How to Improve Your Writing Using Simple Tools

Since August, 2017, I have been deliberately practicing two writing tools each week from Roy Peter Clark’s book, Writing ToolsEach tip may seem small, but when they are properly executed it elevates the quality of your writing. As I continue to practice these tools, my writing continues to improve. I highly recommend this book, and below are the three writing tools that had the biggest impact on my writing.

  1. Climb Up and Down the Ladder of Abstraction. The ladder of of abstraction is simple, but powerful. The bottom of the ladder is everything specific and tangible. This includes descriptions of what we experience on a daily basis, like the smell of cookies baking or the color of a passing car. As you move up the ladder, you get less specific and more obscure. The top of the ladder consists of overarching concepts like liberty, spirituality, and capitalism. In the middle of the ladder, though, there is a dangerous zone of mediocrity. It consists of words and ideas that are neither specific nor important. Exploring the bottom of the ladder or climbing to the top creates pungent and effective writing, whereas staying in the middle leads to writing that is unable to make a strong point.
  2. Work From a Plan. A common mistake I make while writing, usually with this blog, is starting out without a plan of where I’m going. This leads to a piece without direction or a strong point. Writing with the end, and for good measure, the beginning and middle, in mind makes your point clearer and creates a structure that supports that argument.
  3. Own the Tools of the Craft. The best way to incorporate all of the lessons from this book is to create a “toolbox.” Your toolbox is specific to you, and you should build and re-build it over time. Thanks to reading and practicing the tools in Clark’s book, I have created my own set of tools. Idea, Plan, Draft, Cut, Critique, Re-Draft, Re-Critique, Polish. This is my process. It incorporates the tools I have picked up over the past several months and creates steps for me to follow when writing.

Consciously practicing new writing tools has made my writing more powerful and precise, and I intend to continue to hone these tools so I can continue to see growth and improvement.

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