Here’s a list of tips that have helped me to improve my writing style. I’ve picked them up from writing courses, writing guides and blogs. Please feel free to add your own writing advice in the comments.
Vary sentence length to create an interesting rhythm
Imagine a long passage of five-word sentences. Don’t you think it would read like a train clickety-clicking along the tracks? Varying sentence lengths gives paragraphs a much better internal rhythm. Use a mix of long, short and medium sentences to avoid the monotonous train track effect.
Of course, it’s not only word count that makes a difference here. It’s also syllables. “I’m discombobulated about calligraphy” has more syllables than “I like the dog,” yet they’re both four-word phrases. So, don’t forget to count syllables and words when checking sentence length.
Vary grammatical structures to make writing feel lively
English grammar gives writers lots of ways to say the same thing. Look at these examples: After visiting Rome, I decided to learn Italian. I decided to learn Italian after visiting Rome. I decided to learn Italian after a visit to Rome. My visit to Rome inspired me to learn Italian. That’s four different ways to say the same thing. I bet you can think of even more!
I don’t know about you, but I tend to overuse certain structures. For example, I’m far too prone to putting “but” in the middle of sentences. I’m very fond of “and” too. Using the same structures over and over makes for dull writing. When you finish a piece, check it over to see if there’s any way you can vary the structures.
Start each sentence with a different word
Writing looks a lot fresher when sentences don’t all begin with the same word. It’s difficult not to use some starters. “The” and “a/an” are two of hardest to avoid. It’s worth making the effort to do so. I find following this rule reminds me to vary grammatical structures too.
Watch out for unnecessary words and improve vocabulary
Unnecessary words maybe don’t matter in a single line of text. In a long passage they will make their presence felt. If, in a 1,000 words there are 300 that serve no purpose, the reader is going to feel the weight of it. Excess wordage makes writing “porridgy” and saggy. If your writing just doesn’t sparkle, it could have something to do with your word count.
Off the top of my head, I think There are at least three ways to cut out unnecessary words. The first is to Firstly, remove anything that reads like filler. Secondly, make a game of using as few words as possible. Thirdly, Cutting out unnecessary words is a good way to improve vocabulary. Look for strings of words that could be substituted with one strong verb or noun. For inspiration, check out this list of 249 strong verbs on Jerry Jenkins’s website.
When it comes to deciding which words are unnecessary, it’s important to exercise good judgement. In some cases, words that look like fluff might be needed to add a certain feeling to a piece. Copywriting often requires a conversational approach and a full armoury of common filler phrases.
Don’t be too much of a stickler about following writing advice
I guarantee these tips will improve your writing. However, remember they are just tips. They aren’t unbreakable rules. Good writing is about communicating content. If you worry too much about applying stylistic tricks to your writing, you won’t pay enough attention to what you want to say.
Over the years I’ve noticed that applying tips too rigidly can make writing look unnatural and peculiar. In my case, I used to be so strict about cutting out unnecessary words that my writing became stark and lacking in warmth. In situations where a warm, natural conversational tone is called for, “unnecessary” filler words might be a necessity!
Do you have any writing tips that you’d like to share? Or do you have a story about a time when you applied tips too rigidly? You’re very welcome to leave a comment below the line. Thank you for reading.