Writing: A Skill, Not a Talent

By Gary Qin |

How are good writers made? Are they born with their writing ability, or is it a skill developed through years of practice? Many less confident writers express this feeling that they are just bad at writing and will always struggle with it compared to their peers, who seem naturally good at it. The truth about writing is that no one is inherently good at writing. Our educational backgrounds and environments play a role in determining our writing ability; did we have solid writing instruction and ample opportunities to write? People we often think of as accomplished writers started as poor writers who succeeded by spending significant time and effort to improve. Writing is a muscle that we need to exercise consistently and deliberately.

[Image Description: The Bachelorette contestants lifting dumbbells outside.]

Caption: They’re working hard on their writing.

Regardless of how you feel about yourself as a writer, good or bad, you can always improve your writing. If you want to be a better writer, here are some things you can start doing right now.

1. Write a lot and consistently. Writing is like going to the gym. You won’t suddenly become a good writer after completing a single piece of writing, just as you won’t be buff overnight after one gym session. Your overall output matters more than any single thing you write. To become a better writer, you must improve the quality and quantity of your writing, ensuring you improve over time.

2. Read other people’s writing. Reading helps us learn what we can improve on. When you read, pay attention to what makes the writing good or bad, and incorporate that knowledge into your writing. Familiarize yourself with different genres and mediums like scientific articles, fiction novels, government reports, and news articles. See what a solid finished product looks like and use that as a guide when you write.

3. Receive and give feedback. One of the best ways to directly improve your writing is to receive feedback from your peers and mentors. Having someone else look at your writing will help identify shortcomings and mistakes that you, as the writer, may miss. In addition, formulating constructive criticism of other people’s writing teaches you to focus on the finer details of writing, an important skill you can apply in your writing process.

4. Outline your writing. Go into each piece of writing with a game plan. What are you writing about and why? What message do you want to convey overall and in each section? How will you convey these different messages and connect them? What writing conventions will you need to follow? These are just some of the questions you will need to ask yourself as you develop an outline of your writing. The benefit of an outline is that as you are writing, you can refer to the outline to ensure that your writing addresses the prompt and purpose of the text.

5. Pay attention to the details. Beyond the “bigger picture” components of your writing (development of ideas, use of evidence and sources, rationale, etc.), what makes writing strong is how words and sentences are used and constructed, respectively. As you are writing and proofreading, pay attention to grammar and spelling, avoid passive voice, vary your sentence length and structure, cut out unnecessary words, and focus on being clear and concise. If you can say something in fewer words, then do it. Lastly, reading your writing aloud forces you to slow down and increases the chance of catching problems you would miss reading silently.

There are many ways to improve your writing; the above list is not exhaustive. It is essential not to be discouraged and to move forward with the proper guidance and mindset. Writing is a skill that can take a lifetime to master. If you work hard, the benefits to your professional and academic development will be great.

[Image Description: Remy from Disney’s Ratatouille throwing ingredients into a pot.]

Caption: Anyone can write.