Improving Your Writing: Steps To Become A Better Writer

It’s 2:00 AM – I am too excited to write this post about improving your writing. Actually, that is how r3ciprocity.com – the proofreading software I am (trying) to build – got started. Driving home from Disney World, I had a curious thought about why there were no software services like r3ciprocity.com available. After a few weeks of mulling over this thought, I got up at 2:00 AM and drafted an outline of r3ciprocity.com. It is curious where a little bit of play, imagination, and joy of learning will take you.

Improving Your Writing Begins At Ground Zero.

To be honest, I stink at writing. I really, really do. Becoming better at writing, for me, has be very difficult. Like almost fail out of high school english stink. Mentally, it takes a lot to motivate me to write something. I am slow and mistake-ridden. Then, once I get it on the page, I always feel nervous and anxious about what I wrote. Like right now, I am well aware of someone reading this will find fault in the way that I write. I missed “this” or I missed “that”. You should have done “this” and you should have done “that.” Now, after 15-20 years of academic writing, writing tens of thousands of pages in my notes and various working paper, none of these problems really go away. If you don’t know, I am an assistant professor of strategy, innovation, and entrepreneurship. I still feel those same emotions when I write, but I have to write, because it is part of my job. I enjoy the struggle of writing, and the feeling of creativity flow, but I still feel very anxious when I write. This anxiety gets worst when I ask for peer feedback on my writing. There are lots of reasons for this anxiety from asking for peer feedback, like, whether I am imposing. Also, if I ask somebody for feedback that is better than me, what are they to say? I am sure they won’t like what I wrote.

What Are The Steps To Become A Better Writer?

Over the years, my writing has improved. My writing has improved slowly, yes, but nevertheless I feel that it has improved. I find it easier to sit down and do mental brain dumps of my ideas, and find it easier to disregard those feelings of anxiety when asking for feedback. I suspect that improving your writing will likely follow the same path. But, how did I get here? As a researcher that focuses on learning, there’s only really three ways in order to improve any particular skill: (1) Practice, (2) Being taught, and (3) Watching others.

Use Practice To Develop Your Writing Skills.

Improving your writing requires that you write on a daily basis. Not only just write a few words here and there, but write A LOT. Almost every day for the past 15-20 years, I write 1-12 pages a day. That seems crazy, right? To me, it does. This volume of writing allows you to become an expert at writing for a lot of reasons. Not that I am an expert compared to some people, but I am a much better writer than what I was. Writing a lot also does this unusual thing with the economics of writing. The marginal costs of each mistake or problem diminishes as you accumulate more written material. For example, this blog post at 2:00 AM, while is nice, it is not going to make or break my academic career. It is only a small fraction of the stuff I have written over the years. However, if you are new to writing, a single blog post might seem a bit daunting to you. And, I think improving your writing requires you to feel “OK” just to write and not worry about it.

Use Peer Feedback To Develop Your Writing Skills.

I have had the privilege to have some of the best academic mentors in the world. They were not easy on me, but that helped me improve as an academic writer, scholar, and thinker a lot. I am so glad that they pushed me to become better. Even though it was frustrating-all learning is frustrating-I realize that they truly cared about my success. Constructive and friendly peer feedback is helpful to improve your writing because kind people will help identify the flaws in your arguments and thoughts. They see things differently than you – we are all different, with different motives, knowledge, experiences, and limitations. They also, sometimes, help identify how you can write things in a more straightforward fashion. Thus, they might be good at one aspect of writing and you might be good at another. It is the fact that they see the world differently that helps with peer feedback. A major reason why I created r3ciprocity.com was to mimic the writing feedback that they gave me. I also wanted it even easier to get peer feedback to develop my own writing skills. Improving your writing through peer feedback should not be as hard as it is right now. I thought it was quite bananas that while I had the luxury of good friends, mentors, and parents to get feedback on my writing, there is likely many other people around the world that do not. Since I am a professor of strategy, innovation, entrepreneurship, with backgrounds in software and engineering, I thought this was a problem that I could tackle in my spare time. Slowly building a sharing economy proofreading platform that helped others get feedback, and match people that liked to provide feedback to others, sounded like a fun and glorious opportunity. (That being said, I truly underestimated the difficultly to create this proofreading software.)

Watch How Others Write To Improve Your Writing.

Oddly, reading a lot and observing how others’ write can improve your writing skills. This process of observational learning is called vicarious learning – you mimic the actions and outcomes of others to improve key aspects in your own live. By reading a lot, you can see how others form and craft arguments. For example, one of my academic idols, Jim March, does so beautifully, and I try to often mimic his style and thought processes. While I am not nearly at his level, I truly feel that I have become a more creative writer because of thinking about how he writes. I think improving your writing requires you to do the same. Try to pick people that you think are amazing, and read how they craft an argument. These steps to become a better writer will take a very long time. It did for me. And, there’s no guarantee that you will be successful, because this success is based on what you choose to write about. But, you have to be “OK” with this journey of writing a lot, acquiring feedback on writing, and learning from others. People used to tell me as a graduate student, “enjoy the process.” After 15-20 years, I think I get what they mean a bit more. Improving your writing requires you to like the process of “muddling through” and learning how to just plug along at something for a long-time. You should be excited to write something at 2:00 AM. OK, back to bed. Night Night!  

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David Maslach

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