss the air-conditioning and I also miss many of my friends like you dearly. It reminded me to email you and say hello. I hope you’re well.”

In both blog posts and in emails, using stories helps you illustrate your point and takes general advice and makes it something the reader can see and feel.

2. Start with a question.

Much of life, and blog posts, are paradoxes, not answers. Starting with the answer first can be terrifying (and worse, inaccurate or incomplete).

We revisit the same ideas over and over again not because we’ve conclusively decided, but because each topic is worth thousands of conversations. We need the reminders, we meditate on the ideas, and we each have our own flavor and take on the issue. In a recent New York Times Opinion piece about the suffering in Syria, the author opens the essay with a question that haunts human philosophy:

Does the torrent of suffering ever abate — and can one possibly find any point in suffering?”

You don’t need to answer the question to write a great story or essay. Begin with a question, and add your thoughts.

3. Play with the use of first, second, and third person narrative.

First person is filled with “I” statements — great when you know the author, or you have a relationship with the person doing the writing. Second person uses “you” all the time — and can be a wonderful tool for creating empathy and describing a scene that you want the reader to inhabit — but can become bossy quickly with excessive use. Third person focuses on the scene or the action from an anonymous observer within the room.

Most of the time, we don’t actually care about the writer. Your reader wants to know exactly how the writing affects him or her-and whether or not the reading is going to matter to them specifically Right from the start, you should paint a picture of the person or scene and show the action happening.

While first-person can be a tremendous tool as a writer, many bloggers (myself included) are often far too liberal in writing our experiences. Luckily, there’s a quick way to fix this: write the post you would normally write, and then edit selectively to remove the “I” from a couple of paragraphs.

Take a paragraph that looks like this, for example:

“I was tired and hungry from a long day and the rain was beating down on my bike helmet. I didn’t want to work anymore-I was completely exhausted and ready to hit the hay. But I knew how important it was to continue to get this project out the door-it was my first real project as an entrepreneur, and delivering it mattered.”

And turn it into this (reducing the use of I statements-but still narrative):

“The rain beat down on my bike helmet. It was a long and tiring day. Sometimes it feels better to hit the bed instead of continuing to work-but I wanted to impress my newest client. Getting projects out the door on time is critical for first-time entrepreneurs. It was important to deliver, and deliver well.”

You’ll know when removing the first person is great when the paragraph stands on its own without the use of the first person narrative.

Take this post by Chase Reeves on “How Much You Should Be In Your Business?” — the opening sentence is focused on the reader (the second person). For the sake of contrast, I’ll rewrite the opener in two different ways as a point of comparison.

Original (Second Person): “You’re here because you want to create a business that supports you. You want to build something that earns and affords you the life you aim for.”

First Person: “The more important thing to my business is creating something that supports me-something that affords me the life I want and creates earnings I can live off of.”

Third Person: “It’s clear why building a business is critical — it’s a form of support. It’s a source of earnings and creates a desirable lifestyle.”

To me, the original (second person) option is the most powerful-it connects with the reader, has them nodding yes, that’s my vision, and sets the parameters for the post. The first person version makes me wonder why I care about their business, and the third person feels dry and impersonal.

If you’ve written something and you know the content is good-but it’s not resonating in the way that you want-try re-writing it from a different point of view. That might be the trick to creating the snappy writing you want.

4. Talk it through.

Start with the communication vehicle you’re most comfortable with. Most people get stuck writing because they haven’t done it enough. They haven’t sat at the computer and made writing a habit, and each time they do eventually get to the screen, they agonize over each word choice and sentence until they’ve beaten the poor essay to death, 500 words and 2 bottles of wine later, declaring, “I’ll never write again, no, not me!”

If you’re stuck on writing, chat with a friend and use voice recorder, or stomp around your office or hallway and talk things out. Much of great conversation and thinking is done while moving-why should we sit and expect the great ideas to pour out of us once we’ve relegated our bodies to stillness? Start talking, start recording, and go for a walk. Many a mile I’ve walked with an earphone in my ear and a voice recorder on, pretending to talk to someone else while I’m actually just talking to myself.

5. Write the outcome you want first-by beginning with the ending.

Start with the ending, and the desired action. Sometimes the posts I write are creative, lyrical, poetic, and exploratory-that’s fine. Other times, I want something, and I want something specific. Perhaps it’s a donation to charity water, or a sign-up to my latest writing workshop. Each time, I think carefully and specifically about the person who will be reading the essay, and the end of the piece, and what action I want them to take.

Step one: write the desired outcome. Before writing your post, write the action or outcome that you want people to do. How do you want them to take action?

For example, a desired outcome might be getting people to sign up and enroll for One Month’s Content Marketing class. So, I begin by writing this outcome down:

Ryan goes to the website, reads my post, and nods. Yes, he’s working through all these problems I’m articulating. He really wants something to help him with building his audience and online business. Why does he click on the opt-in at the end? Something is really compelling — he clicks because he feels like the author completely understands the frustrations he’s having. He feels like his issue has been heard. So, here’s what I’ll write at the end: Want to get better at building your audience and writing content that actually gets shared? Sign up for One Month Content Marketing.

Step two: Outline the puzzle pieces (usually I use post it notes across my desk) that create a story framework that will lead to this desired outcome:

  • Start with a story-introduction that elucidates the situation or pain point;
  • Add in background information and expert details;
  • Create the framework for a solution to the problem with suggested steps;
  • End with a call to action and final solution (your recommended solution).

6. Write about things you know.

Write about things that seem incredibly obvious to you (and that you’re perhaps overlooking). Describe how you do things, and how you sort your day. Pay attention to the questions people ask you at conferences, in email, and during dinner conversations for clues to what people want to know. Surprisingly, people are incredibly different and what you do may be novel to someone else.

7. Be incredibly specific.

Clichés and abstract thinking are painful to read and prevalent across every type of writing. The solution to clichés is to get incredibly specific-start detailing the scene and describe who is doing what, where you are, and what is happening. Examples are more powerful than anecdotes.

For example:

“It was grueling, and I was exhausted. I’d never worked so hard in my life.”

Can be turned into something much more specific, with details about who, what, where, when, and why:

“My arms were quivering and shaking; in retrospect, doing a 26-mile run the day before writing my launch essay was probably not the best strategy. I could barely keep my fingers above my keyboard.”

8. After you’ve written your essay, go back and delete the first and the last paragraph.

After you’ve written your post or essay, go back and delete the first and last paragraph. The body usually contains the most of the “meat” of the post, and many writers amble on too long in the introductions and conclusions. Try deleting it and shortening it to make it sweet and punchy.

9. Mimic great writers you like.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. If you’re stuck, use Evernote to copy and trace patterns that you like. I like to save out great essays and drafts from my favorite writers, print them, and then highlight them to study how people write effectively. Behind the words that you enjoy the most are patterns and clues to great writing.

For example:

  • Email headings: Pay attention to what you click on in emails-what were the five emails you opened first today? What did the headlines say? Jot those down. Circle words that felt great. Were they long or short? What made you want to click? Take one you like and flip it around to become something that works for your business, idea, or model.
  • Start with a bang. Use powerful ledes. Not sure what a lede is? (It’s the bullet or grab at the beginning of a story, made clear in the first paragraph) — skim 5 opening paragraphs of the New York Times with a highlighter and see what you like about each one. Convert it to your own style.
  • End with a boom. Wrap up the writing with a punchy statement, a leading question, or a call to action. If you’ve deleted your first and last paragraphs, perhaps there was one sticky statement you wanted to keep-perhaps distilling that into one sentence will do the trick.

10. Write less and link more.

Find examples and point to them. It’s perfectly okay to not reinvent the wheel — it can be equally valuable to curate great content or showcase your process of discovery if it’s lead you to a great outcome or conclusion.

Here are three relevant articles on how to be a better writer:

In todays’ world of digital and fractured communication, writing is more essential than almost any other skill-when you get better at writing, you get better at everything.

Writing isn’t just a tool for communication — it’s a tool for creative generation and unlocking what’s within your mind. It’s a tool for discovery, search, synthesis and re-wiring. Writing regularly is not just a means to create content, but is itself a tool to generate ideas and crystalize ideas. Whenever you can, use a notebook, use Evernote, google docs, or another system to capture your ideas and practice collecting (and imagining) ideas.

The more you write, the easier it gets, just like any other habit.

When I first began writing, it could take me 6 to 8 hours to write a short post. Today, I can start and finish a post in under an hour if I’ve been thinking about it during the week. Writing has gotten easier to do because I keep it up as a habit. I use writing and sketching regularly as a means to generate ideas. My notes become stories, my stories become paragraphs, my thinking wanders over the page, and then I pour content into the computer.

But when you’re pressed for time-or you’re stuck in the here and now of needing to write a post, having someone to tell you that “practice” and “consistency” are the best tools to get better at writing doesn’t help you with the post that you’ve got to find a way to write — right now.