11 tips to improve your writing skills

How can you improve your writing skills?

You could hire a ghostwriter. Get ChatGPT to do the work for you (although that’s an answer to a different question). Perhaps you could stare at an empty page and wait for inspiration to strike.

Or you can spend an hour with Larry…

Larry McEnerney is a professor at the University of Chicago.

He’s very good at writing. And at teaching writing.

Last week I stumbled across a video of one of his classes. It’s very good.

Here are a few of his tips that I found especially valuable:

1. He opens by succinctly explaining who he is, why he's here, and why he hopes he can be valuable to you.

2. Was that first one a tip? Yes, it was. And like Larry’s intro, your writing should be clear, organized, persuasive, and above all else - valuable.

3. He breaks writing down into two levels: 1) Why: understanding why many people struggle to write effectively; 2) How: specific techniques and exercises to improve.

4. The purpose of writing is to change how your readers view the world.

5. Outlines matter, but doing one before actually writing stuff is nonsense. Writing and thinking are iterative processes.

6. Using your writing to think will help your thinking improve. You can then write using this improved thinking. This is especially relevant when you're dealing with complex issues you can't figure out in your head.

7. Jargon isn’t all bad. When you know your audience knows what you mean, it's a good way to condense information and convey ideas more efficiently. BUT - it's often used in a way that destroys value. So, know your audience.

8. We have 10+ years of bad habits built up by people getting paid to care about us in school. Teachers get paid to review your work and grade it based on criteria that usually don't relate to how useful the writing is. Ouch.

9. The end of a sentence is a microstressor. You can use these microstresses to convey importance and deliver value. But you don't want the entire piece to be hundreds of important things - otherwise nothing is important.

10: Short sentences are usually best.

11: Long sentences can be even better because they allow you to use "important things" to build up to "very important things”, just like how Abraham Lincoln used the final sentence of his Second Inaugural Address.

I know there’s much more to this.

What helps you with writing?

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