How do you Improve at Writing?

How do you improve at writing? I have tried several methods to improve. First, I look towards great works of writing, whether it be fiction or nonfiction, and try to do as they did. Second, I free-write until I get something worthwhile on the page. My last method is to make lists of points and then elaborate. I have found the most success with the last method, but it leaves my writing somewhat dull, disconnected, and long-winded.

I have been making lists for a long time. Throughout my education, the teachers in my writing classes would comment that my first drafts always read like lists. I would meet all the requirements for an assignment, but my drafts were very clinical to read. My writing has improved with time. But I have not truly broken the habit. In order to explain why I care about something, I still default to listing its components. The ability to get to the core of what makes something interesting still eludes me. But I keep searching for it with one bullet point after another.

These are the lists I make: one list for my thoughts, two lists as reminders, three lists to increase my understanding, and four lists to try to find some emotion. Making so many lists made me feel like I was not suited for a creative job and that I would be a better fit for something involving numbers. I started out as an accounting major and made various lists of things going into a company and leaving it. I tried to find joy in making those lists. I treated those lists like puzzles, always searching for the right piece to put into the right place. However, I did not feel anything but numb making those lists.

Switching majors felt like a way I could change how I approached lists. The switch from accounting to technical writing was not as great a change as I thought it would be. Both majors value clarity and concision. In accounting, however, everything must be accounted for (haha!) and that seems to have made my bad habit even worse. Over time, I have found joy in my writing classes. They bring me a different kind of experience, one where I can get lost in making lists. I enjoy refining and tweaking those lists for flow, style, story, theme, and, most important to me, clarity. Maybe if I can make things clear enough, I can get to the core of my purpose and explain to someone else what it means to be a good writer. To get lost in a list with no absolute answer. To feel like the work of examining writing is more rewarding (though not monetarily) than dissecting an accounting ledger.

My writing is still improving and I am still trying to break a bad habit. For now, I will just keep writing and using lists to guide me. Someday I will reach a level of skill where I have the confidence to write without lists, or at least be better able to explain why I use them. Until that day, the only advice I can offer on improving at writing: read and write, write, write.

Paul Rainwater
Paul Rainwater

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