Obviously, the major reason behind my hatred were the most pointless topics that we were given to write about. Do you know a single teenager who cares about the hidden meaning of the forbidden love of Romeo and Juliette? I don't.
Thankfully, if you're reading this piece, you most likely are neither a teenager, nor you're writing the most useless waffle. I hope your journey through the internet led you here to elevate your writing in general or to work on your writing style.
I've been writing content for about 6 years now. My first articles were… atrocious. Just a bunch of sentences. Correct in their nature, but sterile and lifeless nevertheless. Below you'll find a set of 12 key principles that I use to improve my writing skills and make the process of tapping thoughts into my keyboard so much more pleasurable.
Principle 1: Flow is your top priority
If you love rap, I don't even need to explain myself. If you hate it or don't particularly listen to it, you should understand the importance of the way your words are glued together – the flow. It makes it easy for your readers to process your text and feel the emotions you've put into it.
At first, you might find it difficult to assess whether the flow in your writing is not broken. For me, it is like a dance choreography. It should be seamless, without any stutter or confusing logic. Ignore the ‘rule’ that your sentences should not be too long. It is not the length that makes it challenging to understand the meaning of a sentence, it's when the logic gets twisted and the flow goes all over the place.
Here are a couple of ways you can use to make it easier for yourself to analyse your text:
Method 1: Read aloud
Read your text aloud and ignore trying to understand the meaning of what you've written. To enhance the effect of this method, use a microphone in your computer and enable input feedback (here's how you can do it on Windows and here are some instructions for macOS). If you have someone to read it aloud to you – that can work too. Just focus on how it sounds, whether it makes sense and rolls off the tongue, not on the content itself. You'll work on that later.
Method 2: Use text-to-speech
I usually combine both methods. This one is better to do with a neural voice, which doesn't sound as robotic as older TTS voices. I'll link some useful extensions at the end of this article, and if you want to look for one yourself, just make sure it utilizes neural voices. Microsoft does the best job at generating those, imo, but Amazon and Google are alright too.
When we read aloud, we tend to try and make whatever we read sound better. Robots don't care (yet). So what this does, it eliminates the human input and makes your text sound much more boring. Which is of use, because if you’ve messed up the flow, and somehow managed to cover it by reading it in a specific way, you'll be able to catch it when it's read by a robot.
Principle 2: Write a speech, not a book
A small detail that, in my humble opinion, rockets your writing style onto another level is when you stop writing like you're writing literature. Well, if you don't write literature, that is. And if you do, I ain't the one to advise you how to enhance it.
Whenever I write, whether for my personal blog, or under my alter egos at work, I do my best to speak to my readers as if I were to speak to them tête-à-têtes. It makes your text livelier, more charismatic, easier to read and, once again, keeps your flow on point. And, it should make it much more enjoyable for you to write, as we're used to the talkative style of our languages, not their proper written forms.
This means you'll have to break some writing rules, though. Generally speaking, you shouldn't start sentences with 'And', 'So', 'Which' etc. But we break this rules when we talk, so why shouldn’t we also break them in writing?
By imitating speech when you write, you also produce content that can be easily transformed into an audio or video material without any adaptation required.
Furthermore, speeches are just so much more epic…
Principle 3: Go all-in on synonyms
Usually, when I read texts of less experienced writers, I notice how they keep using the same words over and over again. Just exchanging them for their respective synonyms will elevate the quality of your writing. It will increase your vocabulary with time as well. Which is especially useful if you don't write in your native language, just like I do right now.
You can look for synonyms manually using Google. Or you can use third-party tools. Me personally, I use LanguageTool – a magnificent piece of software which I will talk more about later in the article and link it at the very end for you to try it out.
What it does, it pulls up a list of synonyms for each word you double tap: whether within Google Docs, Microsoft Word, LanguageTool's own editor app (available on Windows, macOS and iOS) or a number of other supported web and desktop platforms. It also prompts you to change words that you either overuse or if they're too basic (everyone uses them).
A couple of clicks and you're sorted.
Principle 4: Copy accents and slang
This one is most useful to non-native writers, I'd say. For instance, English is not my mother-tongue. And when we go to language courses, we are typically taught formal English or a somewhat casual, but still proper.
Thus, copying accents (changing the spelling of some words to the way you'd pronounce them with an accent) or using slang vocabulary (you might feel uncomfortable at first) might make your texts just a tad bit less generic.
Principle 5: Don't ever allow repetitions slide
Nothing annihilates your flow like repetitions. It boils my blood when I read a paragraph, let alone a sentence, that has the exact same phrase in it. Don't get me wrong, sometimes this might be unavoidable or required stylistically, but that's an exception rather than a rule.
Reading your text out loud is of great help when you try to catch repetitions. Tools like LanguageTool also help, as they can point out problematic parts and even suggest how to fix 'em.
If you allow unnecessary duplications – there's no way you're gonna produce a writing of exceptional quality.
Principle 6: Avoid getting stuck
Exceptional quality is also off your reach if you get stuck. Not sure how about you, but there are times when I look at a sentence I've just written, and I don't like it. I try rewriting it. It's not getting better.
Thankfully, robots are here to save the day once again. While AI gets better and better at writing long pieces of content, AI is already remarkable at remaking small chunks of text. An extension I use – called WordTune – helps me when I get stuck. You simply select the sentence you're struggling with, you run the app, and it provides you with a list of ways to tweak the original input.
More often than not – that's all what it takes to break through the mental block and proceed with writing.
Principle 7: Be perfectionist about orthography and punctuation
Yes, I know I said we need to ignore some rules and even mess with the spelling. Now it's about the perfection? 'THAT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE!'
Hear me out. Those are exceptions that need situational context. There's no way I'm going to tell you to drop 'Wagwan, my G?' in the midsts of an article about economics, is there?
Those exceptions are rare, but they can still enhance your text.
In the other 99% of cases, sticking to proper orthography and punctuations is of great importance. You can, once again, use LanguageTool (or its alternatives) in order to catch the majority of mistakes you've made. No, I'm not associated with LanguageTool in any way. I simply switched to it from Grammarly many years ago and never looked back since. It supports 31 languages (as of the day of writing this article), which is spectacular for me, as I can use it with all the 4 languages that I use on a daily basis. It's also capable of catching styling mistakes, which is of help.
And last but not least, Google a brand name, if you're about to use one in your text, and copy their official spelling. Please. There's nothing less professional than butchering a brand name.
Principle 8: Use a language style guide and try to stay consistent
I've been familiar with style guides for many years due to working in an IT sector and dealing with a lot of designing work. What I wasn't aware of is that it appears there are style guides for languages.
I'm uncertain whether they are present in most languages, as I write only in English and thus use exclusively a British English style guide published by the University of Oxford. It pretty much standardizes many grammatical and styling details for you. Which makes it so much easier to stay consistent.
If you're using American English, I'm sure there are respective alternatives. And if you're not sure which English you're using… Damn, I feel like I need to be paid for the amount of praise I'm giving to LanguageTool… It allows you to specify the dialect you're writing with, and then catches the inconsistencies if they occur.
Moreover, in my opinion, it’s of an extreme importance to stay coherent with your writing across all the communications you partake in, meaning: in your text, on social media and in private messages.
Principle 9: Proofread your text only on the next day
When you're happy with the material you just produced, don't start working on reviewing and fixing the issues with your writing straight afterwards. Assuming you're not constrained by the burning deadline, leave your text for at least a day.
Why? You need to allow your brain to erase the memory of what you just wrote, so you don't hit any mental blocks when you proofread your work. This way, the next time you open it, you'll be reading a somewhat unknown material and will be less biased in your assessment of the quality of written paragraphs.
Well, at least this is how it works for me.
Principle 10: Do proper formatting of your final draft
Once the job is done, and you're ready to publish, there's one last thing you need to do within your writing software – the perfectionist formatting.
By 'the perfectionist formatting' I mean marking headings, line spacing (using Enter to get some space after a paragraph is not the proper way of doing it) etc. To make it slightly less tedious of a job, create your own formatting style guide within the software you use to write.
In Google Docs, I usually create a separate document that consists of all the elements I’m going to use (a title, subtitle, headings 1-6 and a normal text), style them, apply their style to the default components and save this new style guide as a default. Here’s a link to the tutorial.
Next time I create a new document, it will already be prestyled.
Principle 11: Get rid of double spaces and whitespace characters
The last thing that’s left to do is to remove double spaces and whitespace characters.
Doing it manually, though, is not the most effortless idea. Personally, I use an add-on for Google Docs – Show (yes, this is the official name…). It marks non-printable characters with a designated symbol, turning your text into a mess, but…
How to remove double space in your text
Copy (CTRL+C) the marked space symbol, next press CTRL+F to open a search bar, paste (CTRL+V) it twice (to make a double space) and you will get all the double spaces highlighted, if there are any. If you did manage to press space twice at some point, simply clean it up and you're Gucci.
How to remove whitespace characters in your text
Copy (CTRL+C) the space symbol, open a search bar (CTRL+F), paste (CTRL+V) it, next copy the newline symbol (line break: ¶), paste it right after the space symbol into the search field and there you go. All the whitespace characters are highlighted, should you have them in your text.
Once your text is cleaned up and formatted – feel free to copy it to your publishing platform and there you have it. You've produced a world-class piece of writing and hopefully loved the entire journey!
Principle 12: Relish the process and utilize science to boost the enjoyment
Those of you who had a chance to read my previous articles on the cross-modality of human senses, you might approximate where I’m going with this one.
Based on my perception of typing, I’d be confident enough to guess that many writers enjoy the tactile feeling of pressing keys on a keyboard, hearing the sound of a click and seeing the result pop up on a screen.
If you do, I’ll recommend you to try out an extension for your browser that makes typewriter sounds when you type. If you’re using Opera GX, it has this functionality built-in, but for other Chromium-based browsers (Chrome, Vivaldi, Opera, Microsoft Edge), a tool created by Yusef Hassan – Typewriter – can do wonders.
Hearing typewriter noises can enhance your enjoyment due to the way our brain processes the information it gets from our senses: hearing, sight and tactile in this case.
Combine it with the visual stimuli of a beautifully formatted text in front of you, and you’ll elevate your writing onto a new level.
Now, let me recap the tools, and we'll finish for today.
7 useful tools to improve your writing skills
Phew. That was a long one. Written in slightly about 3 hours. Probably my personal record.
Anyhow, all the tips and tricks for improving your writing skills I discussed today are what I use daily at work and still freaking love writing in my spare time.
Let me know if you agree, or disagree for that matter, with my advice and if you do find it useful… please, write some banging texts! I'd also definitely not get mad if you subscribed to my newsletter… I don't spam, only use it for pinging readers whenever the new stuff is out. Or, if you hate newsletters, at least drop by and say 'Hi' on Twitter or Instagram. I'm a friendly guy, I swear!
All these CTAs aside, dinner is getting cold as I'm writing this epilogue, so… I'm off! See you next time!