21 ways to keep your writing sharp

Are you in a writing slump? A swipe file and a new environment, among other things, can help whip your writing into shape.


Every writer has days when he or she sits down to write and the words just don’t flow. You write one sentence and check how many words you added in the hope it will miraculously be sufficient.

The problem writers have is when their hearts aren’t in the writing, it shows. (Here’s how to overcome your writing demons.)

To help you get your writing on track, here are 21 tips to prevent you from getting what I affectionately call blank-screen syndrome:

1. Create a list of articles you want to write but don’t have time. It’s easy to get inspired to write about other topics when the pressure’s on to write about something else. There’s nothing like a deadline to make anything else seem exciting.

2. Feed your mind. Read a book, blogs or news sites to get ideas. This isn’t an excuse to get a snack or other indulgence.

3. Develop a story around a trending topic, even if it’s not your area of focus. The objective is to stretch yourself to find a way to write about the hot topic. This can be useful when you need to keep your content relevant.

4. Keep a swipe file. Sign up for a range of newsletters that focus on your main topics to see what other writers and bloggers cover. Save articles that provide new insights or formats for inspiration. This doesn’t mean you should copy someone else’s ideas or articles.

5. Collect relevant questions about your topic. Think like you’re writing an endless FAQ. A list of questions gives you a hook to build your content around. This is particularly useful for blogs and company content.

6. Get a head start. Before you quit a writing session, write down the ideas you have for the next one. Form them into an outline and add it to your current document to make it easy for you to pick up where you left off.

7. Remove distractions. Close your social media sites, chat and email. It’s useful to have a dedicated space for writing.

8. Make an appointment to write. Set your timer or alarm for a specific time. That’s when you have to start writing.

9. Change writing environments. If you always write at your kitchen table, try writing at a coffee shop or local library.

10. Seek inspiration. Do something that provides you with a muse. Go to a play or museum.

11. Write a piece using someone else’s title. The goal isn’t to steal another writer’s work, but to force yourself to write with someone else’s framework. You can also do this with one of your own articles. Force yourself to write a second piece that’s completely different from the first but has the same title.

12. Tell a story. One way to make your writing memorable is to turn it into a story. Include a beginning, middle and end. Even if you’re writing about research, you need to make it memorable. Here are some storytelling tips and inspiration for 29 types of corporate stories.

13. Break complex topics into smaller chunks. Sometimes you need to have more manageable goals. A complicated topic might work well if you divide it into multiple targeted topics.

14. Start where the energy is. You don’t have to write everything in order or start at the beginning. Begin where you’re inspired.

15. Leave room for discussion. You don’t need to say everything there is to say about your topic.

16. Use a human voice. When you read your writing, does it sound like something a real person would say or did you let it devolve into corporate gibberish? If your writing is boring, people won’t read it no matter how important your points are.

17. Write in an active voice. The goal is to make your writing as strong as possible. Your article will lose a lot of vitality if you overuse the passive voice.

18. Skip the four letter words. While it’s good to use a human voice, it’s poor form to fill your writing with a lot of slang and curses. Although they attract attention, it’s not always the type you want.

19. Let it rest. If you’ve been pounding away on a piece for a while, take a break. This doesn’t mean you should abandon your work. Get the main points down and wait a bit before you edit.

20. Read your article out loud. It’s amazing how many errors you’ll find.

21. Check your spelling and usage. While most people write on a computer, it’s critical to make sure you used the correct words. Spell checkers can’t tell the difference between they’re, their or there since all three are spelled correctly.

Although a few lucky writers never hit a dry spell, you might. Try some of these techniques to keep your writing in top form. Like many other skills, the more you do it, the better and faster you’ll be.

Do you have any tips to keep your writing in tip-top shape?

Heidi Cohen is president of Riverside Marketing Strategies. Follow her on Twitter @heidicohen.

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