Techniques to Improve Writing

Hints and Tips for Better, Easier Composition

Here are some tips to help writers who feel like their writing is adequate but lacks pizzazz or those who think their writing is decent but difficult to accomplish.

It seems like some people are "just born" with the knack of writing well. Others do a good job with their writing but find the process to be difficult, even painful. Still others feel like they have lots of room for improvement.

No matter what category of writer one is, one may benefit from one or all of the writing techniques below.


Peter Elbow, in his book Writing Without Teachers, advocates this technique to anyone, particularly to those who feel like their internal "critic" gets in the way of writing effectively.

Elbow outlines a few rules to help writers get started with this method:

  • Write for periods of ten minutes.
  • Write quickly, but don't feel pressured.
  • Don't stop along the way to read back over what's been written or to revise anything.
  • Don't stop to figure something out. If a writer is stuck and can't think of anything to write, she should just write something, whether it's the same word or sentence over and over or writing about how she's stuck. The point is to just keep writing.

Why Freewriting Works

Elbow says this technique is effective because, during that ten minutes, a writer's internal critic is "shut off." He is able to write freely, without worrying about grammar, spelling, content, structure, etc. While very little of what he actually writes in a freewriting exercise is usable, the freedom to simply let himself write without worry will help his composition in general. He can also use this approach to brainstorm particular areas or paragraphs of an essay, for example, if he feels like he's stuck.

Obviously, Elbow says, writers don't want to write this way all the time, but a focused freewriting session once a day or several times a week can help any writer gain confidence and feel more at ease when sitting down to write.

To get started, here are some lists of freewriting topics.

Reading for Fun

Yes, reading. Stephen King, arguably one of the most prolific and well-read authors of our time, stresses in his book On Writing that "reading a lot" (and "writing a lot") are crucial to becoming a better writer.

King actually recommends four to six hours of reading every day, but any reading for pleasure every day will help, no matter the length of time one spends. Simply being exposed to new vocabulary, varied sentence structures, and grammatically-correct texts can improve one's own techniques without much conscious effort on one's part.

Active Reading

So what's the difference between reading for fun and active reading? Well, with active reading, writers are literally working with the text. Very often, writers will do active reading with nonfiction, but one can use this method when analyzing fiction as well. Writers can engage themselves with the material in a number of ways:

  • Highlighting or underlining words or passages that seem important.
  • Writing definitions of unfamiliar words in the margins.
  • Annotating text; that is, the writer makes notes as she reads, either in the margins or on a separate sheet of paper.
  • Interacting with the text by asking questions on paper before, during, and after one reads, then attempting to answer those questions.

Choosing One's Own Topic

College students may not always have this option. If one does get to choose, though, the writer should pick a topic he's passionate about. If he's feeling lukewarm about his subject, his writing will likely be mediocre as well (or, at the very least, it may take more effort).

If a writer have no say about the subject matter, she might want to try to find some portion of the writing to get excited about, because if she can feel enthusiastic about any part of her topic, it may help her enjoy the remainder of her essay.

Writer, Know Thyself

Not all these techniques may work for everyone, but when a writer finds something that does work, he should stick with it. Not every writer writes the same way, so one shouldn't worry if his writing techniques are less than conventional. As long as one finds that his writing is improving, who can argue with his success? Keep writing! Persistent writers are rewarded with improvement.