Here Are the Only Two Surefire Ways to Improve Your Writing

October 16, 2016

It’s a content marketing world. We’re just living in it.

One path to thriving in this world is to develop better writing skills. As content marketers, we covet books about how to write better copy. We read blog posts hoping to find shortcuts to better writing. And we hire journalists to help us generate useful, entertaining content at a frequency we can sustain.

Writing is essential to great content marketing. The problem is there are only two ways to genuinely improve your writing:

1. Read A Lot

Through careful, attentive reading, we can embed the patterns of good structure, good sentences, and good rhythm into our writing. All writers, even the great ones, copy what they read. William Faulkner, for example, copied James Joyce’s diction, his stream-of-consciousness, and his technique of multiple narrators. Every magazine feature writer copies Tom Wolfe. And Shakespeare has influenced storytellers on and off the stage for five centuries. 

In today’s content everywhere world, we can find influences all over the place: In a well-constructed Tweet or LinkedIn post. In an email subject line. In the newspapers and books we read. And even in the great writing we can find on television shows such as “Peaky Blinders,” “Catastrophe,” and “Fargo” (especially season one).

With so much content available to us, it pays to choose our influences wisely. We must read with purpose, with the intent of copying the right stuff. It’s the path to becoming the writers we want to become. In an effort to be the writer I want to be, I’ve read a handful of books multiple times, because I want to copy the writer’s approach: “Catcher in the Rye” for its conversational style, “An Instance of the Fingerpost” for its unequalled storytelling, and “One Hundred Years of Solitude” because even in translation it creates a world unlike any other.

2. Write A Lot

There’s not much to say here beyond this: Write every day. For many of us content marketers, it is our job to write. On a daily basis, we compose emails, LinkedIn long form posts, blogs, ebooks, and video scripts.

Write all of these, from the shortest of Tweets to the longest of white papers, with an eye toward getting better. But don’t become paralyzed by trying to make everything you write perfect. Completion is crucial. Finish a blog post today, even if it has flaws, because you will learn something from it. Ultimately, the things you write tomorrow and the day after that will show steady improvement. Because writing, if you put your mind to it, is one of the few skills we can get better at as we grow older.

They say the 3 R’s — reading, writing and arithmetic, or if, you prefer, reading, ’riting, and ’rithmetic — are the essentials of education. The same 3R’s form a crucial equation in content marketing. If you read well and write well, the arithmetic of more subscribers, more shares, and more marketing qualified leads will follow. 

Here’s a suggestion on what to read next: The Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to Content Marketing. Download it today. 

Photo: Francois Schnell