How to Write Better: 7 Instant Fixes

How to write better

Does your writing stand out?

Do you worry whether your writing is good enough?

I can see you nodding your head.

You are not alone. Every writer has doubts about his or her writing.

The good thing is that writing is a journey. Every sentence you write is a step along the road and makes you a better writer.

On this journey, you can either travel the long road – or use shortcuts.

Using shortcuts means learning to spot and fix mistakes in order to write better.

Here are seven instant fixes that will improve your writing.

But … what is good writing?

Inexperienced writers think that ‘good’ writing is elaborate.

No, good writing is simple.

 

1: The art of natural

 

Check out an example of elaborate writing below (I’ve sourced examples of writing from free Kindle books chosen at random).

This is from a story about a young girl who is at home with her young brother when a thunderstorm strikes. The lights go out. Here’s how the writer describes the scene:

An ebony abyss claimed the den.

I take this to mean, “The room went dark.”

Maybe the author consulted a Thesaurus to create a sentence with special words. But all she achieved was to throw the reader out of the story.

If you want to keep the reader immersed in your story or article, you need to write as simply as possible.
Avoid writing that calls attention to itself.

Your words should sound natural. Just imagine answering your neighbor’s question about last night’s power-cut with: “An ebony abyss claimed the den.”

I reckon you’d get a strange look …

 The fix:
Read each sentence aloud to see if it sounds natural or contrived.

 

2: Is it obvious?

 

When you start editing your piece of writing, cut out everything that’s already implicit. Look at the following sentence:

The only luminescence came in the form of the full moon which shone down from a starry sky.

I imagine the writer was trying to say something like: “The only light came from the full moon.”

In general, the moon shines from above, agreed? So, when the author writes, “…which shone down from a starry sky”, he’s stating what is already obvious.

The fix
Grab your word-knife and cut out what is redundant.

 

3: Tight is good

 

Take a look at this excerpt from a suspense novel that reads like a Real Estate ad:

The late afternoon sun streamed through the balcony-facing, floor-to-ceiling windows.

By the time the reader has stumbled through the words ‘balcony-facing’ and ‘floor-to-ceiling’, any suspense has long evaporated.

To keep your readers’ attention, you need to shake loose and discard unnecessary words.

The fix
Cut out all adjectives and adverbs and re-insert only those that are absolutely necessary.

 

4: Deliver in small doses

 

Do you sometimes throw a lot of information at your readers all at once?

Careful!

Take a look at this example:

Ron was the spoiled, playboy son of a local multi-millionaire home improvement chain-store owner.

 It looks like the author wanted to squeeze a lot of information into one sentence. Here’s the information she wanted to convey:

Ron was spoiled
He was a playboy
He lived in the same town as his father
His father was a multi-millionaire
His father ran a home-improvement business
The store his father owned was part of a chain.

That’s a lot of information crammed into one sentence!

If you need to give background information, make sure you do it in small doses.

The fix
Look for all sentences that contain more than two or three pieces of information about a person or a place. Use additional sentences to drip-feed the background information.

 

5: Become a killer (of clichés)

 

Take a look at the following clichés:

The rosy fingers of dawn touched the distant hills.”

“I smiled at him as I told my little white lie and he took it hook, line, and sinker.”

Clichés are predictable and cheapen your writing.

The fix:
Hunt down and kill any clichés. Be ruthless.

 

6: Make color count

 

New writers love eye-popping colors:

The emerald river wound its way through the dusty hills which were dirty off-white tinged with streaks of brownish yellow.

I’m sure you agree that there is too much color in the sentence above. Make color count by using it sparingly.

The fix
Delete superfluous colors in your descriptions.

 

7: Unpack sentences

 

A simple guide to better writing is to focus on one idea per sentence. Long sentences make reading a drag. Here is an example:

The lawyer, now that his client had pleaded guilty, was faced with the problem of concealing his own part in the criminal act, a mistake in judgment that, while it was done with the best of intentions, was nonetheless a violation of his oath as an attorney, a violation that might conceivably result in his indictment, and even a prison term.

There are so many ideas in this sentence that it’s difficult to follow.

Here is a simple rule about length: sentences should not contain more than twenty to thirty words. (Of course, rules like this one beg to be broken – but break them with care).

The fix
Hunt for your long sentences and work on them as follows:

  • Get rid of unnecessary words.
  • Where there is a comma, check if it could be a full stop.
  • Where you see the word ‘which’, see if you could start a new sentence.
  • Reword and rephrase.

As you can see from these seven fixes, it’s easy to improve your writing. Once you know which mistakes to look for in your writing, you can correct and avoid them.

Warning: in all of this lies a danger.

If you focus on mistakes when you are in the flow of writing, you’ll cramp your creativity. Apply the fixes only after you’ve created something. Here is contrary advice for your first drafts:

Let your writing be full, wild, and bad: the badder, the better.

Put what you’ve written aside. Wait for at least one day. Then apply the seven instant fixes above – and transform your writing into a thing of beauty.

If you are wondering how to write better – follow these tips and you will be amazed how your writing improves.

Thoughts? Examples? Please share in the comments.

You might also like to read: How to Be a Writer: 201 Tips.

 

About the author:
Mary Jaksch is  Editor-in-Chief at WritetoDone.com and Creator of A-List Blogging. After creating two super-successful blogs of her own, Mary has dedicated herself to teaching students to grow profitable blogs that attract attention. Take her fun quiz to see how much you know about what makes a blog successful.

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117 Responses to “How to Write Better: 7 Instant Fixes”

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  1. Paul Baxter says:

    It’s not an either/or, though; on this journey, you can take those shortcuts WHILE you continue down the long road. If you’re traveling the long road, don’t keep tripping over your own shoelaces. Make the small quick correction of tying them now.

  2. As a recovering obsessive, it is difficult for me to not to edit while I write. Thanks for reminding me to get back to writing “full, wild, and bad”
    Cheers!

  3. Karen says:

    It’s amazing to me that published books actually have some of these sentences in. I appreciate they were probably self-published by people who didn’t hire editors, or involve beta readers, or take a basic writing course or read a book about writing well or even read a lot of good books first to see how they’re written.

    I haven’t read the infamous ’50 Shades of Gray’ yet either but a friend read out just one paragraph to me the other day and the author had 2 adjectives applying to the same noun. I forget the sentence but it was similar to the “balcony-facing, floor-to-ceiling windows.” one – and that’s from one of the biggest-selling books of all time.

    Sorry, I don’t usually rant in comments sections but I think my frustration with some of the writing that’s seeing the light of day (and earning huge advances) these days is starting to get to me.
    Karen recently posted..Free Online Courses for WritersMy Profile

    • Hutch says:

      So, does this mean the book reading public does not care about sentence structure?

      • Karen says:

        Based on the success of ’50 Shades’ maybe they don’t. This makes me sad :(

        I know. Maybe I should get some real problems.
        Karen recently posted..Free Online Courses for WritersMy Profile

        • BAChic says:

          Karen…
          As someone who did read it- mostly to see what all the fuss was about-
          I don’t think the average reader was picking up 50 Shades of Grey because it was well written.
          It reads more like what you might get if you wrote down an XXX rated film.

          Still can make you sad- just for a different reason…

          Just saying.

    • TNeal says:

      Karen, my wife is a freelance editor for 3 publishing companies. Believe me. It’s not just self-published authors (of whom I am one–doggone it; is that grammatically correct?). Ellen has edited for award-winning authors who deserve the accolades and for others who make her want to throw her computer across the room. Both types see the light of a contract, and that gives me hope. ;-)

      I understand your rant though.
      TNeal recently posted..When Did My Faith Become A Job That Sucks?My Profile

    • John says:

      Did you happen to read your reply? You seem to live in a glass house. Be careful with the stones.

  4. Hutch says:

    Great information. Your site is such a great resource for me untrained writer.

    When I read an article or blog post, I find that I reword (edit) the sentences in my brain as I go. I may remove punctuation or start new sentences so that it sounds correct to me. I may even substitute words. Not sure if that makes sense but, it helps me enjoy what I’m reading more.
    Hutch recently posted..Performance or RelationshipMy Profile

    • Mary Jaksch says:

      Untrained writer? You sound more like a ‘closet writer’. Come out and get writing :-)
      If you do all that re-arranging in your mind, you’re already a writer in training, Hutch!
      Mary Jaksch recently posted..How to Keep a Fitness JournalMy Profile

      • Hutch says:

        You’re right Mary. I just started a blog and write as much as time allows. Seems that the writing is not so difficult, it’s the editing that takes forever.

  5. Excellent suggestions and examples. Even though I am not highly descriptive in my writing, the suggestion about color still grabbed me in sort of an opposite way. It tells me how to add color if/when I do.

    I have a great crit reader that helps me cut out my extra clutter in my writing – which in turn gives me fresh eyes to trim even more after that.

    • Mary Jaksch says:

      I must admit that after I had finished this post I had a moment of wobble because teaching by ‘bad’ example doesn’t usually work. But I was so excited about finding these examples that I just couldn’t resist sharing them with you.

      I’m glad the post has helped you …. phew!
      Mary Jaksch recently posted..How to Keep a Fitness JournalMy Profile

  6. Ali says:

    I’m guilty of #4 since I used to think it’ll make my write-up shorter… is it a trade-off? great post anyway, tweeting :)
    Ali recently posted..Unlock The 14 Little-Known Tips To Proofread Your Own Work FlawlesslyMy Profile

  7. I’m a college professor. I will definitely share this blog post with my students.

    You have condensed so much rewriting wisdom into this terrific post. Thanks for these important reminders.

    Dave Lambert
    David Lambert recently posted..homeMy Profile

  8. Vickie says:

    Excellent post. I am a huge fan of Robert B. Parker’s books and I try to scale my words down to a minimum like he did while I work on my book. I’m not always successful but I’ll keep trying. This blog now joins my RBP rule. Thanks
    Vickie recently posted..Comanche Creek Brewing CompanyMy Profile

  9. These are great tips, but I do think the rules can be broken. I’m thinking of instances when you’re trying to create a narrator that has a very distinct voice (in fiction or poetry). You have to stay true to the narrator’s voice, which may require a few long sentences over thirty words. It may require “bad” descriptions or intentional cliches here and there. I’m sure there’s a way to do this where it feels natural and enhances the story rather than detracting from it. If you’re selective about when you purposefully break the rules, it can add dimension and life to your writing, even humor.

    But in general, I think these are very good practices.
    Sarah L. Webb recently posted..3 Strategies to Advance Your Writing CareerMy Profile

  10. Kate Hall says:

    Thanks for these practical tips! I’ve read many books on writing over the past year, but to get all theses reminders (and a couple new pieces of advice) in one place is just what I need. I’m going to practice these right now!
    Kate Hall recently posted..Five Months Ago…My Profile

  11. Carmelo says:

    First, I’m very glad you included the bad examples. It really clarified things for a novice writer! And yet I still have a question for you!

    In regards to #5: I agree in theory that cliches are often boring and overused but I’ve read that some writing instructors advocate limited usage. They can convey your meaning quickly and succinctly. You seemed to say NEVER!

    Do you stand by that or were you just “whistling Dixie?” Ha! :-)

    Carmelo
    Carmelo recently posted..Changing the WorldMy Profile

    • Mary Jaksch says:

      Never? Never is quite a word, isn’t it.

      The funny thing is that I found not one, but THREE cliches lurking in this post before I pressed the ‘publish’ button. Time to blush … 8-)

      We’re so use to speaking cliches that they slip into our writing unbidden. So I’d like to amend my ‘never’ like this:

      Do not let accidental cliches slip into your writing.

      However, feel free to use a cliche intentionally – if it enhances a passage.
      Mary Jaksch recently posted..How to Keep a Fitness JournalMy Profile

      • Carmelo says:

        Thanks! That does make a lot of sense. Unintentional cliches would definitely weaken your writing and they enter in so easily! Like right now, I find my fingers reluctant to type in fear of slighting my brain’s good intentions! (and you blush well, Mary.)

  12. PJ Reece says:

    Carmelo… perhaps the key is to use your cliches so sparingly that when you finally deploy one it makes an impression. Imagine a quality paragraph with crisp original thoughts and then you cap it off with a two-bit cliche… I bet that would work. Damn it all…I’m going to try it!
    PJ Reece recently posted..The Passionate MuseMy Profile

    • Carmelo says:

      Hahaha! Go for it.

      Thanks for the thought, PJ. And nice website, btw.

      I’m off to create some crisp and original thoughts …
      Carmelo recently posted..Changing the WorldMy Profile

    • Mary Jaksch says:

      Ah PJ, you can always be relied upon to say something interesting…

      But I want proof, PJ, PROOF!
      Show us that para with the three-bit cliche at the end :-) I know you can pull it off!

      • PJ Reece says:

        He drives her home through streets strewn with autumn leaves so tinder-dry it’s a wonder the entire city hasn’t exploded. Conrad can smell the fuse burning, yard trimmings smoldering, the atmosphere as sweet as smoke off funeral ghats along the banks of the sacred Ganges. His beloved Katherine is dying. Well, she can’t die; he won’t allow it; he’s not finished loving her. Tomorrow they’re going to picnic at the end of the runway. She’s crazy about the noise. Now, this prognosis ruins tomorrow, ruins everything. Or does it? He’s always loved her like there’s no tomorrow.
        PJ Reece recently posted..The Passionate MuseMy Profile

  13. MasterCFI says:

    I like the “deliver in small doses” part! It always works for me. I see that most medical field professionals do the same thing….i.e. deliver in small doses.
    And then always relate to the previous dose, and adjust the present dose. In fact this is a very active process. Thanks.
    MasterCFI recently posted..Fear Of Flying Book With Excellent Results 50% Commission!My Profile

  14. Mary Jaksch says:

    That’s an interesting comment. Especially the bit about the *active* process. I could imagine how delivering information or backstory in small doses could be crucial in a suspense novel, for example.
    Mary Jaksch recently posted..How to Keep a Fitness JournalMy Profile

  15. TNeal says:

    Excellent shortcut advice for folks who should take the long view to crafting stories. I will forward this to the freelance editor in our home. I can already hear her saying, “Oh, yeah! Mary’s got that right.”

    You make a point we writers need to grasp. Don’t overwrite and pull your reader out of the story.
    TNeal recently posted..When Did My Faith Become A Job That Sucks?My Profile

  16. Mary Jaksch says:

    Yes, I agree with you: “Don’t overwrite”. Pretentious writing kills the reader’s fantasy that he or she is right there in the action.
    Mary Jaksch recently posted..How to Keep a Fitness JournalMy Profile

  17. Tahlia Meredith says:

    This is a fantastic post and the advice is spot-on. I’ve noticed many instances similar to the examples you provided in (usually free) self-published fiction and it drives me crazy as a reader. I also plan to ‘star’ this post for later so when I’m ready to publish something I can cast a critical eye over my own work with these tips in mind. Big thanks!

  18. Liz McGee says:

    Hi Mary,

    All great tips and things I need reminding of on occasion.

    #7 is a pet peeve of mine, I don’t like reading long sentences, yet I can be one of the biggest violators when I write myself. Your fixes for that are helpful though.

    Thanks,
    Liz :-)
    Liz McGee recently posted..Deep Linking – Stop Linking To Your Home Page!My Profile

  19. It’s great having actual examples. Makes the point so much more powerful and easier to understand. Thank you Mary.
    Damien Elsing recently posted..3 Simple Tools For Getting the Most Out of TwitterMy Profile

  20. Bob Bois says:

    Amen, sister!
    Bob Bois recently posted..Deep OnesMy Profile

  21. Interesting stuff here I must say. I think #4 is one many folks have problems with and it’s probably because some of the top writers get away with doing it. I’m thinking of John Sandford’s book, where he loves going into explanations just like you’ve mentioned above, yet they seem to help bring some of the tension into play when we’re wondering how he’s going to present the murder victim to us. And Tom Clancy writes lines that would have made Ayn Rand and Ann Rice proud. lol
    Mitch Mitchell recently posted..Are Your Social Media Standards Too Strict?My Profile

  22. Caroline says:

    Hi Mary, A lovely post thank you. I remember my dad reading a letter to me from his dad. It ended with : ” I’m sorry this letter is so long I didnt have time to make it shorter ” ! That’s really stayed with me.

  23. Rana says:

    nicely packed and useful info on writing and easy to remember, thanks a lot!
    Rana recently posted..Do You Know Ramadan?My Profile

  24. Bree says:

    Great advice! I always have to remind myself that sometimes simple is best.
    Bree recently posted..Why you have to read to writeMy Profile

  25. Just wanted to thank you for all the helpful insights regarding revisions, which I’m in the process of doing now on my first children’s novel. Everytime I go back over it, I can see where I can delete and make the story tighter.

  26. solcan says:

    Very intresting indeed, I hate the meaningless words but a good write must also create conversions in mind to make the atraction to his story. It is what IIsus teched us

  27. Ah I love “kill the cliches”!! Cliches are like corporate geek-speak … unnecessary, over-used and lazy. Nice one!

  28. Yeremi Akpan says:

    Hi Mary,

    ‘Deliver in small doses’. That is the most amazing thing I have read this week!

    One technology that has helped me implement this tip without actually putting mind into it is twitter.

    Have you noticed how Twitter helps you cut away the fluff and get to what really matters?
    Yeremi Akpan recently posted..4 Ways to Get Steady but Free Blog TrafficMy Profile

  29. CLJ says:

    Very useful ~ sharing on Twitter !

  30. Karen Cioffi says:

    Great pointers, Mary. Number 7 is something I have to pay attention to. I do editing and rewriting of some scientific papers and those sentences can be a paragraph long. :) It sometimes trickles over into my own writing.
    Karen Cioffi recently posted..Ghostwriting: Content RewritingMy Profile

  31. Jungo says:

    Just wanted to leave a simple comment just to let you know that I was able to take some advice from this post. Thank you for taking the time to post this. I already feel like a better writer by reading this. Again, thank you!
    Jungo recently posted..I, too, Carried Her HeartMy Profile

  32. Mary Jaksch says:

    That’s lovely feedback: “I already feel like a better writer by reading this.”
    Thanks!

  33. Jevon says:

    As a new author, I’ll have to remember this, thanks. Although, I doubt I would have ever wrote anything as elaborate as “An ebony abyss claimed the den.”
    Jevon recently posted..Inspiration ExamplesMy Profile

  34. This is such excellent advice. I am working on a rewrite and have been trying to stick to a lot of what you suggested. I had wondered about flowery writing. I am pretty straightforward and it would be unnatural for me to use prose in my book. I have used metaphors and they can be fun!
    I just added my first two adverbs today. I thought they were needed. I know. Two.
    I have been sticking primarily to he said she said. Now I am hearing that it can become repetitive. Dang. It’s so hard to keep up with the latest!

  35. Amy says:

    Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful (not trying to be redundant here) condensed post for everyone to follow! You’ve given me that extra push to get my feet wet again! Thank you so very much.

  36. betlamed says:

    You forgot the most important rule: Rule #8 – break the rules!

    After all, we don’t want prose like the following:

    Susan was a secretary. She worked at a company. The company sold fish. The company was large. Susan had blond hair. She came in through the door. She stood in the room.

    I mean, it’s a fun little experiment as a joke or something, but not quite what I want to read. :-)
    betlamed recently posted..I’m A GuyMy Profile

  37. Anna Cortez says:

    Thanks for the kickstart again as sometimes I am still ‘shy’ at writing because of the controversial figures I’m writing about so I will clean up too and follow these steps…Jump in at deep end again and hold my breath after ‘fixing’ what you recommend…Best wishes..Again thanks for this insight…keep well..

    • Mary Jaksch says:

      I’m glad this is serving as a kickstart to get you writing again, Anna :-)
      Mary Jaksch recently posted..How To Live a Life of HappinessMy Profile

      • Anna Cortez says:

        I can see that I have a lot of cleaning up to do like deleting the least read about and writing about what is read about most..However I write as Spirit moves me which can be several times per day or once per month but trying to stick to your teachings as I can see you are right…Lots more to sort and sometimes I don’t know what I am doing ..Thanks for the inspiraiton..

  38. Interesting blog, thanks for posting. I am guilty of overly-packed sentences. Good reminder for me. And I’ve always hated purple prose; I find myself squinting at adverbs and adjectives. Anyway, I “stumbled” on your blog, enjoyed it.

  39. Mary Jaksch says:

    I’d love to see some of your writing, Keith. You have a way with words: “I find myself squinting at adverbs…”
    Nice one!
    Mary Jaksch recently posted..How To Live a Life of HappinessMy Profile

  40. Hi Mary,

    These are some great suggestions. It’s important not to wind up sounding like Ted on the Mary Tyler Moore show (am I dating myself?). I suppose that’s okay if that’s what the character really is like (Ted), but just as people shied away from Ted, people will shy away from your narrative if you become bombastic. I like short sentences and short paragraphs. Something that I think helps readers is a different type of editing point. Leave white space. Double space between paragraphs. Quadruple space when the scene shifts. Unless it’s twenty one sentence paragraphs in a row, the white space makes it easier to read. (My opinion)

    Thanks for sharing and have a great day!

    Lou Barba
    Lou Barba@shortstorykitchen.com recently posted..The Cookie CookMy Profile

  41. Michael says:

    Mary, I stumbled upon your article here and have to say that it’s one of the best of its kind that I’ve seen. Easy-to-understand (and implement), super-effective writing tips abound here! :)

  42. Great ideas, Mary. What you focus on can often happen in a rough draft. That’s why it’s so important to write and write and get the majority of the piece down and then go back and whittle and change. Often sentences need to be shortened or some sentences combined. Rewriting is the true craft–you infuse the text with clarity and that will bring you readers.

    Beth@Boomer Highway
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  43. Afsar says:

    Here is a website for all creative writing enthusiastic people . Express you ideas, experience and stories on migzing.com. Enjoy the best creative writing community :D

  44. mike says:

    Definitely need one of these for writing music…

  45. Sam says:

    I wish I would have stumbled into sites like yours and copyblogger before I wasted all my time writing junk. fuuuuuuuuu :(

    ha
    Sam recently posted..The Golden Rule Explained SimplyMy Profile

  46. RandomNoun says:

    Ah, I get it.

    So then:
    ‘Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls.’
    Becomes:
    ‘Mr Leopold Bloom was a meat-eater.’

    And:
    ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’
    Converts to:
    ‘Everyone knows that rich men like to get married . . . or do they? Hmm.’

  47. Rachel Dyson says:

    Where do you stand on sentence fragments? Should everything be connected with a dash or semi-colon? I have been using a few to make the narrative a little choppy to add to suspense. Is this wrong?

    • Mary Jaksch says:

      Hi Rachel, I love using fragments. And I enjoy putting ‘wrong’ grammar to use (like starting sentences with ‘and’). I think that sentence fragments can propel the text forward. Try it and give us some examples :-)
      Mary Jaksch recently posted..What is the Missing Ingredient in Your Life?My Profile

      • Anna Cortez says:

        I had been doing this and thinking I shouldn’t but now I will do it as the spirit moves me. Like a statement sometimes drawing their attention to what you are going to write. Yes. AND I like seeing this..Listening for phones ringing so multi-tasking for once..Ha.Ha.

  48. Adele bags says:

    Great post. Very impressive writing. The tips are very useful for me. I have been looking for this for a long time.

  49. Alan says:

    Using cliches in dialogue can say more about a character than two or three paragraphs of description.

    About “tell the truth,” sometimes a really outrageous lie can make a point. For example, “I spent seventy-three years in prison for possession of two joints (marijuana cigarettes).” Obviously unbelievable, but the point of this whopper is how ridiculously unfair laws against it are.

  50. Thank you for taking the time out to provide us with these helpful tips, I’m always looking for ways to improve my writing especially since I’m a new author. We should never stop learning.
    Khadija Craddock (@Undone_ebook) recently posted..Looking For RomanceMy Profile

  51. Ema says:

    Great article. Have you heard of a book called “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White? It’s very similar to this, and almost essential for any writer. I was required to purchase it for an English class, and it’s one of the books I’m going to hang onto for a long time. Some of the rules may be a little more strict, but it’s really worth a read.