Have you ever struggled with a piece of writing? Do you know what you want to say, but just can’t get the words out? Maybe what sounds great in your head sounds like utter nonsense on the page.
If you’re having trouble writing, it’s not because you’re stupid or aren’t cut out for it. Nobody can just sit down and hammer out a masterpiece. Every successful author has writing strategies and tricks to help them improve their content—so should you.
Here are ten writing strategy examples that you can start using today, no matter what kind of project you’re working on. You’ll also find out about some great online writing courses on grammar, beating writer’s block, and more, so stick around if you don’t want to miss out.
1. Get in the right mindset
The hardest part of writing happens before you write the first word.
Going in with a bad mindset makes producing good work impossible, so it’s essential to find ways to get yourself in the right way of thinking before you sit down for a writing session.
That’s why it’s important to develop effective pre-writing strategies. These are techniques that get you ready and eager to write, and they’re just as essential as the other tips on this list. After all, it’s no use knowing your grammar if you never sit down to write.
The most common issue writers face is a lack of motivation. You know you should be writing, but simply can’t get the energy. Often, this is just due to poor habits. Making sure you have a full stomach and a good night’s sleep before you write does wonders for your motivation.
It can also be caused by feeling intimidated by writing. If you don’t know where to begin, or feel like you’ve hit a dead-end, working on a project can lead to frustration. From there, it’s easy to fall into the bad habit of procrastination.
The best way to beat this is to start small. Writing doesn’t just mean adding to your word count. It also means editing, research and planning.
Pre-writing strategies like this isn’t just a great way to ease into writing proper: they all work to strengthen and improve your final piece.
2. Plan, plan, plan!
Let’s expand on that last point, because planning might be the most important pre-writing strategies out there. Have you ever opened your favourite writing software and realized you had absolutely no idea how to start?
If so, it means you’re not planning enough.
Think of climbing Mt. Everest—you wouldn’t get far if you didn’t think about how you were going to get up. Writing anything longer than a postcard is the same.
Without a plan, you’ll often just write yourself into a dead-end. Or, worse, you won’t even start.
Building a good plan is a skill in itself. Don’t feel pressured to have too much details: a general outline is fine to start with. You can always add more information as you continue and get a better idea of what it is you want to say.
Of course, you can’t start planning without an idea.
You might already be writing about a topic that’s set in stone, like a business contract or an essay with a rigid writing style. But if not, coming up with a topic that’s unique and interesting is one of the toughest parts about writing.
This brainstorming course on Skillshare packs in a lot of killer writing strategies to make getting that initial idea far easier.
The course is focused on eBooks and blog posts, but you can also utilise the tips just as well for creative writing.
3. Make writing a habit
There are few better feelings than a burst of creativity. It can come at night, while you’re lying in bed, while doing the laundry, or even while doing nothing much at all. In a frantic flash of energy, you get down a few wonderful paragraphs and sit back, satisfied with yourself.
Flashes of creativity don’t come about often enough to rely on them. As a result, waiting around until you get in the right ‘mood’ to write usually means you just won’t end up writing. But forcing yourself to write is a great way to get writer’s block.
So, what’s the solution?
The Write Like a Demon course from copywriter William Batten on Skillshare has plenty of tried-and-tested writing strategies to get you at your desk every day, without fail. Whether writer’s block or procrastination is stopping you, Batten has dozens of techniques for kick-starting your creativity.
Set aside time every day for writing and stick to it. It doesn’t matter how long you work for, because the point is to build a habit. Even half an hour every day is better than one hour every month.
Once you’ve used those techniques to make writing easier, it’s a lot more feasible to turn it into a regular habit. Try experimenting with different writing styles as well.
Say goodbye to those random bursts of creativity—now you can decide when you’re going to be productive.
4. Ask yourself, “So what?”
This might be the simplest possible writing strategy you can use. After you finish writing something, read it back. Then ask yourself this question: “So what?”
This isn’t being flippant. The so-what test is one of the most common writing strategies in academic writing and brand management. It’s a way of asking yourself why the reader should care—and making sure that they do.
Every sentence you write should have a purpose, and if you can’t think of one, it means you should cut it. A lean, focused writing style is easier to read and is better at getting across what you mean.
Here’s a writing strategy example to put this technique into perspective. Imagine reading a sentence like this on a publisher’s website:
More and more people are reading eBooks than paperbacks.
So what? Why should the reader care? Even if the next sentence adds more detail, this sentence is too vague. We don’t know whether this is a good or a bad thing, or who it’s affecting.
Now consider this example:
Publishers are quickly cutting costs after a recent study showed that, for the first time ever, eBook sales on Amazon have beaten those of physical books.
Not only does that sentence add more detail, it also immediately tells us who’s involved in the story and how it’s affected them.
This gets the reader invested, and that’s one of the hardest parts of writing about a topic they’re not already interested in.
5. Brush up on the rules
OK, maybe this one’s obvious. But it’s worth repeating: understanding the rules of grammar and punctuation will always make your writing sound more natural and professional.
Even if people understand what you mean, a single error in punctuation can change how people think of you. If you’ve ever got your grammar wrong on your resume, for example, it’s almost certainly cost you a job.
In other words, it pays to care about this stuff.
So, how do you learn the rules? There’s a lot of textbooks about English grammar, but thankfully, there’s a better way. With these twenty videos on Skillshare, you’ll get a great overview of the fundamentals, from the parts of speech to punctuation rules.
The teacher, Michael McIntyre, has over twenty years of experience and multiple degrees in composition from prestigious universities. If you only watch one of those videos, you’ll get a ton of value for your time and greatly improve your writing skills.
Learning the rules is only the first step, of course. To get truly comfortable with grammar and punctuation, you can’t do better than reading. Set aside time every day for reading different authors and genres to quickly get a natural feel for how these tools work in real writing.
6. Use the active voice
This is common advice, but it’s still important. Knowing how and when to use the active voice is an easy writing strategy for content that’s direct, clear and easy to understand. And once you get used to it, it’s far more natural than any other writing style.
What’s active voice and passive voice, you ask? Here’s an example:
- The man was bitten by the dog. → Passive voice.
- The dog bit the man. → Active voice.
Passive voice describes things happening to something, and active voice describes those things actually being done.
Almost any sentence can be written in either, and which you choose just gives a different perspective on what’s happening.
So why should you favor the active voice?
The secret’s in the name: it makes your sentences feel more active and alive. People often over-use the passive voice, leading to sentences that are indirect and sometimes even confusing.
Learning to recognise the passive voice and knowing how to reword it can be difficult. This Skillshare course by ESL teacher Benjamin Weinberg is a useful resource for developing your own personal writing strategies for mastering the voice and making the active more natural.
The hour-long course contains plenty of examples and illustrations to really bring the concept to life in your mind.
If you find using the right voice confusing, give this course a try!
7. Read it back to yourself
This tip might make you feel self-conscious, but it’s a great way to make sure your writing is natural and realistic. The idea’s simple—whenever you write something, read it back out loud to yourself. And follow your punctuation: no breathing until you hit a comma or a period!
A lot of people have great grammar skills, but still have writing that feels off somehow. The sentences might feel too long or too short, or the choice of words just isn’t what someone would say in real life.
This writing strategy is a way of identifying these unnatural sections.
Reading something out loud forces you to pay attention to every little detail of what’s on the page.
For example, if you’re gasping for air halfway through a sentence, it’s way too long. You’d then know to add a comma, or split it into two smaller phrases.
This writing strategy works for all writing styles and projects, from fantasy fiction to business reports. Even dense academic papers, when written well, should feel natural to speak aloud.
Just don’t forget to get a glass of water first.
8. Don’t forget formatting
There are lots of writing strategies for making content that’s easy to read. One of the most common is trying to meet the Flesch-Kincaid readability tests by using lots of short, everyday words. But how you present something is often just as important as how you write it.
If you’ve ever heard the phrase ‘wall of text’, you know this all too well.
Seeing a big blob of words take up the entire screen or page makes it easy to forget where you were or lose track of what the author’s saying.
That’s why splitting things up into small, distinct paragraphs is a great tactic for any kind of writing. Having each paragraph focus on just one idea makes it easy to follow your argument, and makes your content accessible to more people.
And it doesn’t just stop at paragraphs. Using bullet-point lists, quotes, images or diagrams to break up the flow of text adds visually-distinct things to the page that people can latch on to. They’re also great for adding emphasis to the really important parts of your argument.
9. Be confident!
Eventually, you’ll have to write about a topic that you’re not familiar with. When you do, most writers fall into a very common trap of using language that’s uncertain and indecisive.
Here’s an example.
It might be that if he’d learned this sooner, he could have perhaps acted differently.
Several unnecessary words here show that the author isn’t confident in what they’re saying. Remove them, and the style of writing becomes much more direct and authoritative.
If he had learned this sooner, he would have acted differently.
As you can see, words like ‘maybe’ or ‘perhaps’ are rarely essential to a sentence. All they do is slow down the pace of your writing and make it harder to understand what you mean. Cutting them out is an easy way to get under a word count and strengthen your style.
Often, people write like this because they’ve not done enough research on their topic. The more planning for your work, the easier it is to speak plainly and develop a confident writing style that people are likely to trust.
This is another reason why pre-writing strategies matter!
10. Don’t be a perfectionist
In 2015, scientists discovered that there were sketches of previous portraits underneath Leonardo DaVinci’s famous Mona Lisa.
It showed that, like any serious work of art, DaVinci’s didn’t jump right into the final piece. He took his time, planned things out and made changes to his previous work.
The message should be clear. Don’t feel pressure to produce perfect writing or even nail your writing style right away. If you do, you’ll agonise over tiny little details that likely aren’t that important. It’s a recipe for wasting time and not meeting your deadlines.
‘Write first, edit later’ is one of the most common writing strategies for a reason. On the first draft, your only goal is to get ideas out of your head and onto the page. It doesn’t matter if they’re ugly or don’t make sense.
Having a draft to work with makes it far easier for you to understand the overall structure of what you’re writing. You don’t have to juggle all the facts and characters around in your head anymore, and can instead make intelligent, pre-planned edits.
Shaw Academy’s Creative Writing: How to Write for Publication course has a great section on this. The teacher shares essential editing techniques a good writer should employ, to ensure a piece of work that reads as easily and professionally as possible.
Choosing the best writing strategies
If you pick up just one of the writing strategy examples listed here, you’ll become a far more persuasive and confident writer.
Experience and practice are what set professionals apart from beginners, but the knowledge here is a very good start.
There are, of course, many more useful techniques than these ten. Taking an online writing course will expose you to many more, and whatever trouble you have with writing, at least one of the courses will have a foolproof way to beat it.
Start learning today—your readers will thank you.