10 Ways to Write Better

typewriterOver the past decade of coaching writers—as a friend and peer, and also as a managing editor—I’ve found myself repeating the same advice. I summarized it on Quora, and now I’m revisiting it here. May it help you become a better writer.

#1 Write daily.

All the writing advice in the world, all the books, and classes, won’t help unless you’re writing and actively incorporating what you’re learning into your work. Not a day goes by that I’m not writing something. Every bit of writing I do, from article to novel chapter right down to this Quora answer, improves my writing bit by bit.

#2 Read obsessively and analytically.

Writers are readers. The best writers read not only to be entertained or educated but to discover why a piece of writing works or doesn’t. Because I was such a prolific reader at a young age, when I began taking college level grammar and style courses I found that I already had a tacit understanding of the mechanics – it seeps into your internal knowledge base almost as if by osmosis. The same holds true for learning the art of storytelling.

#3 Know what prepositional phrases are.

Learn to recognize and remedy instances where you’ve used prepositional phrases instead of active, less wordy sentence structures. Instead of writing, “The car came over the top of the hill,” write, “The car crested the hill.” This single piece of advice made me a dramatically better writer.

#4 Know what an adverb is.

Don’t use adverbs to shore up weak verbs. The dog didn’t whine pathetically, he whimpered.

#5 Learn grammar.

Read Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style. Learn grammar and sentence structure. You can’t be an artisan without knowing and understanding your tools. It’s okay to break the rules, but only after you’ve mastered them. Need a little proofreading help? Try a free tool like Grammarly. You’ll still need to proofread, but the app will help you spot your mistakes and guide you through fixing them.

#6 Don’t distance your reader from your character.

Most fiction, and even some non-fiction, works best when we connect with the characters. Watch for weak verbs like lookedfelt, and seemed. They take us away from the character and make us watch from a distance. Eliminate them by using active descriptions wherever possible to create a more intimate narrative.

With weak verbs:

Catherine looked at the zombie and felt horror and revulsion.

With active, intimate description:

Catherine shuddered as the zombie shambled toward her. Her heart hammered, and her insides made a convulsive lurch.

#7 Read it out loud.

Now and then (and more now than then if you’re a new writer), read your work aloud to yourself or a friend. Nothing’s better for helping you find problems with flow and syntax. If you’re stumbling over a paragraph chances are your reader will, too.

#8 Practice whittling.

Not wood, words. Write a 500-word description. Now rewrite it to see if you can get it down to 250 words without losing meaning or diminishing the beauty of the narrative. To me, 80% of writing success is in knowing what to leave out rather than what to put in. And it’s not easy. As Mark Twain famously said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

#9 Cultivate curiosity.

Always wonder why and how and then find the answers. No one writes well in a vacuum.

#10 Be authentic.

Do you. Your voice is the only writer’s tool you own that no one else has.

What the Bernie or Bust Crowd Needs Now is Understanding, not Mockery

sad2I see some people—people I like and respect—mocking Bernie Sanders supporters on social media now that Hillary has secured the nomination. At first, I’ll admit, it gave me pause. After all, these people doing the mocking are generally highly intelligent critical thinkers. As a rule, I know them to be kind and progressive-minded. Maybe, I thought, they’re on to something. Maybe the “Bernie Bros” and “Bernie or Bust” people are ridiculous. At Bernie Sanders’ urging for party unity, I’ve grudgingly thrown my support toward Hillary Clinton. Was I a fool for holding out?

But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I realize that no, Bernie’s supporters, even the holdouts, are not ridiculous. They’re hurt. They’re angry. They’re disillusioned. They’re not “throwing a tantrum” because their guy lost, they’re frustrated and deeply disappointed because they believe their guy (my guy) was never given a fair chance in the first place.

Let’s face it, Sanders supporters have seen him minimized by the media and treated as a fringe candidate, despite rallies bursting at the seams and soaring favorability ratings. We’ve watched as exit poll numbers did not match actual poll results. We saw evidence of voting issues. We saw polls predicting that Sanders would beat Trump by a much wider margin than Clinton’s frighteningly thin one.

We believed in Bernie Sanders’ integrity. We saw that he would not take money from corporate interests and Super PACs. We pledged our support by sending an average $27 contribution and saw his publicly funded campaign raise unprecedented funds as a result.

In short, we love this guy. We worked for him. We carried banners, wore our Bernie t-shirts, made phone calls, shared his views on social media.

The people mocking Bernie supporters because “their guy lost” shouldn’t be referring to them as crybabies and sore losers. Many of Bernie’s supporters are young people, or even older adults, who’ve never been interested in politics before and finally found a candidate who moved them to action. My young adult children are an example. My 19-year-old daughter, who has shown little interest in politics before, made a point of registering to vote. She now discusses issues with her friends and follows the news. My college-age son eagerly contributed his meager funds to Bernie’s campaign, $10 at a time, and was stung by Hillary’s seemingly inevitable nomination. We shouldn’t be looking at these people and saying, “Your guy lost, so take your toys and go home!” We should be saying, “Thank you! Thank you for getting involved. Thank you for caring about what’s going on in your country. Thank you for making yourself well-informed and working for what you believe is right. Don’t give up!”

Bernie supporters are feeling lost right now. They fear the system has failed them. Do we think we’ll move our country forward by belittling them, especially while the wound is fresh? Instead, we need to reach out a hand, lift them up, and say, “Hey, you fought hard. You didn’t win this time, but you’ve made a huge impact. There’s work to be done, and your drive and spirit tells us that you’re the perfect people to do it. Let’s work together! How can we help?”