Writing is an art, and you never stop learning and practicing. One of the most effective ways to improve your writing skills is to learn from writers.
By that, I don’t mean copying or stealing a writer’s technique or style. But you can look at the different techniques, structures of sentences, or how some writers use words in a special way to convey thoughts.
Every writer has a unique style and voice. However, it’s not always easy to define why certain writers are more readable or memorable than others.
Sometimes, it can be as simple as one sentence in an entire novel that makes you think.
My one-sentence moment
I always learn from writers and continue to do so.
But I can vividly recall one sentence I read when I was young that stood out and really made me stop and think.
With my fascination for science fiction, it’s hardly surprising that it was a line by Douglas Adams.
The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.
This short sentence contains so much but in so few words. He compares a futuristic alien spaceship with common earthly bricks, which is incongruous.
It is also a double negative, with a comparative clause, in the same way, that defies any logical similarity.
The sentence is absurd, which I’m sure was the intention.
But it is the structure, the economy of words, and the simplicity of the vocabulary that illustrates how short, simple sentences can be so effective in writing. He used a similar structure in the line, Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.
Adams was a master at creating very short and memorable sentences, such as Don’t panic, and Mostly harmless.
He proved that I didn’t always need to strive to write extra-long sentences of elegant prose.
It’s not only famous writers
A lot later in my writing life, I was intrigued by why some article and blog writers were more readable and engaging than others.
I discovered that many of the most successful often used the second-person point of view.
Online article writing is often about offering solutions to problems for people.
Using sentence structures with, you, helps make a piece of writing personal and aimed at the reader.
Look at the following two sentences as an example.
I always find ideas and learn from reading other writers. (First Person)
You can always find ideas and learn from reading other writers. (Second person)
It’s a very simple change that is so easy to use.
But it is a powerful little tool to help you make your readers feel more involved and that you are writing with them in mind.
Another writing hint I discovered was from reading newspapers online. But it wasn’t so much about writing but about formatting.
Unlike print newspapers, I noticed that the paragraphs in online papers were very short.
When you read news online, you’ll often find that most paragraphs are, in fact, only one or perhaps two sentences.
Doing this makes text much easier to read and absorb than long, heavy paragraphs.
As with so many facets of writing, it’s often the small things that can make a big difference.
Read a lot, but remember to analyze
It goes without saying that you are reading every day. You don’t need to read Dostoevsky or Hemingway to pick up tips and ideas.
Any books, magazines, newspapers, or even social media posts can often contain one or two sentences that catch your eye.
Pay attention to a writer’s style, tone, and voice.
Also, take notice of how they structure sentences and paragraphs, use punctuation, or how they use vocabulary to convey their ideas.
Only today, I read a passage that contained this phrase.
It was a long time coming.
For me, I would have used the present perfect, without hesitation.
It has been a long time coming.
But when I thought about it for a little while, using the past simple was a quicker, less complex, and clearer way to write.
The only problem with being a bit too analytical when you read is that you can lose some of the pleasure of reading.
Sometimes, it’s better to simply read for enjoyment or information. But once you develop a habit of analyzing what you read, it can be hard to break.
Try to strike a balance.
Innovate, don’t imitate
When you start to understand some of the techniques other writers use, try using them.
It’s not about copying or stealing their work but rather practicing some of the techniques you notice.
For example, if you like a writer’s use of short, punchy sentences, try using a similar technique.
Another unusual writing technique is not using quotation marks in dialogue. Tim Winton’s novel Cloudstreet is an example of this form.
It’s not for every fiction writer, but it’s certainly worth investigating.
When you become more comfortable with techniques like these, you can start to innovate.
Use them as a starting point, and experiment and develop your own style around them.
Join a writing group
It might seem old-fashioned now, with everything seemingly available online at our fingertips.
However, joining a writing group or community can be incredibly beneficial.
Not only will you have the opportunity to read and critique the work of others, but you’ll also get some feedback on your writing and face-to-face.
Discussing your writing with other writers can provide invaluable insights into your strengths and weaknesses and help you improve.
Learning from other writers is one of the most effective ways to improve your writing.
Sure, you can read famous and prominent writers and authors, but often, some of the best new ideas pop up from everyday reading.
All it takes is a moment to think and say to yourself, hey, that’s an interesting way to phrase that.
Reading is the best, easiest, and fastest way to improve your writing skills. Every little bit you learn helps in developing your unique voice and style.
Forget about studying literary devices and grammar rules; just read.
Related Reading: Clarity In Writing – 10 Key Points To Write Clearly