How to Be a Better Writer
Read well. Read good prose by good writers, and read carefully,
looking not only for information, but for logic, structure, interesting
turns of phrase, and anything else that makes the writing work. Read a
variety of things, including British, American, and even Australian authors;
read The New Yorker and Harper's; read the NY Times
editorial page and compare the styles of the better columnists. Read literature,
philosophy, and poetry; read good scientific writers and non-fiction writers;
read The NY Review of Books and The Times Literary Supplement.
Enjoy reading good writing, even in popular genres, but balance it with
enough challenging material.
Write well. Use correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling as well
as good style even in trivial communications. Don't be more formal than
the context requires (or you will sound like a snob), but even a note to
a friend can contain a carefully phrased, interesting sentence. Revise
what you write, no matter how well the first draft came out. Every piece
of writing can be improved, and good editing techniques require practice.
Extend your range by trying to write things you have never written before.
Write a poem, a satire, a letter to the editor, or a play; use different
tones and kinds of argument; change your approach to routine writing tasks.
Review your work. Have people read your writing so you can find
out what works and what doesn't—Emily Dickinson worked under a great handicap
by hiding all those poems in the attic. Read it out loud, either to yourself
or to someone else, so you can hear the rhythm and sonority of your writing.
Re-read grammar and style reference books, look up words in a dictionary,
own and use Fowler's usage manual. Become your own best and worst critic,
so that you know what needs work while remaining encouraged.
Get out of the house a little. Go to poetry readings, art exhibits,
plays, nature talks. Travel to distant countries and neighboring cities;
read the guidebooks; go on a walking tour. Walk the beach; enjoy a good
view or a good meal; think about things. You don’t have to shoot your television,
but watch wisely and sparingly. Avoid routines, except for routines you
find especially rewarding, like writing every day or cooking lasagna every
two weeks. Widen your interests; try new things; meet new people. Allow
yourself both stimulation and repose—writers need equal measures of action
and reflection. Make time and space in your life for writing, and live