4 Tips for Becoming a Good Writer

There are those who will say that the number one tip to being a good writer is to start writing – and practice and practice. That is horrible advice. That’s like saying to someone who wants to learn to drive that the thing to do is to start driving. It really is horrible advice. Anyone who starts writing that way is going to end up a poor writer – unless they back up to get it right at some point along the way.

Where to start is to learn the basics. Everything else rests on the basics. You must learn the principles and rules of writing and how to put those words together the right way first, the same way a learner driver must first understand the principles and rules of driving and how to make it all work. It is only after this that the learner may take the wheels of a vehicle and start practicing.

In two decades of hiring writers, my number one headache has been reading a draft and seeing how badly constructed the sentences are, and then having to take a knife at them. I have seen “writers” whose written English will not pass a standard secondary school essay writing examination. It is hard to tell people who think that they can write that they actually can’t. It is even harder for them to accept it (understandably so). But if you want to earn a living from writing, whether it is blogging, journalism, book writing, technical writing, or some other form of writing, you need to have the basics covered. Let’s look at them:

  1. Spelling: This is key to writing well. You need to be able to spell words correctly. Get a dictionary; I own multiple physical dictionaries, and I have one on my smartphone, so I can check words on the fly. Get a digital spell-check tool too. Microsoft Word has a built-in spellchecker. If you use WordPress, install a spellchecker plugin. Trust me: no matter how good you are with words, you will need a dictionary and a spell checker.
  2. Grammar: This is super important. Without a good grasp of the rules of grammar, your writing will be poor. Grammar is about the rules that govern composition – the use of punctuation, clauses, and phrases. It is the structure on which sentences are built. Proper punctuation is so vital to good writing that you cannot afford to get it wrong. Get a grammar tool like Grammarly. Or pick the good old Brighter Grammar booklets; they really are good and are still on sale at book stores and online malls.
  3. Vocabulary: Vocabulary is your word capacity – the collection of words that you have in your head and can pull out for use properly at any given time. The broader your vocabulary, the more precise you can be in addressing a topic or subject. As such, you have to learn and memorise new words. Your go-to tools for this are a dictionary and a thesaurus. You can get hard copies, use an app, or a Web version.
  4. Read good writing and pay attention. Be a picky reader. Don’t read a lot of the garbage out there today – blog posts and articles with poorly constructed sentences. Find good works of writing – websites, books, and magazines – and read them. Pay attention to the writing, so you can learn. If you want to become a good writer, embrace the other tips above and read good writing.

If you implement these four tips, you will be on your way to being a good writer. As a matter of fact, these tips are for life. There will never be a time you will not need them any more.

I wrote my first newspaper article as a teenager. I have written thousands of articles since then. I am in my late 40s now and I still use a dictionary to check for spellings.

Being a good writer does not mean being above typing errors. Among other things, it means having such a good command of written English that an editor does not develop a headache trying to make sense of what you have written.