Many things in life apply across the board, but few are as critical as writing skills. Communication, in general, is a vital skill everyone needs to develop, but writing skills, in particular, are of paramount importance. That has become more prevalent as our world turns more and more digital. You don’t have to be a professional writer to focus on these writing skills. Mastering them will help you in your career and other areas of your personal life, too. However, if you wish to become a professional writer—whether fiction or non-fiction—these writing skills are a must.
8 Critical Writing Skills You Need
It’s pretty challenging to make a list of writing skills because the more you write about them, the more other skills come to mind. So, in this list below, I did my best to boil it down to the merely vital ones I believe you need to focus on first.
Each one of them is like a Hydra—the more you think about it, the more it spawns new sub-skills or new dimensions of its own. Still, I believe that if you focus on these and begin to work on them, your writing will improve significantly.
Most ideas about becoming a better writer pale in the face of this one: write more. If you want to become a better writer, you need to write all the time. You have to fill page after page with words, which, over time, will become better. You cannot read your way into writing, although reading and learning the theory is also critical.
To be a better writer, you must first and foremost develop the habit of writing. Much like developing any practice in your life, the writing habit implies writing a certain amount of words or for a certain amount of time.
To become a true writing habit, it’s also best if the writing sessions take place at the same time each day.
One of the biggest impediments to producing high-quality writing is inexperience, and you develop your experience through consistency. You build it built step by step, and it requires a hefty load of self-discipline and self-motivation.
Developing a solid writing habit means that you will write every day, no matter how you feel. Although writing is an art of taking ideas and pouring them on paper through your emotional charge, that has nothing to do with the writing itself. Yes, the result will be affected by how you feel at that moment, but the important thing is to sit down and write. I would dare to say that this one is the mother of all writing skills as it will help you grow all the others.
I’ve written a few pieces on developing a good writing habit, including writing a novel in 30 days, a simple writing technique for busy people, or writing by time. All those methods work, but you can develop others that are specific to you.
Basics of Writing
The second critical writing skill has to do with the basics of writing.
A) Grammar, Punctuation, and Spelling
Few things turn a reader, agent, or publisher off as bad grammar, typos, and incorrect punctuation. Depending on the type of writing you do, several sets of rules apply to each of them.
To get you started, I suggest getting your hands on The Elements of Style—one of the most important books you can own regarding writing style, grammar, and punctuation.
As far as spelling is concerned, you have no excuse to allow typos in your manuscript with today’s technology. Invest in an advanced tool, such as Grammarly or ProWriting Aid, and you’ll be safe.
Having the ability to see the big picture is an important skill, often disregarded. When you have a story or an article in mind, realize that there will always be a starting point and an endpoint no matter what it is about. What happens between those points is the journey you take your reader on.
Getting a handle on the structure is one of the most critical skills you need to develop. It will simplify your writing process and reduce the possibility of falling into writer’s block.
In fiction writing, this means learning how to outline a story, while in non-fiction writing, it’s all about creating the proper narrative skeleton for your topic. I wrote a post about how to write an article that describes how to create such a structure, but it’s by no means the only way.
To sharpen your writing skills, you’ll have to read more in your genre or non-fiction category, not just for information but also to study. Observe how the writer structured their story or article. Dissect that piece of writing that spoke to you and ask yourself how the author managed to grab your attention.
It doesn’t matter what you are writing about or who you are; the first draft of your manuscript will be terrible. Really terrible. That’s why it’s called a shitty first draft.
That’s okay, and you should not feel bad about it. Get it out of your head as early as possible. You won’t do yourself a favor by trying to have it right from the first run. The first run is about putting the words on the paper. Then comes editing.
Learning how to edit your work is challenging because of one crucial piece: knowing when to stop. When you re-read your manuscript—no matter how many times you do it—you’ll always find things that could be slightly different. Notice, I didn’t say better, but somewhat different.
Can anything get better with more edits? Sure it can. Does it have to? Definitely not.
Once you resolve all the structure, grammar, punctuation, spelling, and narrative issues, everything else is just tiny adjustments. A word here, a word there—it matters, but at the same time, it doesn’t.
Your job is to deliver a compelling story or article. Your job is not to dazzle your readers with the mastership of your sentences. Instead, the story must do that. That’s why it’s paramount to learn how to edit your work to make it as good as it can be and then stop.
If you are focused on writing fiction, you must read a whole lot of novels in the same genre in which you write. That is important because each genre has its tropes, general guidelines, and established patterns. That is not to say that you must copy or follow everything that has been established as working in that genre, but even if you want to break any of the rules, you must first know the rules.
In non-fiction, it’s also essential to understand the existing research and what kind of scientific proof exists behind your claims.
The art of doing research is a critical writing skill you need to develop. It’s quite a tough one because often, it seems like research takes you away from writing. It’s true, but it’s also needed.
You need to become an idea machine and contain those ideas in places easy to access. You should always have a note-taking mechanism at your disposal to jot down thoughts or observations. At a later point, you can do more profound research around those points.
As a fiction writer, you will use this method to observe people, places, and events. Those notes will later turn into your characters, plots, or exciting settings.
If you write articles, your notes will include things you’ve heard other people talk about or struggle with.
No matter what, knowing how to research your work is critical.
Depending on the type of story you are writing or the topic and audience of an article, you need to present it in the right voice.
When I say the “right” voice, I don’t mean that there are right and wrong voices. I mean discovering or creating the right voice for you.
With the risk of making it sound like you should be unauthentic at times, you have multiple voices and use them at different times.
For instance, when you write a fantasy story, your voice will be different from the voice you use in a mystery story or an article about personal finance. Similarly, the voice you use in your social media posts will be slightly different.
The ability to juggle these voices and use the appropriate one at the right time is a great skill to develop as a writer.
But, first and foremost, you must create and unleash your voice, and soon enough, that will begin to carry through all your works.
Among all the writing skills you need to develop, this one sucks the most. Patience is a bitch; excuse my French. The truth is, though, you must learn how to play the long game as a writer.
First of all, you spend loads of time developing your writing habit and sharpening the basics of writing. But your end goal is to publish and reach an audience. It doesn’t matter if it’s a novel or an article; your final aim is to get your work into the hands of readers. Patience is, therefore, a critical writing skill because that final aim is pretty distant at first.
Please don’t get discouraged. Accept that the distance between you writing the very first word on paper and a stranger reading your works with a passion is a long one.
Once you accept that every one of your first manuscripts sucks and that the more you write, the better your writing will become, patience no longer seems so daunting. Patience, then, becomes a part of the process.
Neil Gaiman once said, “Assume that you have a million words inside you that are absolute rubbish, and you need to get them out before you get to the good ones. And if you get there early, that’s great.”
When you set yourself to become a writer, one of the first things that come to mind in the form of internal chatter is, “What if I’m not good?”
Well, okay, it’s a valid question. But, think about it: were you ever good at anything for the first time? I’m not trying to go too deep here, but if you look at your essential functions as a human, such as walking, talking, and putting on clothes, you’ll understand what I mean. You sucked at all of those first, and then you didn’t.
It’s the same with writing, only that here you must work deliberately at strengthening your self-confidence. Remember that you can’t think yourself into confidence, and confidence cannot be instilled in you by others, either. Instead, it’s a result of you putting yourself out there with your work and inviting critical feedback.
If you’re a fiction writer, join writers’ groups. Participate in live readings of your manuscripts. Publish short stories or snippets of your novel on your blog. The more you put yourself on the chopping block, the faster your self-confidence will improve, and your skin will thicken.
Will this open you up to criticism? Hell, yes! Will you feel bad, rejected, and sad when that critical feedback is ruthless and mean? Of course.
It’s all part of the process. The more you write, the more you should make your works available to the public. In this way, you callus your mind and gain the freedom you need to unleash your creativity. Although this point might not sound much like a specific writing skill, self-confidence is, in fact, one of the most critical writing skills you have to develop as early in life as possible.
One quick note about publishing your works on your blog: read about first rights and what they mean. Sometimes, publishing something on your blog might make it not eligible for traditional publication. So, be aware of that. Read about first rights here.
Killing Your Darlings
I discussed editing a few paragraphs above, but this bears a particular point because it’s critical. You see, the are two parts to writing: the process of creating the works, on the one hand, and having someone reading it, on the other hand.
Often, those two processes clash, and it’s because of you, the writer. The more you write, the more you’ll begin to fall in love with your writing. You’ll start developing your style and your voice, and soon enough, you’ll begin to “recognize” yourself.
That’s not a bad thing; instead, it’s a great thing, but it does come with a few warnings. As you start to write more, you’ll inevitably begin to write better, and the better you write, the more complex your writing will be.
Complex writing doesn’t do well with readers; brevity and clarity do. That means learning how to cut when you know things need to be cut. You need to be ruthless here.
Always ask yourself, does this add to your story or article? If not, by all means, cut it out no matter how cute or intelligent it sounds.
Your story or article must contain precisely the amount of words needed to convey the message. Anything that is extra or hammers the same point, which the reader already got, must be removed without mercy.
The problem with killing your darlings is obvious: how do you know who your darlings are? It isn’t easy because they came out of your writing process.
Often, you can find these out when you have beta readers or critique groups go over your work and point out parts that don’t work for them.
However, I’m turning to Neil Gaiman one more time for a word of warning: “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”
That basically means that you, the writer, have to develop the self-awareness to distinguish between the feedback that points to a real problem versus something that is too particular to a specific reader.
Writing as a Business
Not everybody wants to be a professional writer, and that’s okay. As I said above, writing is a skill that will help you in all walks of life, regardless of whether you want to make a living from it.
But if you want to make it a profession, whether you write fiction or non-fiction, you need to come to terms with the fact that you also run a business.
Concepts such as personal branding, marketing, and promotion become critical assets in your arsenal. You need to understand what they are and allocate time for them.
Again, this is another thing that pulls you away from writing, but you must weave it into the process. To be a professional writer, you must write and get people to read what you write. That means that your writing is the work product you are selling.
As a traditionally published author, you’ll have the publisher behind you. As a self-published author or a blogger pouring your heart on the web, you’ll have a lot more work to do.
These Writing Skills Make You a Better Writer
Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” Or, maybe, do both.
You have used writing all your life, and you will continue to do so. You’ll write emails, letters, essays, resumes, perhaps even articles, short stories, or books.
To be successful, you first need to learn the basics of the craft, and there are many. In this article, I tried my best to get to the meat of what I believe to be some of the most vital ones.
The good news is that none of them have anything to do with talent or luck. They all are skills you can develop, practice, and improve over time.
But they require you to show up and put in the work every day. Soon, you’ll reap the results, and your writing will improve.
Soon, you’ll call yourself a writer and then a published writer.
Other Resources on Writing Skills
- Want to Be an Author? 5 Writing Skills You Need to Master
- 7 Skills You Need to Practice to Become a Successful Writer in the Digital Age
- 16 Easy Ways to Improve Your Writing Skills
- 9 Writing Skills You Need to Have To Be Successful
Now, before you go, I have…
3 Questions For You
- What percentage of your day do you spend writing (professionally or for personal use)?
- Can you pinpoint your biggest struggle when it comes to writing?
- Which one of these points resonated the most with you?
Please share your answers in the comments below. Sharing knowledge helps us all improve and get better!
Hi there! I’m Iulian, and I want to thank you for reading my article. There’s a lot more if you stick around. I write about personal development, productivity, fiction writing, and more. Also, I’ve created Self-Growth Journey, a free program that helps you get unstuck and create the beautiful life you deserve. Enjoy!