If you wanna make it in the communications industry, you’ve gotta know how to write. From social posts to blogs and press releases to website copy, you need to be ready to whip up that content immediately. It can be incredibly intimidating, especially when you’re stuck…so, so stuck.
Whether you’re a seasoned writer or someone who hasn’t written more than a sentence since college, here are three exercises to improve your writing.
Exercise 1: Cut It Out
If there’s one thing we see a lot of, it’s long-winded writing. You’ve seen it too—that person who just tosses jargon and semicolons into everything they write because they think word count is equal to intelligence. No, just no.
Instead, try this. Grab a paragraph or two below 500 words. It can be from a book, an email, a website—anything. Need a place to start? Grab one of these. Here’s the exercise:
- Edit the 500 words down to 300.
- Next, take it down to 250 words.
- Finally, bring it down to 100.
It’s harder than it sounds, but it really underscores how to keep writing concise. If you’re curious, look into Raymond Carver’s writings before and after Gordon Lish cut them down. Now that’s a transformation! Let’s all strive to be more like that.
Exercise 2: Like a Brooklyn Sailor…
Pick up the closest book and open it to a random page. Pick a paragraph that’s at least three sentences long. This is your canvas.
This exercise is all about shifting between different tones and voices.
Keep all the same information, but rewrite the paragraph as if you’re:
- 8 years old
- A cheesy villain in a superhero/spy movie
- Trump and/or Biden (we’ll also accept Bernie)
- Your parent/sibling when they’re really annoyed
- A rocket scientist
- A dog
The paragraphs you wrote just now are worlds apart from the original one. It means you’re trying different voices and styles to fit the persona you’re adopting…almost like…writing as a brand persona. It’s all connected, after all.
Exercise 3: One Dark and Stormy Night…
This is an excellent exercise if you need to just get your brain jumpstarted (we were going to say “creative juices flowing” but that just sounds so gross).
You’ll need something to write with and/or on (we’ll also allow you to use a computer or phone because it’s 2022) and a timer. Set your timer for anywhere from a minute to ten, depending on how long it takes you to write and how much free time you have.
Pick one of the prompts below. You’re going to finish the sentence and then keep telling the story. Add on to the tale until your timer goes off. Don’t edit it at all. Just write down whatever you think of next.
- When the storm finally cleared, the children emerged to find…
- I didn’t know it at the time, but my journey really began when…
- The more you think about language, the funnier it gets. For example…
- Some historical figures go down in history, but people always forget about…
BEEP! That’s the timer. How’d you do? Reread your work if you want to, or simply set it aside for another day. Even if whatever you wrote is shit, it’s still better than not writing anything at all.
Bonus Exercise: Read
No, really. You’ve probably heard, “the best writers are the best readers.” Well, that’s because it’s true. How are you supposed to get better at writing if you don’t check out what other people are doing? It doesn’t have to be a book about writing. Just pick up anything you like and dive in. We do HIGHLY recommend Ann Handley’s book, Everybody Writes. It’s incredible and led Kim to write her 8 Dogs & A Motorhome series on Small Biz Musings.
Looking for more writing tips? Check out our blogs about commonly misused phrases, grammar mistakes we see all the time, and learn what the hell an em dash is. Or just reach out to us. We always love to talk about stuff we’re passionate about.