Writing pays my rent, so I'm constantly looking for ways to improve my skills. I don't believe that writing is a craft you can learn once, but rather a continual process of shaping, honing and refining. I hope I'll be improving for as long as my fingertips are hitting the keys.
Over the past ten years, I've come to rely on three primary actions that materially improve my writing skills. They're very simple and everyone knows them, but here they are:
1. Write every day. You don't have to show it to the world, but you absolutely must do it. Writers write, and that's all there is to it.
2. Read every day. Read chocolate labels, read magazines, read short stories. Read the New York Times. Read the novels on the Booker nominated list. Read the books on the Pulitzer nominated list. Read, notice, pay attention. The more good stuff you read, the better your writing will become.
3. Edit yourself. Train yourself to slice out 25-50% of the witty, clever, insightful words and sentences that you labored for hours to string together. Cut, pillage. Be ruthless.
Thankfully, there are more elaborate and nuanced versions of this list, written by people who have cleverly thought about what it takes to craft sentences + stories + advertising copy that is sharp, tight and smokin' hot. Over time, I've collected this list of links and resources that have helped me to improve my writing skills. I hope you'll find them to be useful, too. As I bump into more good stuff, I'll add it to the list.
Improve Your Writing Skills
- How to Write with Style, by Kurt Vonnegut. Yep, that Kurt Vonnegut. Top notch.
- How to Write a Hit Article, by Jack Shafer. I'm one of those people who emailed “What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage” to all of my friends, so Jack's fun spin-off article made me laugh. Incidentally, it's full of great information.
- The Day You Became a Better Writer, by Scott Adams. Yes, the guy who wrote the Dilbert cartoons. Can you imagine how difficult it must have been for him to stay inspired on the same topic for so long?
- How to Be Creative, by Hugh MacLeod. Forgive me in advance for shouting, but THIS LIST IS EFFFING AWESOME! It's been floating around the interwebs forever, so you've probably seen it already, but do yourself a favor and check it out again. One of my favorites: Everybody has their own private Mount Everest that they were put on this earth to climb.
Write Better for your Blog
- Information Overload: The Blogger's Worst Enemy and How to Avoid It, by Dean Reick. Seriously awesome. Remember #3 above? This is about that.
- Writing Effective, Attention-Getting Titles for Your Blog, by Lorelle. Post titles matter. This article explains why.
- How to Write a Better Weblog, by Dennis Mahoney. The professional writer versus the amateur. Great stuff.
- The Art of Good Blog Writing by Jennifer Rice. Good advice for business bloggers.
- An Ethics Primer for Bloggers. The blogosphere seems like the Wild West sometimes; anyone can publish anything at any time, with no filter. Here are a few things to think about before you post.
The Business of Writing: Money Stuff
- Un-Asked for Advice to New Writers About Money, by John Scalzi. Ever wondered if you could make money as a writer, and if so, how you should go about it? Read this, and then kick your credit card habit.
- On Writers, Marriages, and NYC/SF/LA, by John Scalzi. A follow-up to the last article. The comment sections on both of these pieces are just as informative as the articles.
Networking & Resource Sites for Writers
- Copyblogger: the #1 online resource for copywriters. Brian Clark knows his stuff and shows it, in pieces like Earnest Hemingway's Top Tips for Writing Well and The Fight Club Guide to Successful Online Marketing. If you write for the web, you need to subscribe to Copyblogger's RSS feed.
- Freelance Switch: if you work from your home office and need help on anything from how to manage clients to how to get paid on time, you'll appreciate their short, useful pieces. Bonus points for being well designed.
- Media Bistro: my favorite part is the "How to Pitch" section where they ask editors of top magazines how freelancers should pitch. Good stuff.
- Red Room: Where the Writers Are. An interesting new online community where writers and authors can connect. This grew out of a real-life Red Room Writers Studio in San Francisco, where writers meet in a fabulous old mansion to focus on their work. Ivy Madison is the gorgeous mind behind all of it, and it's well worth checking out.
My Favorite Books on How to Become a Better Writer
- If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit, by Brenda Ueland. If you only chose one book on this list, this should be it. Written in 1938, it is possibly my all-time favorite book about writing.
- The Long Quiet Highway, by Natalie Goldberg. Whenever I open one of Natalie's books, I feel like I've taken a seat in a classroom led by a wise, insightful teacher.
- Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott. From the concept of "shitty first drafts" to telling the hard, painful truth, this book is packed with insights that are instantly useful.
- Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and Those Who Want to Write Them, by Francine Prose. This is all about #2 above. I return to this over and over for inspiration; just brilliant.
What resources do you draw upon to improve your writing skills?
Leave (useful, appropriate) links in the comments!