We could all be better writers.
That goes for you, me, and everyone in the world.
Writing is a skill. And like any other skill, there’s no limit to how good you can get.
Even professional writers want to be better at their craft—and a lot of them put in a ton of work.
But you don’t have to be Hemingway to write a successful book. You just have to convey valuable information in a compelling, clear way.
Don’t be daunted by the writing process and go down the rabbit-hole trying to become a “perfect” writer. There’s no such thing. And you’ll just stop yourself from writing.
Just focus on becoming an effective writer.
Unfortunately, the internet is full of generic writing advice. For example,”Be original.” That’s not helpful or actionable. How the hell do you learn to be original?
The advice I’m going to give you is practical. It’s concrete. And it’s what Scribe has used to help thousands of first-time Authors write really good books.
Here are our 11 easy tips that will instantly take your writing to the next level.
11 Easy Ways to Improve Your Writing Skills
1. Start with a Clear Understanding Of What You Want To Say
The first step in writing a book isn’t actually writing. It’s figuring out what you’re trying to say.
If you don’t know what the point of your book is, your readers certainly won’t. There’s nothing worse for writing than that.
The number 1 thing you can do to improve your writing is to take the time to position your book and put together a solid outline. If you start without taking these steps, you’ll end up with a haphazard book—if you even finish at all.
Book positioning is about answering your readers’ main question: Why should I read this book?
In order to do that you have to figure out 3 things:
- What are your objectives? What do you need to achieve with the book in order for you to feel like it was a success?
- Who is your target audience? Who do you need to reach in order to reach your goals?
- What’s your book idea? What is your book about, and why will your audience care?
Once you have those questions answered, you can move on to your outline.
An outline is a great way to keep your writing fears at bay. If you know the overall point and structure of the book, you’re much less likely to get derailed by writer’s block, anxiety, or procrastination.
To come up with a good outline, first you have to brainstorm your chapters.
What do you want people to know? What are you trying to teach them? How are you going to solve their problems? What are the main concepts, arguments, and ideas that you want to convey to your readers?
Once you’ve got all of that figured out, you can start arranging them into a table of contents.
What order is going to make the most sense to your readers? What’s the best way to divide this material so it flows logically from chapter to chapter?
Finally, you need to decide what stories, data, hooks, and main ideas will go into each chapter. This will give you a clear framework for when you’re writing your first draft.
You can find our full outline template here, plus an explanation of how to put it to good use.
2. Let Go of Pressure To Be Perfect
When writing, don’t spend time worrying about whether your word choice is right, whether your sentence structure is smooth, or even whether it makes sense.
Your first draft should always be what I call a “vomit draft.” It’s not going to look good, but you’ll have something to show for it. Plus, you’ll feel much better once you’ve gotten the words out.
I know this may sound weird. You’re only writing a book because you want it to be good. So shouldn’t you make the first draft as good as you possibly can?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Authors agonize over the first chapter of a book, trying to get it perfect. Then, when they can’t achieve it, they abandon the book altogether.
The point of a first draft isn’t to have flawless writing. It’s to get your ideas onto the page.
Writing is a process. You’re going to change things around. You’ll add, delete, and edit. And then you’ll add, delete, and edit some more.
There’s no point wasting hours and getting lost in the weeds during your rough draft.
If you’re still not convinced, remember this: even the best writers have terrible first drafts.
You just don’t know it because those drafts go through a lot of editing before you see the finished product.
I’ve written 4 New York Times Bestsellers, and all of my first drafts were garbage. But they gave me a place to start. It’s much easier to fix something than it is to fix nothing.
Write the first draft. Then you can worry about how good it is.
3. Talk It Out
You might have a great outline, but when you sit down to write, you’re still intimidated by the blank screen.
I get it. Seeing your words in black and white can be daunting.
Some people hate the act of writing. Others are just much more comfortable speaking. That doesn’t make you lazy or unskilled.
It just means that you’re not a natural writer–like literally everyone else on earth. Everyone on earth (basically) learns to talk without having to be taught, but writing must be taught. There’s a reason for that. Writing is a cognitive skill that’s totally distinct from thinking and talking.
If you find yourself in this situation, here’s my solution: try talking it out.
Speak it out loud. Record yourself. Then get the recording transcribed.
Now, be aware, a transcript isn’t the same as a book. You’re going to have to edit out all your “um”s, cut out all the parts where you rambled, and rearrange a lot of the material.
But you’ll have a written document to work from.
It’s the same principle as the vomit draft. You can talk it out first and polish it later.
4. Get Out of The Way of Your Voice
A lot of writers talk about “finding their voice.”
That makes it sound like their voice is hiding under a sofa cushion or wedged under their car seat.
A voice isn’t something you “find.” It’s something you have. It’s already a part of who you are.
Your job as an Author is to let it emerge.
A lot of people can speak fluidly about their work or give impassioned speeches in meetings. But the second you ask them to write, they think it has to be “elevated.”
They try to sound smart. Or authoritative. Or eloquent.
Instead, it ends up sounding false, boring, or confusing. And in many cases, just plain bad.
You’re already smart, authoritative, and eloquent. So, get out of your own way.
Write in the voice you already have. Stop trying to “find” it.
If you’re still having trouble, the next two steps will give you more advice for letting your authentic voice come out.
5. Write Like You’re Talking to a Friend
You may not realize it, but you’re at your most eloquent when you’re talking with friends.
That’s because you’re comfortable and relaxed. You’re not trying to force your ideas or sound like something you’re not (this is why transcribing your speech can help you so much).
When you talk to your friends, you’re always engaged, attentive, and open. You’re also willing to answer their questions because you want to make sure they understand.
It can be hard to dispel the idea that books have to sound “academic.” But, frankly, a lot of academic writing is downright boring, both to you and the reader. Unless you’re writing to an academic audience, don’t use academic writing style.
If you want to be a great writer, focus on readability. Focus on connecting with your audience.
Your readers are much more likely to respond to what you have to say if you’re being real with them.
In the words of John Steinbeck,
“Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death, and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person — a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.”
Your readers are real people. And in theory, they’re people you want to interact with. So, write to them like you’re talking to a friend.
Chances are, your readers will start to think of you as one. And they’ll pay attention to what you have to say.
6. Write Like You’re Helping a Stranger Heal the Pain You Went Through
People will read your book because they want help with a problem.
Maybe they want to grow their business, improve their health, or do a better job raising their children.
Whatever the case may be, your job as an Author is to provide a solution. Your job is to ease their pain.
Talk to the reader as if they were someone you were trying to help in real life. Show empathy. Connect. Teach them in a loving way.
Tell them, “I’ve been there. Here’s what it was like for me. ” Focus on their pain, and then focus on how you can help.
That will immediately ease your anxiety and lessen any fears you have about “voice.”
Why? Because your attention won’t be on yourself anymore. It will be on your reader. And that’s exactly where it should be.
And here’s a cool trick if you really want to level up your writing: Follow tips 5 and 6. Write like you’re talking to a friend and helping them through a difficult situation.
Don’t worry too much about having the right words. Worry about helping people, and your voice will come out naturally.
7. Make It Short
Once you have a rough draft, it’s time to edit. That’s when you can shift your focus to good writing.
Because you’re not starting from scratch, it’ll be a lot easier to fine-tune your writing style.
You want a piece of writing that’s clear, concise, and to the point. That’s why it’s best to keep it short.
A lot of people assume a longer book is better. After all, it’s got more knowledge packed in, right?
A longer book often means the author rambles, has too many examples, or doesn’t care about readers’ attention spans.
In fact, most readers don’t want long books. The average bestseller length has been steadily declining every year.
Keep it short. That way, you’ll be forced to focus on what’s essential in your writing.
“Short” also applies to:
- chapters (usually no more than 4,000 words)
- paragraphs (usually no more than 2-3 sentences)
- sentences (5-20 words)
- words (less than 12 characters)
Be careful, though. You want your writing to be as short as possible, but you don’t want to leave anything out. Make sure you’re still hitting all the important parts of your outline.
8. Make It Simple
Short and simple are related, but they aren’t the same thing.
It’s possible to write something short but complex. That’s not a good idea.
It’s ok if your ideas are complex. But you have to break them down into simpler words and sentences. Otherwise, people won’t understand you.
If the goal of your book is to persuade or teach someone, do you think you’ll achieve it with convoluted writing?
Effective persuasion requires you to cut straight to the heart of things. Convince people. Win them over with simple language. Help them understand what you’re trying to say.
Get rid of the extra words and the complicated language. Reach your readers.
PRO TIP: If you’re not sure how clear your writing is, Grammarly has filters for engagement and clarity that can make sure you’re pitching your content at the right audience level.
9. Make It Direct
What’s wrong with this sentence?
“This blog post was deftly written by Tucker, who deeply considered writing so his extensive knowledge could be had by eager readers, who might take immense benefit from his highly pertinent experience.”
It’s twistier than a Twizzler. And it’s really hard to understand.
A lot of writers use indirect language—passive voice, jargon, and too many clauses, adjectives, and adverbs.
Don’t do it.
Every sentence you write should be clear.
Limit yourself to one thought per sentence. Break your ideas down into direct language. And avoid passive voice at all costs.
Let me explain the difference between active and passive voice since a lot of people don’t know the difference.
Active voice means the subject of the sentence performs the verb. For example,”Tucker wrote the blog post.”
Passive voice means the subject of the sentence receives the action. For example,”The blog post was written by Tucker.”
They mean the exact same thing, but passive voice takes longer for people to understand. They have to imagine the blog and then think about Tucker writing it.
Passive voice also sounds weak and shifty.
Don’t believe me? Take a look at any piece of corporate bullshit writing.
“Mistakes were made.”
Passive voice means that the person doesn’t have to take responsibility for their actions. A strong leader would say, “I made a mistake,” not “mistakes were made.”
Using active voice instead of passive voice is one of the easiest and most impactful things you can do to improve your writing.
10. Make It about the Reader
Why do people buy books?
The subject interests them. They thought it would be helpful. They were curious about the contents. They wanted to laugh. They wanted to cry.
There are countless reasons people buy books. And none of them has anything to do with what the Author wants.
They want to get something from your book.
That’s why good writers always make their books about their readers.
For every word you write, ask yourself, “Why does the reader care?” If you can’t answer that question, scrap it. Shift your focus back to something the reader will care about.
Successful books are the ones that resonate with readers. And to resonate with readers, you have to offer them something worthwhile.
11. Write to an Interested 12-Year-Old
You know your field like the back of your hand. That doesn’t mean everyone else does. If you want to be inclusive and make your writing accessible to everyone, act like you’re talking to an interested 12-year-old.
12-year-olds aren’t toddlers. You don’t have to talk down to them.
But they’re also not people with advanced degrees in financial planning, consulting, or whatever else your specialty is. They’re clever enough to catch on and ask good questions, but you have to be thorough in your explanations.
Yes, this advice is true even for business writing. You might be talking to CEOs, but that doesn’t mean you have to use ten-dollar words or complicated concepts.
Ironically, writing for an interested 12-year-old takes more effort than writing for someone well-versed in your field. Ask any teacher, and they’ll tell you that it’s much easier to explain grammar when their audiences already know what a noun is.
It’s also much harder to keep a 12-year-old’s attention. You have to tell great stories with a hook if you want them to listen.
Your audience might be interested in your topic, but they aren’t captive. If your book is full of jargon or boring anecdotes, they’ll put it down.
It’s hard work to make sure your book is clear and interesting.
But that hard work will pay off. Telling simple, compelling stories is the best way to keep readers’ attention.