Quick, write an email.
(*or insert whatever it is in place of “email” that you need to write*)
I’ve seen people shudder faster at the idea of writing — anything — than they do when preparing to skydive.
Is this you?
The truth is, writing doesn’t have to be scary.
You already do it all of the time.
Not to mention, if you work online in any capacity (freelancer, marketer, running a business online) the need for knowing how to write goes up even more. Writing is considered one of the top ten industries for freelancers. Through blog posts, web pages and marketing copy, freelance writers take the reins as the voice of a company.
Learning how to write effectively is a skill that cannot be overlooked.
So, let’s get going and dive into today’s guide — your ultimate roadmap to learning how to write better.
Why Everyone Should Learn How to Write
To quote my college English professor, good writing is fundamental in any and every job you get. She burned that into our brains from the very first day of class. She wasn’t wrong.
Even if you aren’t on the path to becoming a professional writer, writing is still a necessary skill needed to accelerate your career.
A survey of over 120 American corporations taken by Collegeboard on behalf of the National Commission on Writing, found that writing corresponds with employees’ ability to effectively communicate.
When applying for a job, 86% of the responding companies claim they hold “poorly written application materials” against candidates.
A stellar resume can get your foot in the door, but writing is a skill that must be proven throughout your performance.
Most companies require some form of written correspondence even if the position never calls for it.
Beyond emails and financial reports, the need for writing is still prevalent in our everyday lives.
Exhibit A: texting. Let’s be honest, does anyone actually use their phone to call their friends these days?
Even though Instagram and Facebook are dominated by photo-centric posts, the captions are how we express ourselves on social media, #thinkaboutit.
Maybe these aren’t the most sophisticated forms of writing, but they are the methods in which we communicate. It’s even the way major news networks publicize breaking news.
— CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) March 30, 2018
Learning to write is about understanding how to clarify your vision for both yourself and your audience.
The Difference in Writing for the Web vs. Just “Writing”
Now that we’ve established the importance of writing as a whole, we’ll tackle an entirely different beast: writing online content.
Unlike a poet or an author, content writers must adhere to the rules of the web in addition to creating engaging content.
Yes, Catcher in the Rye was impressive, but would it ever have gone viral online?
Web content, like blogs, web pages and marketing copy follow a different formula than the layman’s written word.
The content must be informative, highly researched, and persuasive all while being completely engaging to a wide audience.
If you ever thought writing a blog post was as simple as jotting down thoughts in your journal every night, think again.
Great content writers aren’t born, they practice and become great after many late nights, sweat, and tears.
That’s a big reason why you see a lot of crappy writing around the web… because seriously good copy isn’t easy to write.
Writing is a skill that needs to be developed over time. Think of writing as any other professional sport, and you are a rookie player trying to reach the championships. As an athlete, you must train to perfect your craft.
Becoming a professional writer also takes extensive training, but the benefits will open up doors for every possible career in the future.
Learn to Write Like a Pro: 9 Lessons that Will Help Your Writing Seriously Shine
Professional writing is more than always using the correct version of there/they’re/their.
It’s also more than the debate between whether or not to use semicolons. George Bernard Shaw says, “Do not use semicolons at all.” Other famous grammarians have agreed with his statement.
The secret recipe to becoming an expert professional writer isn’t so secret after all.
Like any skill, it takes practice and dedication to the craft.
Then… more practice.
And maybe a break… and practice again after that.
If the top of your to-do list proclaims “LEARN HOW TO WRITE,” you may find yourself staring at an empty Word document watching the cursor blink back at you with disappointment.
Learning to write seems like a daunting task when thought of as one goal. A more realistic approach is to break it down into smaller steps along the way.
1. Tools: How Writers Set Themselves Up for Success
The environment in which you write is vital to your success. It is the first step towards clarifying your thoughts.
As a professional writer, the computer is the vessel in which you communicate. Most jobs require using the classic Microsoft Word coupled with the internet for extensive research.
Read that last part carefully.
The internet is meant to be used for research purposes. I have personally never used videos of cats being scared by cucumbers for research, so you shouldn’t either. Well, until now.
It’s easy to be distracted for hours when another cat video awaits your click.
Luckily, there are a few tools to limit distractions and stimulate your focus.
Writing applications like Ommwriter have downloadable themes set in natural, minimal backgrounds complete with audio tracks to create the perfect writing atmosphere.
Other extensions like OneTab convert multiple tabs into one list. Example:
Not only does this save memory on your computer, but now you can look at your screen without being overwhelmed.
A few other exercises you can practice to clear your mind are to play music or turn off your phone.
Customizing your setting allows you to spend time lost in your words without interruptions, and communicate more effectively.
2. Very Important: Set Routine for More Success
If you are just starting out, you should reserve a certain amount of time everyday to practice your craft.
Sticking to a routine, like writing for thirty minutes each day at 12pm, will keep you accountable and teach you discipline.
3. Before Writing: Research, Outlines and Structure
The writing process starts long before you ever type anything.
After setting the mood to write well, you must spend time in the before stage building the structure of your piece. This part is crucial to set yourself up for success.
One main difference between writing for pleasure and writing as a profession, is that the latter consists of a lot more dedicated planning.
Though my swim teacher advocated jumping into the deep end during my very first lesson, learning how to write by first tackling a novel will leave you drowning in words.
Creating an outline is the best way to get your thoughts in order before you delve into full sentences.
Outlines are the backbone of any written piece. They are a place to put down ideas and build on them with supportive evidence. They will also guide you through the writing process.
Outlining beforehand gives you a starting point, teaches structure and makes the whole process go a lot faster.
Like scientists, writers must also research to prove their theory.
Content writers often learn to write on a variety of different subject matter. As the author, you must become an expert on the topic at hand and adjust your tone as needed. Every professional writer also becomes a professional researcher. You start as a student, and then transform into the teacher. A main part of learning to write is sifting through the internet to source from new, relevant and informative information that applies to your topic.
4. During Writing: Creating Engaging Content
The time has come.
With a carefully crafted outline, all of your topics are waiting in line ready to be called next. It is time to start writing.
All it takes is one word to begin and you’ll find your fingers swiftly typing away, and for this stage of writing, you should let them. Try to avoid editing yourself as you go. You can refine after you get your ideas down.
Above all else, you must engage your reader.
Creating engaging content doesn’t mean succumbing to cheap tactics without providing any quality material. Solid content is the opposite of clickbait. While “50 Proven Ways to Lose 10 lbs by Next Week” is appealing, a reader quickly loses interest once they figure out it’s just an ad for a diet pill.
A social media marketing study from Keyhole, proved Buzzfeed’s “sharebait” argument false when analyzing their posts.
In fact, they found that non-clickbait posts were retweeted 390 times on average, versus a measly 183 retweets for their typical attention grabbing headlines.
The proof is in the data. Readers value content with substance.
The trick is to grab their attention immediately, and hold on to it by providing useful content that is not only informative, but fun to read.
Keep your readers engaged by practicing a few of these techniques during the writing process:
- Put your audience first. You’ve probably heard the expression, “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.” Try reading your blog through someone else’s perspective. Write for the reader above all else without getting bogged down by the latest SEO trends.
- Use a persuasive (not overbearing) tone. Online content is written with the purpose of selling an idea, brand or object. However, as a content writer you are not the typical salesperson. There is no need to convince the audience with flashy gimmicks. Find out what’s important to your readers and use those factors to support your arguments.
- Catch the reader with your hook. With the average attention span at eight seconds, you have limited time to keep your viewers reading on. Learning to write a killer intro for a blog or webpage, will grasp your reader’s attention. Don’t be afraid to make it conversational, be funny or start with a shocking statistic.
- Make it personal. The small, intimate details are what will set your writing apart from anyone else. It brings your anecdotes to life and allows the reader to feel like you are sharing something with them. It’s the difference between writing, “I went to the grocery store to pick up some chips” and “I went to HEB to snag a bag of Salsa Verde Doritos.” The details are what makes your writing you.
- Demonstrate your examples. Another common use of this phrase is “show your work.” If you say that popsicles are the number one snack for adolescents, then prove it. Provide readers with relevant links and sources to support your claims. Practice what you preach by giving readers no other choice than to believe you.
5. After Writing: Editing, Proofreading and Optimizing
You made it!
The pages are filled with text, the word count is met, and every idea swirling around your head has made it through the end of your fingertips onto the computer screen.
Take a break! Now come right back.
What comes after the big task of writing, distinguishes great writers from the rest. The after writing stage is just the beginning of the editing stage. Editing is a crucial part of every writing process, especially when it comes to creating online content.
The first draft of a blog is hardly the last. Every written piece goes through cycles of editing and proofreading to get it to that number one spot on Google.
Editing as you write will only slow you down. Resist changing your work until you’ve gotten all of the words out of your system.
Once your first draft is finished, take a breather, then go back and read it. You should perform several cycles of re-reading your content while taking breaks in between.
If there is a part that just doesn’t seem to work, try reading it aloud.
As a content writer, your work is two-fold. The content first and foremost needs to be high-quality, engaging writing. However, it also must be optimized to rank high in search engines. The editing process provides the time to refine headings, check your use of the keyword, hit the target word count and optimize the rest of the document based on the client’s needs.
Therefore, there are a few rules to adhere to when learning to write engaging online content.
- Provide high quality, authoritative links. This is where time spent researching comes back into play. Always link to the original source and try to include specific statistics that support your argument.
- Use the keyword properly. It’s best to follow the Goldilocks method when it comes to keyword use: not too much, not too little, but just right. Keywords and keyword variations should be used in the titles, headings and first paragraph of your copy. They should also be sprinkled into the content in a natural way, without keyword stuffing.
- Link internally. Keep readers on your website by linking back to past, relevant pages.
Optimizing your content is a job within itself. Regardless of all of the rules and regulations, quality writing will always prevail.
However, continual training will take you to the top of the class.
Expert courses in content strategy teach entrepreneurs and freelance writers the tools they need to develop high-quality branded content.
6. Realize that Learning to Write Never Stops
Once you finish your first, expertly written piece, you’ll be singing Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now,” until you start again.
The good news is you’ll never have to stop. To put it plain and simple, writers never stop writing.
Writing is a consistent skill that needs to be developed.
Think of your newly formed writing mind in the same way as you would six-pack abs. Once you see definition, you don’t just stop and declare you’re done. Do that, and all of your hard work will quickly cease to exist.
Even without deadlines to meet or projects to finish, there are exercises writers can perform to keep their skills in shape. Along with continually writing, for example, by starting a blog or journaling, practice these other tips to stay on par.
7. Become an Avid Reader
Reading constantly sharpens your writing skills.
My nightstand, living room table, living room TV stand, reading room, office… constantly feature a pile of books.
I’m always taking the time to read. This helps me so much.
Pick up a newspaper or magazine, join a book club or subscribe to newsletters online and actually take the time to read them. Exposing yourself to a wide variety of styles broadens your understanding of structure and how other writers choose to express themselves.
Try reading things that you like and don’t like and identify those reasons. What draws you to the lists section of McSweeney’s? Finding out why you like something will set you up to create work that you value.
8. Read About Writing
Though this sounds redundant, learning new skills as a writer will always help you improve. Read about becoming a better writer (I know, shameless plug here) and study those skills like you would for your AP English exam.
9. Make Writing a Group Effort
Seek feedback from peers, coworkers, clients and friends to give you another perspective on your writing. These are the people you are writing for, so asking for feedback is a vital opportunity to find out if your writing is truly engaging.
Conclusion: Learn to Write with Today’s Guide & Don’t Be Afraid to Invest in a Pro if You Need To
By now, you know that writing isn’t easy.
Seriously, devoting yourself and learning how to write is quite a feat. It’s not for the faint of heart.
I still don’t think writing is easy, but it’s gotten easier for me, by far.
- #1. Practice makes perfect.
- #2. Write. A lot.
And if you need help, our professional writing team is here to back you up! Talk to us about your content needs and we promise – no judgment here if you need backup. 😉