How to Actually Improve Your Writing Skills: The Trusted Guide
Writing, writing, writing...
The timeless, essential success skill. If you're reading this, you know how important writing is, and you want to improve your skills.
But chances are that you struggle with them.
Because you struggle with improving your writing skills, you may wonder why writing is so difficult and what this guide can do to help you improve.
Why do you hate the sight of a blank page so much? How do great writers do it? What's even passive voice?
In addition to helping you improve your writing skills, this blog post will answer these 2 questions:
Why is writing so difficult?
How can you improve your writing skills?
Unlike any other resource out there, this writing guide will change the way you think about writing and make improving your writing skills easy.
This is not a summary of the best books on writing. Nor is it a collection of the best writing advice or the best writers like Stephen King.
This is a complete, trusted guide to improving your writing, the contents of which have been used by thousands of people worldwide.
It not only covers important concepts but also provides examples for each subject.
The bottom line is that to improve your writing, you need a methodology—not a list of tips.
But first, let’s explore why writing is so difficult, and why improving your writing skills can be such a challenge.
Table of Contents
- Why Writing is So Difficult
- What this Guide Offers
- The Wrong Approach to Improve Your Writing Skills
- The Trivium Writing Roadmap
- Practical Steps to Start Improving
- How to Improve Your Writing Skills with Trivium Writing
Why Writing is So Difficult
Writing is difficult because it's neither well understood nor well practiced by teachers.
In a New York Times article, Dana Goldstein reports, "The root of the problem, educators agree, is that teachers have little training in how to teach writing and are often weak or unconfident writers themselves.”
Yet most people learn writing from schools only and by these teachers. And today, the rise of generative AI tools like ChatGPT poses another problem to writing.
While ChatGPT is a great personal writing assistant, it does not replace an understanding of the writing process and sound mechanics.
But make no mistake. Even the world's most brilliant writers don’t necessarily fare better when it comes to teaching writing.
After all, writing and teaching are two different skills.
I once asked a multiple-time New York Times bestseller who writes about psychology what his writing process looks like.
His answer? “Oh, I just print out the sheets of paper, mix them up, and send them to the publisher.”
While the author’s answer was meant playfully, it pointed to some deep truths:
Being a great writer doesn’t mean you can explain what great writing is.
Being a great writer doesn’t make you a great teacher, and that’s okay.
Success can make you extremely unhelpful and arrogant about writing.
Most importantly, writing is taught in a backward manner both in schools and in universities.
Schools teach us to write 5-paragraph essays about books most of us don't like. It’s formulaic, constraining, and discouraging. It leaves little to no room for creativity and self-expression.
But writing, unlike what is taught in schools, should be neither exhausting nor stress-inducing; it should be liberating.
And unlike what ChatGPT creates by itself, writing should be specific, stylish, and personable.
What This Guide Offers
Amazon's book section is filled with books on writing, including grammar workbooks.
These tips generally include:
Use active voice
Use simple words
Write short sentences
Focus on just one idea
Write even shorter sentences
Read a lot of nonfiction books
Monitor your sentence length
Read your own work out loud
Use free writing to brainstorm
But if you struggle with your writing, though, you need something else. You need a fresh approach to writing that makes sense.
You need a roadmap.
This blog post is one of the best writing guides you’ll ever read because it offers you a clear, step-by-step roadmap that will guide you in your writing journey.
Follow these steps and you are guaranteed to become a better writer.
Trivium Writing was founded on the idea that those who want to write should have easy access to the tools they need, including clear writing instructions.
So, rather than giving you ways to improve, we provide you with a series of steps.
This guide is based on Trivium Writing's methodology The Architecture of Writing. We created AoW to present writing in a clear, understandable way to people who may not have a natural proclivity toward writing.
A final note: this guide is geared toward everyday writing and nonfiction writing in the English language.
It focuses neither on academic writing nor on fiction writing, but the ideas laid out also apply to both genres.
You can use them to write a book, articles, and social media content to avoid making costly mistakes.
In other words, you can use this guide for:
Less formal writing
Whatever you write, this guide will make writing easier for you as it shows mental processes even the best writers use but aren’t consciously aware of.
These insights don’t come out of the English department; they come from the real world.
How to Improve Writing Skills: The Wrong Approach
The reason people don't write well or struggle with writing is they don’t think about the craft correctly.
Award-winning authors, business writers, and ghostwriters all have something in common: a mindset. They think about writing surgically.
Most people, unfortunately, try to fix everything at a technical level before they work on the fundamentals and develop the right mindset. That is a recipe for staying stuck!
If you want to improve your writing skills, you too need to develop the right mindset—and, by mindset, I don't mean thinking positively. I mean thinking the way writers do—surgically.
The problem your average book, guide, and writing workshop only gives you “ways” to improve your writing, not a mindset.
The problem with these "ways to improve your writing" is they don’t simplify the complex aspects of writing. They don’t disentangle the knots for you, the end user.
All they do is tell you what to do, assuming that putting words and sentences together comes intuitively—which is rarely the case.
Common writing advice includes:
know your audience
write tight sentences
use strong language
delete every word you can
make your paragraphs focused on one idea
good writing is good editing
write every day
create an outline
While all these tips are great, none account for the fact that many people don't know where to start when writing. When they do start, they get stuck halfway through their piece and they don't know how to assess whether their writing is good.
These are tips focused on readers, not writers.
Most writing advice you’ll find focuses on words. It tells you which words to use and to avoid.
Again, while this type of advice has its place later in the process, it’s not useful to the writer who struggles with sentences and paragraphs.
You'll notice that this guide only discusses words in depth near the end of the roadmap.
The Trivium Writing Roadmap: How to Improve Writing Skills
As you use this roadmap to improve your writing skills, remember that practice makes perfect.
While you'll see immediate results from implementing these strategies, you need consistent practice to reap the greatest rewards from your guide.
That said, you can make sure you make improvements fast.
Here are some ways to do so:
- Apply these lessons to real-life projects.
- Join a writer's workshop.
- Follow a course.
- Write letters or blogs.
- Pen your life story.
Whatever it may be, use writing in concrete ways to let these lessons fully sink in so you can improve your writing skills faster. These will help you grow faster as a writer.
1. See Writing as a Dinner Party
Remember the last time you went to a dinner party?
There were probably a number of people talking about a topic—or perhaps many topics.
If the party was small, the entire group had one conversation. If the party was large, there were many conversations happening within different groups.
Now, chances are that when you arrived at the party, there were already more than two people at the venue.
These two people were already talking about a topic, so when you walked in, you listened and you added to the conversation.
2. Start With a Question
The reason most people struggle with writing is they start on the wrong foot.
They try to start with the answers, while they should start with questions.
The objective of writing is to deliver the right information to the right person at the right time, which means writing provides answers.
But there can be no answers without questions.
And this brings us to why some people find writing easy while others don't.
The people who can always find something to write are the people who ask themselves the most questions—whether the process is conscious or unconscious.
In an ideal world, we could simply find answers to the right questions without asking ourselves the questions consciously. But for most people, that doesn't work.
To ask yourself questions, start with these question words:
Your idea or question will be the foundation of your writing.
It’s what you’ll return to every time you get lost in your thoughts or run out of things to say. Having a strong foundation will make it easier for you to write a clear, concise piece that stays on track.
If you have trouble coming up with an idea, try brainstorming. Get a piece of paper and write down everything that comes to mind, no matter how crazy it may seem.
Once you have a list of potential ideas, start narrowing them down until you find the perfect one for your project.
If you’re still struggling, try these brainstorming techniques:
- Mind Mapping: Start with a central idea in the middle of a page. Draw branches out from this idea, connecting related thoughts, themes, or topics. This visual representation helps in connecting the dots and understanding how various concepts relate.
- Free Writing: Set a timer for 10-15 minutes. Write continuously without stopping, allowing every thought, idea, or concept to flow onto the page. This unfiltered writing often unveils hidden gems.
- Starbursting: Focus on the 6Ws - Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. For your main idea, formulate as many questions as you can around these prompts.
- Role Storming: Think from someone else's perspective. If you were a customer, a competitor, a reader, or someone from a different industry, how would you view the topic?
- Reverse Thinking: Approach the topic from an opposite angle. If you're looking for pros, list out cons first. This method challenges your default thinking patterns.
- SWOT Analysis: Examine the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats related to your topic or idea. This ensures a holistic view and can often unearth unexplored angles.
- Word Association: Begin with a single word related to your topic. Note the first word that comes to mind in response. Continue this chain, allowing your mind to make creative leaps.
- Gap Filling: Write a start and end statement about your topic. Then, challenge yourself to fill in the gaps with logical steps or ideas that bridge the two.
- Challenge Assumptions: List down all the assumptions related to your topic. Then, question each one. This method drives innovative thinking by breaking away from the status quo.
- Visual Stimulus: Look at images and infographics, or watch videos related to your topic. Often, a visual cue can spark a fresh idea or perspective.
3. Understand Angle and Relevance
The most damning mistake has nothing to do with sentence structure and unnecessary words. The worst writing mistake people ever make is failing to provide an angle and show its relevance.
Any piece of writing, after all, solves a problem—except poetry and fiction.
The best way to start anything you’re writing is to acknowledge the audience and meet its members where they are.
In other words, your readers have already been thinking, talking, or writing about your topic. Your job as a writer is to address this topic with your own unique angle.
Put simply, your angle is what you add to your audience’s conversation.
Your angle is something that you and you alone can bring. It comes from your background, expertise, or education, and it adds value to your topic.
Your angle on its own, however, may not necessarily compel your audience to care. What will persuade your audience is your angle’s relevance.
Your angle’s relevance is what makes your angle important to your audience because it is something important missing from the conversation.
In other words, your angle’s relevance is the consequence your audience faces by missing your angle.
For example, if you bring a philosophical angle to a political conversation, the relevance might be that without philosophy, politics inevitably lacks ethics and appeals to the lowest common denominator.
4. Understand and Use the 4 Writing Goals
You should never start writing anything without knowing exactly what you’re trying to achieve.
Now, the problem you might face is that you don’t know what you could be achieving.
If I ask you what you strive to achieve, you might give me a convoluted answer about wanting to inspire or educate people.
While an answer of that type may be a good start, there’s a better way to look at what you can achieve through writing. In fact, what you can achieve through writing boils down to a very simple framework.
There are only 4 things you can achieve while writing:
Describe (descriptive writing)
Explain (explanatory writing)
Narrate (narrative writing)
Persuade (persuasive writing)
While they may seem abstract, these 4 writing goals are in fact very practical.
Think back to the previous section where we discussed how you should start your writing with a question. Each of these writing goals actually answers one of these questions.
Descriptive Writing = What (description shows what is)
Explanatory Writing = How (explanation breaks down how something works)
Narrative Writing = Who + What (narration tells the story of who is doing what)
Persuasive Writing = Why (persuasion argues for why something is true or is important)
Every piece of writing you ever read or write (if it was written properly) uses one of these writing goals as a main driver.
For example, a newspaper article is descriptive, a how-to book is explanatory, a novel is narrative, and an essay is persuasive.
The caveat, however, is that some of these writing goals incorporate other goals in order to function.
For example, explanation requires description; narration requires description; and persuasion requires description, explanation, and narration.
From that point of view, while all goals are important and have their place, description is the least powerful writing goal and persuasion is the most powerful one.
You can learn more about the writing goals and how to use them masterfully in The Architecture of Writing Guide.
5. Frame Writing as a Journey
By far the most frustrating experience you can inflict on a reader is confusion.
It is very easy to confuse readers, and many writers do, but there’s a simple trick you can use to banish confusion from your writing forever.
That trick is framing writing as a journey.
A journey is simple: a person goes from Point A to Point B.
This is exactly how you should look at writing. You take your reader from Point A to Point B, and Point B should ideally consist of a promised land of sorts.
Namely, Point B should provide either a solution to a problem or be otherwise valuable.
To frame writing as a journey, use all the steps mentioned above.
- Imagine yourself at a dinner party
- Start with a question.
- Determine your angle and relevance.
- Pick your writing goal.
Then, and only then, determine the journey you are taking your reader on.
6. Understand the Trivium
Thanks to the last several steps, you now understand writing at a high level.
In other words, you now know how to create your content. These steps help you think through your subject, orient your research, and craft an effective outline.
These steps, however, don’t help you write grammatically correct sentences, master word choice, and nail your first drafts from the perspective of style.
That is because these steps focused on content alone. To write well at a technical level, you need to understand the Trivium.
The Trivium, after which Trivium Writing is named, is a Latin word that stands for “the place where three roads meet.”
Medieval universities used that word to refer to their introductory curriculum, which comprised three of the seven liberal arts:
Grammar: The set of structural rules governing the composition of words, phrases, and clauses in a language. It's the foundation that ensures clarity in conveying ideas.
Logic: The art of reasoning and the intellectual structure that underpins true statements. Without logic, ideas written with proper grammar don't add up to anything
Rhetoric: The art of effective or persuasive communication, both written and spoken. It's the purpose behind a message as well as the emotions and devices used to persuade.
To this day, grammar, logic, and rhetoric are still foundational pieces of a person’s education, but schools unfortunately don’t place as much emphasis on them anymore.
However, is imperative for any person who wishes to be successful to master all three components of the Trivium.
For example, if you only master grammar and logic, your ideas will be irrelevant and unpersuasive. If you only master grammar and rhetoric, your ideas will be untrue and nonsensical.
Finally, if you only master logic and rhetoric, your ideas will be illegible.
To better understand the Trivium, consider this way of looking at its components:
Grammar = What
Logic = How
Rhetoric = Why
Grammar consists of the language you use in order to convey information. It's the words you use. Logic consists of the order in which you present the information. It's the structure you use.
Finally, rhetoric is the purpose behind why you share the information. It is the argument you are making.
Another way to look at the Trivium is to associate grammar with knowledge, logic with understanding, and rhetoric with wisdom.
When you master these three components, you are effectively a master of communication and can write with very high efficiency.
7. Understand The Architecture of Writing
So now you know you need to master the Trivium, but where do you start? The problem with grammar, logic, and rhetoric is that you probably know at least a little bit about each subject.
Chances are, however, that you have knowledge gaps, which lead to your writing challenges.
To solve this problem, I’ve created The Architecture of Writing (AoW), a method designed to teach the Trivium in an easy, simple, practical way.
As of writing these lines, the method has been used by over 2,500 people worldwide, generating incredible results in a variety of industries.
The Architecture of Writing breaks down in great detail everything you need to know about grammar, logic, and rhetoric.
By using an “architectural" approach, it teaches you every concept in sequence so that you can fill any gap you may have.
The Architecture of Writing comprises three different “architectures”:
External Architecture (Grammar)
The External Architecture consists of the elements of a text readers can actually see or understand by reading your piece of writing. You can view the External Architecture as a grammatical framework.
In other words, the External Architecture consists of your message's front end.
The External Architecture comprises two different structures: text structure and sentence structure, both of which are crucially important to any piece of writing
Part of Speech
Internal Architecture (Logic)
The Internal Architecture consists of the elements of a text that are mostly hidden from the readers but that give the message coherence. You can view the External Architecture as a logical framework.
Without an Internal Architecture, no message can make sense.
The Internal Architecture comprises eight elements, all of which are critically important:
Philosophical Architecture (Rhetoric)
The Philosophical Architecture is your message's logical and emotional foundation. You can view the External Architecture as a rhetorical framework.
Without a Philosophical Architecture, writers struggle to compel and persuade readers.
The Philosophical Architecture comprises eight elements, all of which are critically important:
- The Family
- The Community
- The Society/Nation
- The State/Government
- The Species
- The Civilization
These three architectures of writing all serve different purposes and come in handy at various stages of the writing process.
Each of them comes with a simple, orderly framework that guides you in thinking through your writing.
The best way to use The Architecture of Writing is to study it and use it as a companion.
Once you’ve studied it, review it every now and then and use the frameworks it provides every time you craft a piece of writing.
The Architecture of Writing is a universally bulletproof approach to writing.
It helps writers from all walks of life with various writing types, including nonfiction writing, technical writing, copywriting, and fiction writing!
Because it focuses on the fundamentals, The Architecture of Writing is widely applicable.
The Architecture of Writing Guide describes in more detail each architecture, each architecture's component, and how to use the three architectures of writing to write quickly, effectively, and powerfully.
Understanding the Architecture of Writing is the most powerful thing you can do on your writing journey.
8. Find Your Writing Style and Voice
One of the mistakes a lot of writers make is they focus on style and voice before they master the fundamentals.
Yes, style and voice are important. But if you haven’t mastered the Trivium, they’re of very little help.
In any case, you need to understand the Trivium to craft your style and voice.
To understand writing style and voice, you need to turn to the External Architecture framework in The Architecture of Writing.
Once you understand the components of the External Architecture, you can start playing with them and developing your own unique style of writing.
The components of External Architecture comprise:
Part of Speech
Each of these components can vary in length, type, mood, tone, and a host of other attributes.
For example, some writers make long sentences part of their style. Some writers use shorter paragraphs. And some writers use a lot of prepositional phrases, which leads to a conversational tone.
The Truth About Style
While in most cases you should adhere to the rules of grammar, most other things are up to you.
You can make your paragraphs short if you so desire. You can write short sentences—or longer sentences if you prefer. You can address multiple ideas per text. You can give lots of examples—or very few.
Almost everything in writing is a question of style. If it’s not a question of personal style, it’s a matter of genre style.
For example, nonfiction books tend to follow a certain style while fiction books follow another. Business writing style varies greatly, too.
How to Develop Your Style and Voice
The best way to find your style and your voice is to read authors you love with the Architecture of Writing in mind.
Analyze how they write and how you can implement some of the ways in which they write. Then, pick the style appropriate to your writing genre (fiction, nonfiction, business, etc.)
Once you are learning from the great and have a style you follow, you can start experimenting with the different elements of the External Architecture.
In other words, experiment with word choice. Try to make your paragraphs short, then long. Use active voice. Ditch active voice for passive voice. See what happens.
There's no limit to how much you can experiment:
- Try long words, short words, Saxon words, Latinate words.
- Write with an outline, or without one.
- Do a lot of research, or do very little research at all.
- Write in a conversational tone, or write in a more formal style.
You’ll see what works best for you.
Practical Steps to Start Improving
The Trivium Writing Roadmap offered you the following steps to improve your writing skills:
Once you've started implementing these steps, take the following two practical steps toward improving your writing skills:
1. Work on Projects You Love
There are a lot of ways you can improve your writing skills in your mind.
At the end of the day, though, only practice will help you make significant improvements. (We’ll discuss this further in a minute.)
In order to get practice, you need to work on projects you love — or else you’ll give up quickly.
I have personally coached, taught, mentored, and consulted close to 1,000 individuals.
As a result of this work, I know for a fact that you can't sustain your quest to improve your writing skills unless you work on projects you love—even if you need to write things you don’t love.
Let me explain.
Let's you’re a professional who needs to improve their writing skills to access better opportunities within your organization...
You may not enjoy writing the memos and reports you have to write at work, but you need to improve your writing skills to write them more quickly and efficiently.
What do you do? Common wisdom would say to work with a writing coach and write a lot of these memos and reports. While that may help, you risk hating your life and burning out quickly.
The better approach is to work with a writing coach on projects you love — so long as they’re related to your goals.
Here are some examples of projects a professional could work on to improve their writing skills:
Fictional memos or reports about topics they love
Essays about subjects they are interested in
Blog posts about their interest
While some of these projects differ from the original goal, they are nonetheless more effective in helping improve writing skills.
To improve your writing style and to make good writing second nature to you, work on projects that light you up until the writing process becomes easier for you.
2. Use Deliberate Practice
We often say that practice makes perfect, but what really will improve your written ability and your writing style is deliberate practice.
Psychologists define deliberate practice as “the individualized training activities specially designed by a coach or teacher to improve specific aspects of an individual's performance through repetition and successive refinement."
As far as writing goes, deliberate practice can be done with the help of a writing coach or editor. These professionals can help you:
- improve your writing style;
- increase your written proficiency;
- avoid unnecessary words, filler words, and other mistakes.
At Trivium Writing, we offer a wide variety of coaching, consulting, and education services to help clients get the deliberate practice they need to become the best writers they can be.
If you are like most people, however, you may not know which service might benefit you the most, if any.
Improving Your Writing Skills with Trivium Writing
Trivium Writing is dedicated to helping people from all walks of life—businesspeople, career professionals, and writers/authors—improve their writing skills through practical and accessible resources.
We believe that writing belongs neither to the snobs who make it obscure nor the tyrants who oversimplify it, but rather to the free thinkers doing good things in the world.
Here are a few ways we can help:
- The Architecture of Writing is a method designed for both professional writers and beginners so they can start or continue writing with clarity, confidence, and competence.
- Writing Coaching is part of Trivium Writing’s suite of services and consists of online meetings with a writing coach, who asks you questions and provides you guidance towards your goals.
- Writing Consulting is another Trivium Writing service and is more hands-on than writing coaching. Writing consulting gives you access to a professional writer who gives you ideas and can provide step-by-step instructions to complete your work.
We will go over your particular circumstances and see if and how our services can help you achieve your goals.
Article by Leandre Larouche
Leandre Larouche is a writer, coach, and the founder of Trivium Writing.