Original question from Quora:

How can I improve my writing skills?

My Answer:

There are two tricks I know to reliably improve your writing skills. One is obvious, one is more of a secret.

I use both.

Here is the obvious one…

Write every day.

In my book, Creative Genius, I wrote an essay called Paint Every Day that goes into more depth on this idea. The short version is simply show up every day and write something.

It’s not more complicated than that.

If you commit yourself to putting words to paper every day for the next year I guarantee your skill will improve. Write 500–1,000 words a day and you will be cranking out articles, blog posts, books, etc. in no time.

1,000 words a day is 365,000 words a year.

Even after editing that would be a 1,000 page novel every year. That’s like 2/3 of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, or the first few Harry Potter books.

If you crank out enough pages, you’ll get better. Crank out pages every day for years and years and you will become world class.

Show up every day and write.

That’s trick one.

Trick two is less obvious…

Hand copy the books you want to emulate. And when I say hand copy, I mean get out a pen and paper and copy word for word writing that you want to achieve.

This might sound silly or overly difficult to you, but stay with me. This will change your life as a writer.

Part of writing is coming up with ideas and part of it is knowing how to present them in a way that enchants the reader. When you find a book that enchants you, you need to get the muscle memory of some of the phrases, descriptions, and storytelling elements in your bones.

You don’t do that by reading any more than you improve your ability to play guitar by listening to your favorite guitar solo a hundred times.

I play guitar and no matter how much I listen to a great solo, the only way I learn to play anything is by actually playing it.

Musicians have known this for hundreds of years, so have martial artists. You don’t learn kung-fu by reading a book on kung-fu. You have to practice kung-fu.

Hand copying great writing is like learning kung-fu. It gives you some element of the feeling of great writing. It gives you technique and a kind of vocabulary of choices that makes your writing more compelling.

I could go on and on, but the fact is simply this. Great guitar players spend thousands of hours practicing other people’s music before they ever write their own. Martial artists spend thousands of hours practicing kicks and punches before they every look like Bruce Lee.

And smart writers… well a smart writer would be wise to copy the greats to learn their techniques and make them their own.

The fastest way I know how to do that is hand copying.

If you do nothing more than writing 500+ words a day of new material, and hand copy a few pages of existing great writing, it will change your writing forever.

-Brian

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