Catherine Reid

Warren Wilson College

Creative Writing Editing Tips

10 Ways to Improve Your Writing

1) Know your audience.  How familiar might they be with your subject? What needs to be explained?

2) Engage with specifics (see sample introductions).  Anecdotes charm us; they hook us through our desire to know more.

3) Withhold with care, as pacing is key to maintaining interest.  (Tell too much too soon and the reader’s curiosity is sated, the book or article put down.)

4) Keep thesis/main idea in mind as you write; periodically ask yourself, What is this about?  What do I want the reader to know?

5) Avoid the passive voice (except for specific writings in the sciences). In the active voice, the subject acts. He threw the ball. In the passive voice, the apparent subject of the verb undergoes rather than performs the action.  The ball was thrown by the student.

6) Limit your use of the verb “to be,” the most overworked verb of the English language. (This is often the best remedy for repairing passive voice).  Test your reliance on it by circling all its forms on a page of your prose.

7) Remember the beauty of simplicity.  Great power resides in all those one- and two-syllable Anglo-Saxon words.  (A popular exercise: Write a paragraph using only one-syllable words.  Begin with: “The first time I”; “From the top of the hill”; “On the night of the full moon”; “It was then I knew,” etc.)

8)  Vary strength structure and length.  We all know the English language formula (SVO—subject-verb-object); your challenge is to mix it up.   You’ll also keep a reader alert if, after a handful of complex sentences, you insert a short one.

9) Limit adverbs (all those –ly words that modify verbs); they tend to be the frosting on the cake.  A well-chosen verb rarely needs its meaning ratcheted higher.  Compare “she walked slowly” to “she plodded”; “she meandered”; “she ambled”; “she trudged.”

10) Find another writer and swap manuscripts, or ask someone you trust to read your work and give feedback.  We often forget critical information when living inside our brains, attempting to transfer ideas to the page.  A good reader will identify the holes, the areas that don’t yet make sense, and any speedbumps caused by odd syntax in your sentences.