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How to become a better writer in 16 steps

Tired of being a starving artist? Discover 15 simple ways on how to be a better writer and develop the skills you’ve always dreamed of.

Ed Latimore
Ed Latimore
Writer, retired boxer, self-improvement enthusiast

In the era of making money online, so many people want to know how to become a better writer.

Here are 16 tips I know that will help you create better written content creator. I’ve used them to increase sales and improve my writing program and book marketing.

You probably didn’t learn any of these in school, but school isn’t in the business of teaching you how to:

Or do any of the things that writing today on the internet demands. At best, you learned grammar and structure. However, just learning those things and hoping they’ll make you write well is like learning how to punch and hoping that it makes you a good fighter.

Follow the simple tips below and you’ll be well on your way to writing so well you’ll be able to get paid for your words.

1) Have something to say

Ed latimore books signing<figcaption>Ed latimore books signing</figcaption>

Good writers create content to either entertain or teach. Great ones manage to do both. It’s easy to do this when you have something valuable to say.

I don’t want to merely be good. I want to say things in a way that makes people think about things differently and change the world while doing so.

This is why I started a blog. Each day, I invest the time to get better and build a writing career so that everything you read by me feels like it was written by a professional.

My official purpose for writing is “To take what I’ve learned the hard way and break it down so that you can learn it the easy way”. If I can do this with a little bit of humor–or at the very last, engagement–then I’ve accomplished something great. If you look at the articles on my site, you can see this is reflected in my writing style, word choice, and content.

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing about”

-Benjamin Franklin

Achieving this goal drives 100% of my blogging decisions.

My secondary purpose is to spread my message as far and as wide as possible. I’ve had to learn networking, marketing, and SEO. I have a mix of e-books to promote myself on social media and books I’ve self-published on Amazon because Amazon is a massive sales-driven SEO machine.

The internet is wonderful and allows me to expose my content to more people.

On the rare occasion that my secondary goal and primary goal conflict, the primary goal always wins.

2) Treat it like a labor of love

Writing is a skill. Like any other skill, it requires consistent practice to improve.

There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t try to write something. You should do the same.

It doesn’t matter what you write. It doesn’t matter how much you write. You need to write every day.

Here's a shortlist of things to write to improve your skills:

  • “How to” guides
  • Fiction
  • Non-fiction
  • Social media posts
  • Ads (Google, email, facebook)
  • Rewrite technical articles in simple language
  • Organize your thoughts
  • Keep a dream journal
  • Write out your goals and plans for the next 1, 3, or 5 years

These are all ideas that will get your mental juices going and can sometimes be used to overcome the dreaded “writer’s block”. If none of these appeal to you, there’s always your life and experiences. This brings me to my next lesson…

3) Talk about your life experiences first

Writing about your experiences is powerful.

It forces you to deconstruct something and then reconstruct it from the audience’s point of view. The power of this increases exponentially when you do it with a specific goal in mind.

To me, this is one of the biggest reasons why communication through the written word is important.

Being able to tell a story with a message is something that surprisingly few people can do. To tell a story with meaning and a purpose is something I estimate 99% of people can’t do, but it’s something the best writers do with ease.

An article from expresses the fundamental power of writing from your life experiences:

Letting your personal experience guide your writing is not only the easiest way to get words onto the page, but the best way to make your passages meaningful, insightful and highly engaging. Indeed, over the years some of the best writers in the world have used their own lives as the basis for both fiction and non-fiction classics and that’s something every aspiring artist should take note of.

Anyone can deliver the facts of an event. This requires zero empathy, understanding of people, or the ability to communicate.

The best writers force people to form an emotional connection with the material.

Your story might be cool and inspiring, but if you can’t tell it in a way that resonates with people then your writing will underperform.

4) Science and math make you a better communicator

The wonderful thing about mathematics and the sciences is that you NEED a large vocabulary to discuss things. This might surprise people, but some of the best writers have a background in math and science.

The world is a large place with many things that behave in many different ways under many different conditions. I’d argue that one finishes a physics or chemistry degree with a more robust lexicon than an English or literature student.

However, it’s not the size of the vocabulary that matters most. It’s the efficiency and precision with which it’s used that’s important.

Scientific or technical writing demands that your communication is efficient, clear, and precise. Word choice is important. Precise language is required to exactly describe an equation or phenomena.

Precise writing makes it easier to cogently express your ideas. The better you can do this, the more your writing skills will improve.

5) Take free advice

If you put your writing out there, you will get feedback. You need to listen to it.

Good writing can always improve by listening to feedback. You must always be open to suggestions and advice.

This is because ultimately, you are in service to their audience.

You only do the writing. They do the reading. This means that you need to at least consider what they’re saying.

Sometimes the criticism is just jealousy. Other times, it’s legitimate information that will improve the quality of your writing. You’ll must be the judge, but automatically writing off criticism is one of the major barriers to success.

Not everyone who gives you criticism is a hater and not every hater is wrong. To achieve greatness, there will be times when you have to put your ego aside and listen to criticism. You must be open to the possibility that your content can be better.

However, not all criticism is equal.

Some of it will be valid. Some of it will be malice. Some of it will be downright spiteful.

But your job is to listen, take what is useful, and discard the rest.

Get paid with your writing

Stop wasting time and playing around. Learn to make your passion pay and leave that nasty job behind. Aren’t you sick and tired of being a “starving artist”?

Don’t you hate:

  • Never standing out even though you’re a better writer than most content creators?
  • Not seeing your audience grow–or worse, shrink?
  • Working a job you hate because your passion doesn’t pay?
  • Seeing writers with half your talent go 10 times as far?

Wouldn’t you like to get paid from your writing?

It’s time to stop leaving money on the table! It’s never been easier to make money as a writer…

But there has also never been more competition.

If you want to make money from your writing, you need to be damn good at it. Let me show you how to get the competitive edge.

Get Your Copy Now

6) Learn another language 

I’ve always had a strong interest in foreign languages. It wasn’t until I really took the time to learn Spanish grammar that I developed an appreciation for communication in my own language.

When learning the romance languages, you begin to appreciate subtle things about your native language. Taking these things for granted is almost certainly keeping you from producing great content–especially if you have a blog.

Learning the distinctions between your language and another will make you a better communicator. Many great writers have spoken more than one language and it’s no doubt played a role in sharpening their ability.

Conversation in Colombia
Me having a Spanish conversation in Colombia

For example, French and Spanish have a sharp distinction between actions in the past which continue and those with a definite end (past imperfect vs perfect).

We never learn it this way in English, but it’s present. Becoming aware of when to use these rules in other languages made my writing better in English. Here’s a brief list of things that learning a foreign language taught me about grammar that has made my own writing strong:

  • Transitive versus Intransitive Verbs
  • Personal Pronouns versus Object Pronouns
  • Passive Voice versus Active Voice
  • Future Tense versus Conditional Tense
  • Past Participle/Past Imperfect/Past Perfect

If English is your native language, you likely use these forms without even thinking about it. Learning them in a foreign language will force you to understand how they work in English.

If you aren’t sure which language to study, pick the one with a culture you have a legitimate interest in. The popularity of the language doesn’t matter. Only that you care about enough to learn the in’s and out’s.

This will drive you to develop an understanding that will make your writing more clear and purposeful.

7) Use Twitter, Facebook, and other social media

Twitter forces you to express your message in 280 characters or less. That’s two–maybe three–short sentences you get to make your point.

It’s a platform that rewards effeciency. It forces you to approach your writing with business-like efficiency. The goal isn’t to spend a long time on your content. It’s to quickly get your ideas out/

Excellence comes from getting good at expressing meaningful ideas in these short sentences. When proofreading blog posts, I often take a long sentence and condense it into a Twitter post.

This improves clarity. It also provides a solid tweet and allows you to market your writing more effectively.

Using Twitter to improve your writing also has another major benefit: the size of your audience is a proxy indicator of the effectiveness of your writing. Generally speaking, if you know how to get more followers on Twitter or generate engagement on Facebook, this means that you are expressing yourself with words in an engaging manner.

This is similar to the effect that SEO has on blog posts.

While popularity is not the sole judge of talent, the number of likes and retweets you receive, and the followers you gain at least tell you if your writing is engaging and interesting.

I have a great free guide that teaches you how to write using Twitter, the social media platform built for writers. Download The Breakdown here.

8) Start a blog to learn the basics of SEO

I am no expert at search engine optimization.

I know just enough so that the search engines–even with the new updates that Google always rolls out on us–don’t work against me. It doesn’t take a long time to learn this level of SEO, nor is it difficult.

I’ve learned enough to work with the system rather than against it. The following is a beginner’s perspective on SEO and how it’s made me better at this.

SEO is largely about readability and categorization. It obviously is more technical than this, but the meta-idea is what’s important.

Google is in the business of providing people with easy-to-read content that solves their problems. This is also what writing with a purpose does. This is not a coincidence.

Computers versus people: Search Engine Optimization 

On writing content for SEO, Steve Pavlina once said, “Write for people first, search engines second.” Intellectually, this always made sense. However, it wasn’t until I started trying to drive traffic to my site that I really came to understand it.

Granted, Steve was referring to a lot of outdated SEO practices (like keyword stuffing), but the general point still stands. With machine learning and the improvement of SEO search algorithms, computers now read a lot closer to how a human would. Interestingly enough, this makes his point even more valid but in a different fashion than I think he expected.

If you write to the best SEO standards, your writing will be clear, easy to read, and extremely helpful. You’ll build authority and trust. In much the same way that growing on Twitter demonstrates that you’re knowledgeable and engaging, improving your placement in search engine rankings is another clear indicator of your writing ability.

If your writing is organized, purposeful, and helps many people, then there’s a good chance that you’ll automatically rank well for the keywords surrounding your topic or niche.

If no one can find you, then you need a leg up.

SEO improves your writing, not just for the internet, but for all purposes and types of content as well. On top of that, adhering to best SEO practices makes your writing more popular so in this way, it’s like free advertising.

9) Just create content. Stop making outlines

In high school, most of us learned to make an outline when we write.

We pick a topic, list points in support of that topic, and turn those into sentences. This is a sound process.

It structures your thoughts, which makes writing easier. You can produce a good article this way. The ones I’ve done with this process don’t turn out too badly.

The problem with this method is that it’s boring as hell. 

The Writing Cooperative offers this piece of advice when it comes to writing an outline for content:

**The first draft is about you and the story. Nothing else, and no one else. **Make it what you want, and don’t worry about how others will perceive it.

I completely agree with it. Content creation needs action more than a plan

I haven’t produced any content on this blog with an outline.

When I have an idea, I sit down and start writing. I try to just let the words flow.

I’ve learned to enjoy the process of creating with words instead of building a structure. In this way, it feels a lot less like work and more like a synthesis of ideas and perspectives. I’ve never regarded myself as an artist, but I imagine this is how they must feel when they create.

The structure of an outline is suffocating. It also takes more time to create the outline before you create the article.

My best ideas come when I’m “in the zone” writing. Proofreading happens later. I can always go back and edit the piece later.

At best, my words are guided by a theme. My fingers are inspired by an idea and I keep writing until I’ve exhausted all that I’ve got to say.

10) Know the rules of grammar and punctuation 

The Oxford Comma helps improves clarity
The Oxford Comma helps improves clarity

Those of us educated in the American school system probably hate the Oxford comma. This assumes that most of us even know what it is.

If you don’t, Google it. This punctuation mark makes everything easier. It’s like all points of grammar; you don’t need to obsess about it. Rather you need to know just enough to make sure that the rules don’t work against you.

Basic grammar and punctuation go a long way in helping you share your ideas. Even if your readers don’t have a sophisticated grasp of the language rules, they’ll know when you’ve broken them and this will have a negative impact on communication.

The only goal

Writing has one simple goal: put your ideas into the minds of other people. Since humanity hasn’t figured out how to harness telepathy, we have to use a language and writing system.

This system follows a set of rules so that all parties can understand the ideas transmitted in that particular system. This is best understood in the context of foreign language acquisition.

English is my native language system. If I want to express a simple idea like “I want to eat”, but everyone around me uses the Spanish language system, then my words are meaningless until I express them using the Spanish language and grammar rules.

Periods or commas in the wrong place can completely alter the meaning of a message, even if the readers themselves don’t exactly know how to use them correctly.

Even if someone doesn’t know exactly what the past particle is, they know what it means when they see it. If you use it when you meant to express something that’s going to happen later, you’re going to have a problem.

Learn the grammar basics and avoid common grammar mistakes.

Good grammar and punctuation will improve the quality and clarity of your writing more than anything else you do, but there is a point of diminishing returns. If your writing mechanics are strong, this next tip may be where you are lacking.

For help with grammar, check out Grammarly; a helpful piece of software that has a free and paid program to improve your content.

11) Live and learn from life

You must take from a rich and varied life experiences to create stories and prose that we can’t help but love.

A richly lived life full of tragedy and triumph is how you develop your “brand voice”.

Your brand voice is what makes your writing unique and allows you to stand out despite out. You don’t need a high level of skill if you write authentically and from your life.

Your age doesn’t matter but your experience does. If you want to connect with your audience, you need life experience.

Expertise is not necessary. You don’t even need to have a lot of things figured out. But you need to have a range of experiences from which you can draw.

Experience is necessary because your readers are other humans. These humans have human experiences that have taught them universal lessons. Lessons that can’t be taught in a book and can only be learned in the school of hard knocks we call “life”.

It doesn’t matter why you write or what genre you write in. At the end of the day, people are reading your words that are filtered through your experiences. They can tell if your perspective is real and authentic or false and contrived.

The former is how you build a bond with your audience, while the latter is how you repel them. Authenticity is powerful because it is–by definition–impossible to fake.

Your career as a content creator is determined by your ability to use words to connect with others.

Start letting your experience bleed through the pages.

The moment you think you’re done learning is the moment you stop growing. After this, death follows gingerly.

Above all things, always improve your writing skills. Post on social media, write short stories, get feedback from other bloggers, etc…

Always find a way to improve your technical mastery and stylistic expression.

12) Read as much as you can

You’re probably not reading enough so start reading more.

Honestly, this could have been one of the first tips to help you write better.

When you read different materials, it helps you see what works and what doesn’t work. You’re able to see the mistakes that others make so that you don’t make them in your writing.

It also, more importantly, helps you develop a style that is a combination of the best styles that you’ve read. This is how new and exciting writing style are created. The best part is that you can benefit from this advice, no matter what you read.

It doesn’t matter what you read

The best things for you to read are things that force you to focus for long periods of time, away from a screen. The genre or style isn’t particularly important, but it’s best if it’s a physical book; not something that you read on your kindle or on the internet. So read whatever you like, as long as it’s not digital.

Whether you read fiction, no fiction, study ads, or read emails, the only thing that matters is that it’s a decent enough length to force you to concentrate. When you concentrate, try to absorb the essence of the writing.

The only way to develop this skill is by reading. Practice reading something every day that’s at least 2000 words. That might sound like a lot to read, but I promise you’ll easily go through more than that if you’ve picked something interesting. To put it in perspective, if you’ve read this far then you’ve cut through about 2000 words in this article alone.

13) Learn the power of pronouns, synonyms, and implication

When others ask me improve their writing, this is the one step that can often make all the difference. It will take good prose to great, and does not take much effort at all.

The use of pronouns can help you avoid something known as “word fatigue”.

An editor of my book “Sober Letters To My Drunken Self” introduced me to this idea.

When I typed the phrase into Google, the only thing I got were definitions of the word “fatigue”. This tells me that even if the concept is known by another name, this phrase is relatively unique.

“Word fatigue” is when the same word is used in a sentence or phrase more than once with the exact same implicit or explicit meaning. For example, consider the following as a tweet:

*If you waste a year, you really waste two years. One year for what you should have done then, and one year to what you’re missing now that you’re doing it. *

Since I’d never put anyone’s account on blast for bad writing, I took one of my more popular tweets from the past 30 days and intentionally bastardized it.

While the idea I express in this tweet is sound, it would never take off in its current version (Go ahead and test it if you don’t believe me). The reason is that your eyes and brain get fatigued reading the word “year” repeatedly.

Good example of pronoun, synonym, and implication
Good example of pronoun, synonym, and implication

Why This Worked Better 

I only use the word “year” once. That’s all I need to do, because the audience knows that I’m not talking about any other noun. This allows me to create a sharper tweet that better resonates with the audience.

They don’t need a reminder that I’m talking about years. If I repeated the word year each time, it would seriously break up engagement and reading flow.

People might agree with what I’m saying, but they won’t have that knee-jerk reaction to share my tweet. If they’re reading an article that is redundant with its nouns, they will almost certainly get bored. This GREATLY decreases the likelihood of them reading to the end or sharing. Word fatigue literally tires the reader out.

If you can’t feel the difference that avoiding word fatigue makes, I’ll give you another example:

Tweets are great to improve your craft
Tweets are great to improve your craft

I use this example to show you how I carefully avoided word fatigue in some of the more unsuspecting places that it lurks. A crafty way to avoid noun repetition is by use of synonyms and alternative phrasing.

In the first two sentences, “not unique” = “aren’t so different no one understands”. I could have lazily used the word “unique” twice, but that would have instantly triggered a case of word fatigue for the reader.

In the last two sentences, you see me avoiding a similar trap.

“Just as bad and made it” ≈ “even worse and flourished”. This trap is a little more inconspicuous, but I avoid it by the usage of stylistic parallelism. Don’t worry if that last sentence brought back nightmares of high school English. I explain more in my ebook “Engagement Is The New Cocaine.”

In the last sentence, I could have just as easily said “someone’s had it even worse and made it”. Once again, this lazy.

It doesn’t force me to come up with a different ​synonymous​ way to say what I’ve already said. The reader would suffer fatigue, get bored, and lose all interest in further enjoyment or sharing of my work.

Easier ways to avoid word fatigue?

In the two examples, it might seem justified to just cut my ideas off at the first go around. You might be asking yourself why you can’t just keep your tweets or writing short, without rephrasing the same thing in different ways. The simple answer to that is “engagement”.

Your success depends on your ability to keep people hooked on your words. The more time they spend engaged with your content, the more likely they are to come back for more. It’s not a coincidence that I titled my first book for Twitter “Engagement Is The New Cocaine”.

Why would you only write 140 characters worth of tweets when you have 280 to work with? Google’s SEO algorithm ​strongly​ rewards the time a reader spends on the page ingesting content. Computers and humans alike enjoy longer content.

The problem is that the longer the content is, the greater risk you run of being redundant and causing your audience to suffer word fatigue.

Quick Solutions To Word Fatigue

To keep this short lesson short, let me summarize.

  • If there’s only one subject, use the noun for it once. Then use pronouns or leave people to use context clues.
  • The thesaurus is your friend. Find synonyms to say the same thing more than once.
  • Find different ways to express the same idea to make your point. Repetition drives the main idea home, but only when you avoid fatigue.
  • Longer content is more engaging, but only if you avoid fatigue.

If you follow these short tips, you’ll greatly improve in everything from Twitter to long-form content.

14) Use active sentences whenever possible

An active sentence has the subject of the sentence performing the action to the object. Compare this to a passive sentence, which has the subject of the sentence be acted on or affected by the verb.

Consider the following basic example of an active sentence versus a passive one:

  • I walked the dog. (active sentence)
  • The dog was walked by me. (passive sentence)

In the first sentence, I (the subject) walked (the verb) the dog (the object.) In the second sentence, the dog (subject) was walked (the verb) by me (the object).

Now if that wasn’t clear, I understand. The difference between active versus passive voice eluded me for quite some time. Then I had a moment of clarity: active and passive voice are grammatical structures rather representations of reality.

Most of the confusion comes from the fact that the subject is still acting on the object in both sentences. In sentence one, I walk the dog. In sentence two, the dog is walked by me. The difference is only structurally.

Sentence 1 follows subject-verb-object. That structure makes it active. Sentence 2 follows object-verb-subject. That structure makes it passive.

A brief refresher on the subject, verb, and object

  • The subject of a sentence is the one that acts.
  • The action of the sentence is the verb.
  • The recipient of the action is the object.

Sentences are often more complex than this and there are some predictable types of variations, but all sentences fall under this category.

Why the active voice better?

The biggest reason is that the active voice is a more efficient use of words. To make a sentence passive almost always requires adding a preposition and adding the “to be” verb.

“I’m reading the book” (active) vs. “The book is read by me.” (passive)

This word economy makesyour work easier to read and your message gets through more clearly.

15) Avoid adverbs whenever possible

**Grammar recap: **An adverb is a word or phrase that modifies or qualifies an adjective, verb, or other adverb or a word group, expressing a relation of place, time, circumstance, manner, cause, degree, etc.

Adverbs of time and place are non-admissible, but they are still unnecessary with a strong vocabulary.

Adverbs are words that typically end in “-ly” when they modify a verb. These are always useless. Or, at the very least, the two words used to create an adverbial clause can (and should) be replaced with another stronger word. For example:

  • “I quickly ran home” can be rewritten as “I sprinted home” or “I dashed home”.
  • “I thought intensely about the problem” can be rewritten as “I focused on the problem” or “I concentrated on the problem.”
  • “I carelessly wrote the letter” can be rewritten as “I scribbled the letter” or “I doodled the letter.”

The over-use of adjectives represents is lazy. They’re fine (and in many cases, preferable) for colloquial spoken dialogue, but the written word gives you a chance create with measured precision

16) Get instructors/coaches

No matter how much natural talent you have, there is always more to learn and there are things you don’t know that you don’tknow. A coach can help you improve the abilities your current skills, navigate you around obstacles, and bring out the best in your craft.

You may not always enjoy their feedback, but that’s usually a sign that you need it. And remember, the feedback doesn’t have to come from a coach, in the purest sense of the word.

Nothing improved my skills faster than getting feedback. Whether that feedback came from an editor or a group, I’ve written tons of content and I still dread getting my content back with marks and suggestions on it. But nothing has made me a write better quite like someone spotting run on sentences, poorly formed arguments, or when I use the same words repeatedly. 

Summary of written content creation tips:

  1. Have something to say
  2. Write every day
  3. Write about your life experiences
  4. Learn a little math and science
  5. Take advice
  6. Learn another language
  7. Use social media
  8. Learn the basics of SEO
  9. Stop making outlines
  10. Learn the rules of grammar and punctuation
  11. Live and learn from life
  12. Read as much as you can
  13. Learn the power of pronouns, synonyms, and implication
  14. Use active voice
  15. Avoid adverbs
  16. Get instructors
Ed Latimore
About the author

Ed Latimore

I’m a writer, competitive chess player, Army veteran, physicist, and former professional heavyweight boxer. My work focuses on self-development, realizing your potential, and sobriety—speaking from personal experience, having overcome both poverty and addiction.

Follow me on Twitter.