The Write Stuff: How to Improve Your Writing Skills

I am a writer by training and profession. Because it comes fairly easily to me, I find it difficult to write about writing, to dissect the work, to explain the mechanics of it, to talk about how the words come together.

So forgive me if I come across as a lecturing English teacher. But here's the thing: writing matters. I make a living from writing, sure ­– but so do you. As a creative professional, you may not get paid for your writing, but your writing helps you earn money.

At a time when so much communication takes place digitally (via email and even social media), writing skills are more important than ever. It seems like a paradox: digital media makes communication more instantaneous, rapid-fire and casual – yet sloppy spelling and clumsy grammar can derail your professional image. An unclear or poorly written email can create confusion between you and your client over the details of a project.

And in this digital world, your website speaks volumes about you and your capabilities well before you schedule that first conversation with a client. We're a long way past the era when creatives called on prospective customers in person to present their work and pitch new business. Your website is your front-line marketing tool and it requires text that introduces you, positions your skills and demonstrates the effectiveness of your work.

Still not convinced that writing matters? Here are three more reasons: 

  1. Writing helps you generate ideas. When you're stumped for an idea, one of the most effective brainstorming techniques is mind mapping. Begin with a key word or phrase that represents the problem you're trying to solve; write it in the center of a big sheet of paper. From there, write down other words and phrases that come to mind: ideas that relate to the key phrase, opposites, metaphors and so on. This spiderweb of words spurs your thinking and reveals connections.
  1. Writing helps you sell your ideas. Your most stellar concept relies on your ability to articulate it to a client or colleague. A well-written email or Keynote presentation that explains why your solution works and how it meets the project objective can be critical to gaining support for the idea.
  1. Writing establishes your credibility. Ever wonder how the most successful creative pros build powerful reputations, gain their clients' trust and land big-budget projects? It's because they demonstrate their expertise. They share their insights in writing: via blog posts, white papers and social media. Writing is the centerpiece of content marketing – the strategy of sharing valuable information as a way of engaging your clients and prospects.

"But I'm a visual person, not a verbal person," you might say. I get it: Don't even ask me to create a layout in InDesign. Following are some tips on how to improve your writing skills:

  • Read. Whatever floats your boat, reading for pleasure can inform your own writing. Flag or highlight passages that strike you.
  • Pay attention. Take note when a headline or turn of phrase captures your attention, and write it down. Accumulate a notebook of words just like you catalog images and colors.
  • Learn from others. Do you work with someone who's great at communicating with the written word? What can you glean from his or her style?
  • Take your time. Some people I exchange email messages with seem to think we're texting. Skip the shorthand when you're communicating in the professional realm.
  • Check your work. Review what you've written before you hit Send. Is it clear? Any typos?

You may not consider yourself a writer, but you are. You do it every day. You don't have to be Hemingway. But be a pro.