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6 Tips for Improving Your Writing

Brush Up Your Writing Skills Before Going Back to School

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If it has been decades since you cracked open a grammar book or written an essay, you might be nervous about returning to school. It's understandable, and it's the No. 1 fear I hear from adult students.

We've got some ideas for how to brush up your writing skills before hitting the classroom. They're easy, and most are private.

Remember that simply being aware of language will help you get your skills back.

1. Keep a Journal

Mark Hall - Getty Images
Mark Hall - Getty Images

Get back into the practice of writing by starting small and private. Get a journal and start writing short essays about the things that happen during your day, feelings you experience, thoughts you have. Not only does journaling serve as cheap therapy, it improves your writing in a place nobody but you will see. It's a nice little training ground.

I use a spiral notebook, but journals range from loose pages to blank, leather-bound books. Buy whatever you can afford that inspires you to write, write, write.

Here's a little more help:

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2. Write Morning Pages

Comstock - Getty Images
Comstock - Getty Images

Julia Cameron talks about Morning Pages in her famous book, The Artist's Way. She advocates writing three pages long hand first thing every morning, without stopping. This kind of writing is called "stream of consciousness."

The idea is to keep your hand moving, even if you have to write, "I'm not sure what to write next..." Your subconscious mind will take over, and I guarantee you'll have days when you'll be entirely surprised by what shows up on the page. The mind is a mysterious thing.

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3. Read

Digital Vision - Getty Images
Digital Vision - Getty Images

Read. Period.

Read the newspaper in the morning, magazines in waiting rooms, cookbooks, fiction, non-fiction, whatever floats your boat. Just read. Turn off the television and pick up a book. The more you read, preferably written by good writers and authors, the more easily you will recognize good sentence structure, proper grammar, rhythm, even punctuation.

Read.

4. Browse Writing Books

Antonello Turchetti - Getty Images
Antonello Turchetti - Getty Images

The most famous book on writing probably remains The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White. It's short, sweet, and to the point. Whether you choose this book or a similar one, books on writing can inspire, teach, and increase your confidence. Stuck? Call a friend in the form of a book.

If you're budget-minded, browse the writing books in your local library. The bonus here is that you can try several books. Choose the book that speaks to you. Not all will.

My favorite grammar book remains my Harbrace College Handbook. It's scuffed up and full of post-it notes, and I used it often.

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5. Choose a First Reader

Jack Hollingsworth - Getty Images
Jack Hollingsworth - Getty Images

In Stephen King's book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, he talks about how important it has been to him to consider his wife, Tabitha, his first reader. By that he means she is the first, and only, person he lets read his books before he begins rewriting and editing.

Choose one person to be your first reader. Choose someone you trust to be honest and kind. Choose someone who knows good writing. Show them your work and ask for feedback. You're not asking them to rewrite your work. You're looking for their reaction to your topic, your use of language, and your mechanics. Are your sentences complete? Grammar correct? That kind of thing.

Do not be defensive. Simply thank your first reader and consider the feedback. It's a gift.

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6. Join a Writing Group

Andreas Pollock / Getty Images
Andreas Pollock / Getty Images

Writing groups can be both wonderful and horrible. It all depends on how lucky you are in finding a group of writers who are honest and respectful, who are willing to give as well as take. Writing groups are fodder for a separate article, but they warrant mention here because getting feedback from peers who don't have a personal investment in you can be extremely helpful.

While I advocate having one first reader, we often choose someone who doesn't want to hurt our feelings. A group of strangers is more likely to be brutally honest. The key word here is "brutal." Feedback from a writing group does not have to hurt. Choose your group wisely and don't be afraid to move on if it doesn't work out.

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