Set Yourself Up for Success: Seven Steps for Long-Term Writing Improvement, Part I

In the last few posts, I’ve been hinting at the fact that not all of us are born writers. Some of us need training. And in order to be effective, a training regimen needs to be long term.

So I thought I’d provide a few concrete suggestions on how to set yourself up for success. I’m calling these the Seven Steps for Long-Term Writing Improvement. And I’d love to hear what other tips you would add to this list.

1) Self assess to train effectively.

Look, I know I run a training company, and so this sounds totally self-serving. But the fact is, you can’t do it alone. You need training.

But only you can decide what training you need. So take a good hard look at your writing. What comments do you receive on a regular basis? Where do you struggle? Ask your supervisor and
your colleagues for honest feedback.Report Card

And remember to evaluate your strengths along with your weaknesses. What are you good at? Finally, what are your goals? What kind of a writer do you want to be?

Now, seek out training based on your personal criteria. Ask questions. Get testimonials and references. Ask for trial sessions. And make sure it works for you before beginning a long-term program with one trainer.

2) Build a strong foundation using the right tools.

There are two tools that any writer absolutely needs to have in his or her toolkit. And those are the Writer’s Triangle and the Writing Cycle.

The Writer’s Triangle allows you to analyze your author, audience, purpose, and context. It’s a brainstorming tool that you should be using before you begin any writing project. For more information, please check out this short video. (Click play after you get to the site).

The Writing Cycle identifies the 6 discrete stages that writers progress through as they complete a document. If you’ve ever felt like your writing is a juggling act, and you’re dropping the balls, it’s probably because you’re trying to perform all 6 stages simultaneously.

Check out an earlier post I wrote about this (Get Off the Computer and Write Faster). And again, take a look at this short video. (Click play after you get to the site)

And stay tuned. You’ll be hearing a lot more from me on these two topics in the upcoming weeks.

3) Buy a library.

Professional writers do not have all the comma rules memorized. They use reference works. There are three essential tools you MUST have.

a) A great dictionary. Online dictionaries are handy. They’re not great. You need a big, fat, onion skin, full etymology, illustrated, with usage notes, and abbreviations-you-can’t comprehend dictionary. Buy a pedestal, put it in your office, and paste a copy of the abbreviation list right above it. The dictionary is your friend.

b) A grammar handbook. In order to understand comma rules, you have to know what a coordinating conjunction is. And in order to know what a coordinating conjunction is, you have to have a grammar handbook.

There are lots of good ones out there. I’ve reviewed four of the leading names on my site. Take a look and pick the one you like best.

c) A style manual. Every field or discipline has its own style manual. I’ve compiled a list, complete with websites and print publications. Check it to see which one you should be using. If you’re not sure, and you’re writing for the internet, the AP is always a good bet.

So remember, self assess, build a strong foundation, and buy a library. Four more tips coming at
you next Wednesday. I’ll see you then. And until next time, please share your writing tips and goals. Best wishes–Michelle


  1. Anna Biunno says

    Wow! It’s nice to know that there’s someone other than me who uses color-coded markers to denote various content and map notes to the writing.

    After reading “Get off the computer and Write Faster”, I was also relieved to see that while my colleagues are clicking away at the keyboard, I’m busily writing notes on paper. I always get the wagging of the finger or the shaking of the head when a coworker sees reams of notes with red ink, green ink, and purple ink — oh my!

    I always wondered if by using my methodology, it was taking me longer to write. But then I discovered, through my manager and editor, that I was one of the few writers who’s draft was as close to the final version as it could get. This is not to pat myself on the back, but it’s a validation that what might seem as crazy to others is really an effective way to writing intelligent content that has structure and flow.

    I’ve also made note of the dictionaries that you’ve referenced. Thank you for explaining why I would want a collegiate, unabridged, encyclopedic dictionary. I would add that the Flip dictionary is a wonderful addition to a writer’s reference materials. It’s something that I read for the heck of it — better than a Thesaurus. It’s not of the same caliber as the Webster and it’s not academic, but a writer would find it useful. It’s for those of us who always find themselves describing a concept or thing in several words because they can’t think of the exact word to use. For example, one of the main entries in the Flip dictionary is “full development of one’s talents” that has the single word to describe it: self-realization. How great is that!

    • Anna – Thank you for the thoughtful comment. Sorry it took me so long to approve. I’ve been on a camping expedition.
      I think there are lots of us who are using more than computer technology to write. I like seeing us become more vocal about it! And I wholeheartedly agree that time taken on the front end is time saved on the back end – well begun is half done.
      Thank you too for referencing the Flip dictionary. I haven’t heard that term before, and I love it! I have one called a “Descriptionary.” Take care, and hope to see you next week – Michelle

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