Staying Sharp: 16 Writing Tips to Help Hone Your Craft

The written word is a writer’s lifeblood. We should know—it’s what we do for a living. It’s a practice, an art. And sometimes it’s a real pain in the ass. You can run into writer’s block, creative fatigue, or just feel like you’re not improving. It might be time to sharpen the proverbial pencil with one or more of these 16 helpful writing tips:

1. Make a list

If you’re having a hard time writing, or even if you have free time on the go, jot down a list of things you want to write eventually. Articles, stories, notes for ongoing projects. Just get to note-taking and you might spark a fire of inspiration later on. It’s an easy way to be productive and organize your thoughts.

2. Consume information

The number one rule for writers: Write. The number two rule? Read. Read as much as you can, whenever you can. Read, read, read. Whether it’s a paperback or a blog, take it all in. Writing without reading is like trying to run an endurance race without any training. You’re going to sprain something.

3. Look to the news

Hop onto a reputable news site or check out what’s trending (and true) on social media and write about one of the hot topics of the day. It doesn’t really matter what it is. The idea is to try and tackle a subject you’ve never written about. You’ll test yourself and maybe learn some things along the way.

4. Save all the links

Did you read a cool article today at work? Or watch an inspiring video? Save those for later and branch off of those ideas for your own project. Don’t copy the source material, but rather see where it takes you. You can also use this link haven as a place to gather research for a current project you’re doing.

5. Build your own FAQ

Ask as many questions as possible about your story, blog, character, business, movieor whatever it isand write them down. Make it relevant. Make it comprehensive. This ensures a bulletproof process because you’ve already thought of every angle. New ideas can sprout from this routine, too.

6. Get set up for success

Take notes for what’s coming next before you quit writing for the day. Use it as a mini outline and it’ll be easy to resume the project when you come back to it the next time. You never know how soon the next project will pick up when another drops off.

7. Unplug, damn it!

We get it, Twitter is addicting. And there’s a sale on those shoes you wanted on Amazon. And someone just posted puppy pics on Instagram… No. Turn off your devices. Put them in another room if you have to. Shut these distractions out and lock into your zone. It’s time to write, not check up on everyone’s weekend brunch.

8. Schedule your writing time

Set an alarm and stick to it. If you do it a few times, it’ll be easier to create a daily habit that you never skip. Writing on a consistent basis is the most important part of a writer’s process. The more you write, the better you get. Period.

9. Get out of your nook

But it’s so comfy in the home nook! Yeah, but it might be the main catalyst of your writer’s block. Comfort zones aren’t always your friend. Change it up a bit and head to a cafe or library. The shift in environment can spark a second wind for writing.

10. Adopt and adapt

Find a title of something that’s already been used and use it to write something completely different. Same title, different content.Something fresh and new, and still familiar. Just don’t be a copycat or you’ll defeat the purpose of the exercise.

11. Make it a story

An obvious point for storytelling in any form, but especially true for things full of dry information. Infuse some color by structuring it like an actual story. Give it a clear opening, middle and finale. Make it compelling. Otherwise, the reader probably won’t connect with the content. And neither will you.

12. Chop it up

Sometimes a project is so overwhelming that you don’t even know where to start. Make it easier on yourself by focusing on one little chunk at a time. Even if it’s just a paragraph. Take it little by little and before you know it—oh crap, you’re still only on the first page. Just kidding. You’ll be fine.

13. Forget chronological order

It’s really easy to fall into the trap of chronological storytelling. You don’t have to write every single moment as it happens. Jump around a bit! Even take a swing for an unconventional presentation. Zoom in and out with levels of description to change flow and pacing. Don’t get stuck with “Oh man what happens next?” Just write a new thing at any point in the story and connect the dots later.

14. Use an active, human voice

Nobody wants to read stale content, so make your voice heard through the page to breathe some life into the words. Make it readable and relatable. Use active voice rather than passive voice. Equip sentences with action verbs and swift, concise points. Don’t waste the reader’s time.

15. Sleep on it

If you’ve been working hard at a piece for along time, but feel like you’re wheels are spinning, step back for a while. Don’t quit, just take a breather. Inspiration comes and goes in waves, and you’ll think of a great addition later on. This method is really great for initial drafts, too. Let it be for a while, then come back with fresh eyes for edits.

16. Read it aloud

That’s right, use your big person voice. You’ve been holed up in a hermit’s den silently, but now’s the time to use those golden vocal cords of yours. It’ll feel weird at first, but saying the words you’ve written aloud will confirm whether the writing is good or not. If it sounds awkward and clunky, it’ll read that way to.