1. Create an Outline – It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing a paragraph or a novel, you should scratch out a quick outline that lists the important thoughts that you are trying to communicate. This achieves a couple of goals, including helping you organize the flow of your thoughts, and also remember what all of your points are. Think of it as a shopping list for the piece that you are writing.
2. Read Your Work Out Loud – You will probably feel stupid at first (especially if you do it at the local Starbucks), but reading your work out loud will help you discover a voice in your writing. I guarantee that when you read it out loud, you will substitute words in the spoken version for what you have written on the page, and you will sometimes stumble over the way a group of words sound together (that you didn’t see in print).
3. Put it on the Shelf for a While – You might not always have the luxury of putting your work on the shelf and then coming back to it a week or a month later. However, even if you’ve only got a couple of hours, take some time to get away from what you’ve written and then come back and revise it. Writing is a lot like chili that way – it’s always better the second day.
4. Revise – Revising is not editing. Revising is not proofreading. Revising is not rewriting. I once had a writing professor explain that revision is the act of creating a new vision (i.e. “re-visioning” the writing). Sometimes you might do a complete revision and then throw it out, but you will always learn something about your writing in the process.
5. Know Whose Advice You Can Trust – Asking someone for feedback on your writing is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the people making comments might not have any idea what they are talking about and thus give you edits that will make your piece worse. On the other, they might be sugarcoating their comments so as to not hurt your feelings. If you don’t have someone you can trust to give you honest feedback, you’re probably better off going it alone. And even if you do trust them, it doesn’t mean you have to take their advice. Remember, it’s your name on the byline, not their’s.