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27 Ways to Improve Your Writing Skills and Escape Content Mediocrity

How to Improve Your Writing SkillsWriting well is difficult, isn’t it?

Sure, you can string a few sentences together to communicate your thoughts.

You know how to correct there’s and theirs, then and than, and you’re and your.

But to write persuasive copy? To create content that goes viral? To engage and enchant?

It can feel like an insurmountable task.

Depressing, huh?

But it doesn’t need to be that hard.

To improve your writing skills, start with mastering different mini-skills

A chef needs to learn chopping, sautéing, roasting, and grilling. She needs to understand what makes a meal nutritious and how to select dishes that taste well together. She needs to practice separating eggs, making roti, and cutting a perfect carrot flower.

Cooking mini-skills are pretty clear.

But writing mini-skills seem fuzzier.

Feeling overwhelmed?

Disentangling writing skills isn’t as hard as you think. You can practice them one by one—just like you can practice kneading, mixing, and grinding.

Shall I explain?

improve your writing skills

Practice specific writing skills

The 9 techniques below are the chopping, boiling, and frying of writing.

Practice each mini-skill one by one:

  1. Learn how to write good sentences— a sparkling sentence is the basic ingredient of good writing.
  2. Become more conversational by including questions in your writing.
  3. Study how to choose flavored words; and learn how to avoid bland phrases that make your writing tasteless and yuck.
  4. Compose smooth transitions so readers glide from sentence to sentence, and from paragraph to paragraph.
  5. Experiment with your voice by changing punctuation and adding a dynamic rhythm.
  6. Create a mesmerizing flow by outlining or reverse-outlining your content.
  7. Practice writing soundbites that linger in your reader’s minds.
  8. Cook up fresh metaphors to make abstract concepts concrete and entertaining.
  9. Play with mini-stories to engage your readers.

Practice your basic writing skills like a sushi chef practices filleting fish. Practice more, and writing becomes a joy.

Develop sticky writing habits

How did you learn how to cook? By watching TV and reading recipe books? Or by practicing in the kitchen?

To learn how to write, you must develop the right writing habits:

  1. Put on your chef’s hat, switch off your phone, set a timer for 25 minutes, and do the work.
  2. Book time in your calendar for writing; and try writing at the same time each day.
  3. Hold yourself accountable—publish at least one piece of content every week.
  4. Apply a structured process to your writing—plan, draft, edit, and format.
  5. Edit your content in several rounds because scintillating content requires careful adjustment of each ingredient.
  6. Nurture a sense of play and experiment with different techniques—start with these creative writing exercises for business content.

Make your content more nourishing

Baking a chocolate fudge cake won’t impress guests on a diet. Cooking the most delicious seafood paella is a waste of your effort, if your guest is allergic to prawns and mussels.

With writing it’s the same. Mediocre writing bores your readers to tears. But nourishing content engages, delights, and inspires your readers.

Start with the following 6 tips to engage your audience:

  1. Practice empathy—understanding how you can help your reader is the basic ingredient of nourishing content.
  2. Apply the principles of persuasion, so you can inspire your reader to implement your tips and nudge him to buy from you.
  3. Make your advice more practical by demonstrating your tips with lively examples.
  4. Make your content memorable by including rich details that breathe life into your arguments.
  5. Borrow authority by including expert quotes and stats.
  6. Share tasty nuggets of information by digging deeper into your topic to reveal more specific tips.

Your readers are hungry for ideas, advice, comfort, and inspiration. Serve them the right mix of nourishing content, and make them crave more.

Find inspiration by studying the masters

We’re not born with a unique voice, just like a chef isn’t born with a signature dish in her mind.

Instead, we learn how to write and cook by studying the masters and ‘stealing’ proven recipes:

  1. Study Cosmopolitan covers and learn how to write attention-grabbing headlines.
  2. Pay attention to words in movie reviews, sports reports, and novels—which words grab you?
  3. Read children’s books to learn how to discuss big topics in simple words.
  4. Enjoy the sensory experience of poetry.
  5. Polish your persuasive writing techniques by studying direct mail and sales copy.
  6. Embrace serendipity—you can find inspiration anywhere.

Stop telling yourself you lack talent

You have good ideas. You want to inspire your audience.

So get to work.

And write.

We’re waiting to hear from you.

Want to improve your writing skills further?

Join the 16-Part Snackable Writing Course (it’s free!):

  • Discover the Power of the Subtle Nod and other persuasive tricks
  • Learn how to cure sentence bloat and avoid irritating your readers
  • Receive 16 simple tips to write more seductive content and win more business

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Comments

  1. Great post Henneke!

    It truly helps to see the whole meal, not just one dish.

    Is this picture an intro for an infographic? 🙂
    Benny recently posted…How to Become an Original Thinker and Fascinate People With Your Fresh Ideas – Pick The BrainMy Profile

    • Yeah, perhaps I can do more with the picture.

      I made the mistake to use watercolors as a background, so it’s hard to re-use (and in hindsight, I don’t like it so much you lose the subtle color variations after scanning). But I can always draw it again! 🙂

  2. Hi Henneke.

    Thanks as always for all your helpful posts that wing their way to my inbox.
    I have implemented your advice to my blog posts and i feel my writing is getting so much better.

    This is like playing my guitar, i know how to play musical scales but the notes are bland and boring if i don’t learn how to construct engaging music. Or like a painter who has a palette of colours but is not sure how to make an inspiring picture on his canvas.

    The same with words. I’m learning to sort the wheat from the chaff and become a better writer.

    I look forward to more of your posts after your Easter break and also look forward to escaping content mediocrity.

    Thanks again, and all the best.

    Pete.

    • Hi Pete

      I’m so glad to hear my blog posts are helping you improve your writing. That’s the cherry on the cake for me 🙂

  3. Your tips make me want to write more and more. This is such an inspiring piece. Thanks for the good read.
    Felisa Daskeo recently posted…Mix Veggies- Grilled StyleMy Profile

  4. “Read a lot, write a lot, and have a good mentor to guide you in the right direction.” Thanks for the practical, doable step by step guidance Henneke.

  5. Hi Henneke,

    Thank you for this invaluable post filled with so many helpful tips and suggestions.
    I’ll refer to this post many times when I am writing.

    Marie
    Marie McCooey recently posted…6 Easy Steps to Recall an Outlook Email (and Avoid Embarrassing Yourself)My Profile

  6. Great article Henneke! Somehow, while reading this article, I had in mind how to write in social networks such as Twitter or Facebook. I think some of your tips can be applied to those too- so thanks for the double advice!

    Happy holidays 🙂
    Virginia recently posted…10 Sites To Take The Best Skyline Pictures in LisbonMy Profile

    • Yep, totally true. Writing for social media is writing, too, and a good way to practice! Twitter, for instance, is good for learning how to write soundbites 🙂

  7. Perfect timing, Henneke! Looking at all the writing I should be doing this week left me feeling rather drained this morning. But now, I’m inspired again and ready to go. Though, I do have to make sure I don’t end up spending most of my time reading all your practical tips and actually do the writing. Thanks!
    Noreen Greimann recently posted…How to Make a Garden Journal for your Child (+ Free Download)My Profile

    • Yes, don’t hang around here for too long, Noreen 😉

      Glad to hear you’re feeling inspired again. Good luck with your writing!

  8. What yummy tips. Thanks for your tasty offerings.
    Susan recently posted…Target Marketing Book for the Niche MarketerMy Profile

  9. Henneke,
    Love this article. Particularly apt as I am trying to improve both my writing and culinary skills. The cooking suffers because often I am trying to meet a deadline and get distracted by the keyboard. Your article is saved to pocket and pinned on the memory board. I will endeavour to master the mini skills in both areas of my life. Thank you and have a lovely Easter break. PS. I love the illustrations.

    • I think my cooking has been suffering a bit since I’ve started to draw. It’s time to get creative in the kitchen again! 🙂

  10. I love how you broke down the process into 4 distinct steps, Henneke. It makes it feel more doable and not so overwhelming when you can approach it in this step-by-step way.

    My favourite tip was definitely this one: “Practice empathy—understanding how you can help your reader is the basic ingredient of nourishing content.” I couldn’t agree more.
    Jenna Dalton recently posted…Why You’re Not Getting Any Blog Comments (And What to Do About It)My Profile

  11. And now all I want to do is write. . . and cook. 🙂

    Thank you for the enchanting post, Henneke!

  12. Hey Henneke,

    This was a great post and it shows that I’m on the right track. I like to add more descriptive emotional words when it comes to my headlines and content. But I will take your advice on studying more sales copy and direct mail. But this post definitely helps because you show the whole entire picture of great writing!

    Thanks for the share! Have a great rest of the week!

  13. What a wonderfully breezy style you have, Henneke! Yet always so full of practical, powerful suggestions! Love the illustrations, too. your sweet, whimsical personality really shines through them 🙂 Keep up the great work!

  14. This is an awesome article and exactly what I needed to hear. I have been blogging for several years but I feel like I am just now beginning to understand how to make my blog posts more engaging. I really enjoy your style of writing and look forward to reading your articles. Thanks for your inspiration!
    Sheri McNally recently posted…3 Important Steps To Relieve Weight Loss FrustrationMy Profile

  15. Hey Henneke

    I’m am truly inspired by the way you take a big topic like how to improve your writing and break it down into bite size pieces.

    Plus your tips have given me a ton of areas that I can focus on one at a time to improve my writing.

    #16 really hit home reason being because it works for me when a writer shows empathy in their content it helps me connect with them which in turn make them pop into my head every now and again to check if they have new content

    Anyway great post thanks for sharing.
    Mark Samms recently posted…New from NinjaOutreach: Chrome Extension + Free Tools!My Profile

    • Yes, #16 is my favorite tip, too.

      It’s easy to fall into the trap of writing something just because we know it and not because we’re helping our readers. Empathy requires discipline.

      I’m glad you enjoyed this post, Mark. Thank you for stopping by 🙂

  16. Annamarie says:

    Hi Henneke,
    I have been reading a lot of blogs in the past year and your’s is just outstanding, for it’s ease on readability. Of course also on value of information.
    Love you Annamarie

  17. Henneke,

    Well on your way to a book for sure. Title is there. Outline is clear. Content is well in hand. Scribble in the connective tissue and bingo! Well, maybe that last Bingo part might take a little more than pixy dust. But, the Henneke magic will bring it off. 🙂

    In the Bluebird world the female builds the nest. But, the male as suitor demonstrates his good provider role by being the first on scene with nesting material.
    To us, it looks like Leonardo, if he hasn’t yet won her heart, is making sure she doesn’t miss his efforts in that direction.
    http://www.poetslovebirds.com

    • Haha! If it only was so easy, Curtis. Scribbling in the connective tissue seems much harder than it sounds 😀

      But eventually I’ll get there!

  18. Henneke,

    I love the way you write your posts and have started to emulate your style. Thanks for this latest post – using sensory words while having “structured” writing can be difficult. You make it look easy. I can’t wait for your next post. Have a nice vacation.
    Vicky recently posted…Do You Believe In Magic?My Profile

    • I think the key is to do the writing in several steps. First structure your posts, then edit sentence by sentence to see where you can add a dash of creativity and personality.

  19. This advice and tips are so practical and simple to learn. Good reading too.

    Thanks Henneke 🙂
    Busyra Oryza recently posted…Daftar Skatepark Terbaik di Indonesia dan Luar NegeriMy Profile

  20. Hi Henneke,

    Great post.

    Creating fresh metaphors and mini-stories are things I still struggle with. The mini-stories especially because I don’t know what to write about. So, what I started doing was jotting down notes of interesting things that has happened in my life, or that I see (or hear) every day that I can then refer back to. And even weave it into my posts. Is that a good strategy? I think I need to read your mini-stories post again.

    Anyway, loved the post and the practical tips, Henneke. And of course the illustrations as well. Keep up the excellent work.

    – Andrew
    Andrew M. Warner recently posted…10 Things I Wish I Had Known When I First Started My BlogMy Profile

    • Hi Andrew

      I usually start with the idea I want to communicate and then think about a story or metaphor I can use to illustrate it.

      You might want to check out the book Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath, or The Tall Lady With the Iceberg by Anne Miller. The former is about story telling and using metaphors, the latter about using metaphors in sales situations, but most of the book applies to using metaphors in blog posts, too.

      Glad you enjoyed the post!

  21. Great list, oh boy do I need some more “flavored words”. If I saw “awesome” one more time in an email or social media post I might just shoot myself lol.

    Thanks Henneke!
    Sarah Davidson recently posted…Which social media network is “right” for you?My Profile

    • Please, please, don’t shoot yourself Sarah. Just delete the email (and unsubscribe if it’s an e-newsletter!) 🙂

      Thank you for stopping by!

      • lol I was talking about emails and social media posts that I WRITE. See how bad my writing is? 🙂

        I guess I could delete them but my poor subscribers…I feel for them!

        Seriously, your content is always really helpful to me as I strive to improve.

  22. Henneke,

    I’m in awe of you! You are truly brilliant. I don’t post often here, but know that I read just about everything you write (I try. Being a SAHM to twin toddlers and a freelance writer give me very little time).

    I’m going to bookmark this site so I can come back to it when I can spare a couple of minutes.

    Thanks for sharing your insightful list.

    Elna
    Elna Cain recently posted…The Author Bio Blueprint That Will Snag ClientsMy Profile

    • Twin toddlers? That sounds like far more than a full time job already.

      I’m amazed you’re still finding time for freelance clients (and to stop by here now and then!).

  23. A great checklist Henneke! What I love about this post is that you have made it really simple to quickly read through. I keep learning from you every time I read one of your posts.
    Peter recently posted…Form Any Habit in 10 Foolproof Steps: InfographicMy Profile

  24. All good advice. That’s what I love about writing. You can always learn. There’s no end zone here. I doubt even Tolstoy said, “I’m done. I have nothing left to learn.”

  25. Hi Henneke,
    These are awesome tips that will not only make the writing genius but also delicious “rotis”. Umm they are delicious.
    Thanks for the tips and I am waiting t using them in my freelance writing business.
    Swadhin Agrawal recently posted…If You Read One Article To Inspire Your Writing, its this!My Profile

  26. The more I read about your rationale about writing, the more enchanted I get. Your teaming up with Julia is fascinating. I am doing the same with Mr Coco Suarez, I call him my companion and helper. But no, I do not know how to draw, I just take photographs with my cell. Someone might think I am crazy. Well I am, but not that much. Ha! I am not a blogger yet, but I am working on it. I have already a domain name. The topic nutrition and health. So you talking so much in your comparisons about cooking, restaurant and so forth… I identify so much with your menus. Thank you for your energies using it helping us. Great help! You say you’re blogging or 3 years… wao… and are so season it already. God bless!

  27. I loved that you used a cooking metaphor to highlight each point. Even for the person who doesn’t cook it works. They know how to eat, or in this case, read and know what good content looks like. What is so often needed is just what you gave, good examples.

  28. George Donaldson says:

    I love this article. I think it might help make my budding freelance writing career become lucrative.

  29. This helps a lot it makes me want to write more and more without stop
    Thank you

  30. Practicing empathy really seems like a smart idea when writing. That way, you can engage your readers and play to their emotions. Even if what you are writing is something they don’t agree with! You can still sympathize with them, and that may even help them to sympathize with you and your ideas.

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