Since I started my freelance writing career a little over five years ago, I have come across dozens of different articles and podcasts that discuss how someone can mold themselves into a better writer. And at the root of just about every one of those pieces is the idea that to improve as a writer, you have to read. And you also have to write.
Sounds simple enough, right?
Honestly, it really is just that easy.
The more you read, the more you are exposing yourself to both knowledge and style elements that will inevitably end up contributing to your own knowledge and style. And the more you write, the more practice you will have at getting that knowledge and style out of your head and onto the page.
So if you want to be a better writer, you first have to read more. Then you have to write more. That’s the formula for success in this industry. But because that formula allows for some pretty broad interpretations, I thought it might be helpful to give you a little guidance on how to focus your efforts.
Let’s get into it…
One of the biggest problems with attempting to read more is that curating exactly what you are going to be reading can be a full-time occupation. You can’t read everything that is published everywhere, and even our favorite sites put out some duds once in a while.
Fortunately for us, there is an internet superhero named Dave Pell who writes a daily email newsletter highlighting 10 of the best stories he finds on the web each and every day.
He calls it NextDraft. I call is my secret weapon for making the most of my limited reading time.
Dave’s emails are filled with great stories from iconic publications like The Atlantic and The New York Times, but he also finds obscure stories that you won’t want to miss as well.
For my daily practice, I simply read through the NextDraft email and save any articles I want to explore to Pocket. It has been a game-changer for me.
Read Austin Kleon
It’s impossible to talk about Austin Kleon without mentioning his amazing books Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work.
Those books will totally help you become a better writer, but he goes way beyond that with his weekly email newsletter where he highlights 10 things that he felt were worth sharing.
Where NextDraft links to tons of long-form articles, Austin focuses on a lot of quick hits each Friday, which always seem to be just what I need to get through the day.
I have also found following Austin on Twitter to be very helpful. He is constantly tweeting quotes out of whatever book he is studying, and the dude never stops creating and sharing his art.
Listen to the Longform Podcast
There are plenty of times throughout the day where it just isn’t possible to be reading or writing. Things like driving, working, and running often get in the way for me.
But even though I can’t be reading during those times, I can still be improving as a writer. One of the best ways I have found to do exactly that is by listening to the Longford Podcast.
This weekly podcasts features interviews will inspiring writers of all types and gives them a platform to talk about their work, which almost always makes its way onto my reading lists.
Most of the very best books that I have read over the past year or so have been ones that I ordered after hearing the author interviewed on Longform.
Volunteer to Write
This is the controversial one, so take a deep breath and hear me out.
I subscribe to the Chase Jarvis approach to doing business, which means that I either work for my full quote or I volunteer my effort. I don’t work for peanuts.
The volunteer side of that equation is a tricky subject, but I can personally say that some of my best work has come through volunteer projects that I was passionate about.
You have to find an outlet to get your work out into the world. And if you aren’t able to find one that will pay you what you are worth, I believe you will be better served to give it away than to accept less than you feel you are worth.
But the key takeaway here is not that you should be working for free. The point is that you need to fill your calendar with work so that you can continue to practice your craft.
Read The War of Art
During your time as an improving writer, you are almost certain to come into contact with what Steven Pressfield refers to as “the resistance.”
The resistance will show up each and every day and do everything in its power to get you to skip out on your work. It’s relentless.
The best tool I have found for fighting this battle is to keep a copy of Pressfield’s The War of Art on my desk at all times. I read one short page almost every day just to remind myself that I have to keep pushing forward.
Many writers believe that things like attending conferences and studying grammar will help them become better writers. But in my experience, those things do nothing to help you find your voice and put words onto the page.
The only things that truly help in that respect are reading and writing as much as possible. Go get started!