Students often ask me how they can become better writers. Many would like to write more effectively, and writing essays is their toughest and most dreaded academic assignment. I tell them they can become better writers (we all can) but the “how” is filled with both the good and tough truth. The tough truth: the main way to become a stronger writer is to write more. The good news: the positive effects of spending time writing are cumulative, and skills continue to improve with increased efforts.
Here are a few specific, tangible ways for students to improve their writing skills:
Writing everyday. Many writers begin their day with three pages of freewriting. Even ten minutes daily will make a difference, whether it’s journaling, jotting down interesting observations or making a little bit of progress on an essay. Writing consistently will lessen the sense of dread around the activity, while making it more familial and habitual.
Read, read and read. The only thing that impacts a person’s writing more than writing is reading. I encourage students to read what they love and across genres (contemporary fiction, narrative non-fiction, classics, journalism) as it will help them learn a lot of what they need to know, from narrative structure to what makes a compelling sentence, not to mention grammar.
Proofreading manually, and not relying on spellcheck. I advise students to print out a copy of their work and do a thorough line edit on paper, because spellcheck can’t catch the difference between “no” and “know” among other things. I also suggest that they read their work aloud when they are close to a final draft, to catch anything their eyes may have missed.
Getting a copy of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. This book is the main resource of writers and those who teach writing, mainly because of its simple and elegant approach to the writing process. All those grammar rules you sort of know, but aren’t 100% sure about are outlined here, along with great editorial advice on how to write clear, concise prose.