I received an email from Serge Frolov yesterday and the gist of his message was to ask how I came to be a good writer. More specifically, he asked, “How did you come up to that level of writing?” in reference to a ReviewMe review I did on John Chow dot Com. I have several of those reviews under my belt, but most of them talk about making money online in some way. By contrast, the Keetsa review was for green tea mattresses. Not exactly the typical fodder for dot com moguls.

Serge asked if there was a particular e-book that helped me improve my writing ability. The answer is no. The truth is that there is no quick and dirty way to improve your writing ability. You don’t go from an incoherent blogger to a professional writer overnight. The email did get me thinking, though, how does one go about becoming a better writer, especially if they want to consider freelance writing as a career? One of the biggest freelance writing myths is that everyone can do it. Some people are just better suited for it than others, just as I’m not particularly skilled in the kitchen.

It’s not possible to train someone to become a great writer through a 500 word guide, just as it’s impossible for a single online university class to turn you into a literary genius overnight. However,what I want to do here today is provide you with five tips that may point you in the right direction.

1. Practice is Everything
The single best way for you to improve your writing is to, well, keep writing. Practice may not necessarily make perfect, but it can help to develop those skills and improve them. Speaking for myself, I write every day for several hours a day. I have a couple longer posts that I do from time to time, but many of them are 500 words or less. I have a machine-gun style of writing for those clients (as well as on this blog). As a result of all this work, I’ve been called a pro blogger. Keep writing, daily if possible. It is only through continued practice that you will improve.

2. Reading Improves Your Writing
If all you do is restrain yourself to your own little mental world, you probably won’t improve your writing. In addition to all the writing I do each day, I also do a fair bit of reading. I check out dozens of other blogs on the Internet, I read plenty of tech news through the usual sources, and I check up on the local paper to see what’s happening in the world beyond the blogosphere. Just through pure osmosis, you will start to collect certain ideas and styles that you can integrate into your own writing. This is particularly useful for people who have English as a second language, because it exposes you to the little nuances that they may not teach you in formal English training.

3. The Power of Free Association
In this respect, I may be a touch on the unconventional side. In school, they teach you that you should prepare a rough outline before you start writing your essay. By and large, I don’t do this. Instead, I just put fingers to keyboard and let the words flow out naturally. By doing this, each paragraph will feel more connected. You should have a rough idea in your head what you want to talk about, but I’m not a fan of formal outlines. After you’re reasonably happy with the length of your piece, re-read it in its entirety to fix any errors and ensure that the article is cohesive.

4. Encourage Feedback
Don’t write in a vacuum. When you produce an essay in school, the teacher will return that essay to you with a letter grade and feedback. When you write a blog post, there is no formal evaluation process to tell you whether you did a good job or not. Sure, there’s the rate my post plug-in that you can try, but actual words are much more useful than a simple “star” rating. I’ve received comments about the calibre of the reviews I do at John Chow dot Com. People say that they’re comprehensive and well-written, but this wasn’t always the case. I remember the first ReviewMe I did on that site was not well received at all. I read the comments and adjusted my style accordingly, keeping the target audience in mind.

5. Write As If You Were Speaking
I find that when some people sit down to write something, they take on an entirely different voice than the one they use when they are speaking. The net result is a body of text that feels contrived and artificial. It feels mechanical and that’s not what you want, especially when it comes to blogging. I’m not saying that you should write like you’re talking with your buddies over a beer, but you want the text to feel as natural as possible. Write as if you were either have a heart-to-heart with someone or you were giving some sort of public speech. My blog words are slightly elevated from everyday speech, but it’s still my voice.

As you can see, there is much more to being a good writer than avoiding grammar mistakes. These tips are by no means exhaustive and they may not apply to all writers, but they have largely contributed to my advancement as a freelance writer. I hope that they have been helpful for any budding writers out there.

If you’re looking to write a book, check out this author guide and this outlining guide from Jerry Jenkins.