I always knew writing was an important skill, and always felt it was difficult for students in general, much less ESL students. In fact, recently I read a survey classifying writing as a “threshold skill”. I knew then it was time to write about the topic of writing. What did the survey actually say?
120 major American corporations affiliated with Business Roundtable, employing nearly 8 million people, concluded that in today’s workplace, writing is a “threshold skill” for hiring and promotion among salaried (i.e., professional) employees. The survey results further indicated that writing is a ticket to professional opportunity. That writing has changed over time and that words evolve. That there’s really new language. I knew then it was time to write about the topic of writing. But how could words have so much power?
Andrea Gardner in her video The Power of Words might just have one of the best answers to that question. Words that are deliberately crafted can inform, entertain, persuade and inspire. They can help us to see the beauty in the world. I knew then it was time to write about the topic of writing. But how can you improve writing skills? How can you have fun with words and writing?
Perhaps these 10 ways can help you as an ESL student improve your writing, and in doing so show you the power of words and serve as a ticket to professional opportunity.
Jeff Dixon in The Key to the Kingdom agrees. He claims a good story brings power, and that this power can …encourage you, it can make you laugh, it can bring you joy. It will make you think, it will tap into your hidden emotions, and it can make you cry. The power of a story can also bring about healing, give you peace, and change your life!
10 Ways to Improve Your Writing Skills
- Keep a Journal
Maybe you are in the habit of keeping a journal, or you may have used journaling in the past. It’s a great habit to get into. You could carry a journal (a notebook of any kind) with you throughout the day and jot down interesting observations, things you read or want to remember (like inspirational quotes or unique facts), or summarize something like a favorite movie after you see it or write a response to a book you have read.
Another idea is to set aside some time each night to journal about any number of things (review your English language goals, list some things you need to do the next day, or to recap your day, etc.)
By getting in the habit of keeping a journal, you can capture something worth remembering, foster creative thinking and reflection, and simply give daily practice to the skill of writing. And according to well-known Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, it might be something you really, really enjoy doing. Rowling thinks that …the idea of wandering off to a café with a notebook, and writing and seeing where that takes me for awhile is just bliss.
- Read Beyond What You Normally Read
A man with a scant vocabulary will almost certainly be a weak thinker. The richer and more copious one’s vocabulary and the greater one’s awareness of fine distinctions and subtle nuances of meaning, the more fertile and precise is likely to be one’s thinking. Knowledge of things and knowledge of the words for them grow together. If you do not know the words, you can hardly know the thing. – Henry Hazlitt, Thinking as a Science
What do you enjoy reading… fiction or non-fiction – biographies, history, science, literature? How do you feel when you read? Are you more apt to join in English-speaking discussions with your new found knowledge? Do you notice a difference in your grammar and vocabulary by reading? Are you able to apply some things you gain from reading to actual speaking and writing?
Reading is a natural way to become a better writer. By reading, you acquire more vocabulary and a sense of how words come together. You understand English grammar and see how words are spelled. You hear the rhythm of language and uncover the mystery of idioms and jargon.
Reading can be a motivating force to help you write because the richness of words more than likely stimulates thinking. It supplies you with much more than information. It gives you ideas. Does this happen to you? Nurture a love of reading.
It usually helps me write by reading – somehow the reading gear in your head turns the writing gear. – Steven Wright
- Comment on Your Favorite Blog Posts
You can make a point to comment on blog posts. It’s that simple. Just take a few minutes to compose your thoughts. A simple “great idea” or “thanks”, is not enough. Try to expand on your opinion. What was a great idea? Why was it great? Why are you thanking the writer? What has the post done for you? Hint- you can even start with this blog post. What comment would you make?
- Take a writing class
There are many online English and writing classes to choose from, writing workshops, along with writing classes at local colleges and through various other community organizations. Check out the local and college libraries for local author visits. Some communities have all city reads where anyone in the community is invited to read a certain selection and then join a discussion group. See if there are programs available for ESL students through nearby post-secondary schools. Maybe there is a writing lab or other avenues that can help you with developing and sharpening your skills as a writer. Perhaps you can audit a class or benefit from some free tutoring service geared to writing. You need to look for resources that are available and that meet your needs.
- Join a writer’s group or some type of writing endeavor
Are you interested enough in writing that you want to join a school or business newspaper or newsletter staff? Can you volunteer at a community organization to help with written communication? Perhaps you might want to join a writer’s club to share writing? Maybe you can visit community functions that sponsor poetry and read-ins? Look around you and see the possibilities of writing in groups or a worthwhile writing endeavor that is a good fit for you.
- Rewrite articles you read
Do you have a favorite topic or a favorite article you read in a magazine, newspaper, book, or online? Try to rewrite it in your own words. Work on summarizing, main idea and details. Try to add descriptive words. Give the writing your voice. Then compare it to the original. What makes your writing different? How is it similar? Do you see the power of words as Robert Cormier notes in I Am the Cheese? Cormier writes of newspaper writing but it could apply to any type of writing, [there was an intrigue] in the power of words…the sharp staccato words that went into the writing… [words described as] active verbs [and other parts of speech] that danced and raced on the page.
Other articles written previously about parts of speech that you might find helpful:
You can also try writing a piece by following someone else’s style of writing. This will enable you to pattern words and phrases, learn idioms and jargon, and apply narration and dialogue in lots of different way. Play around with the language. How does it sound? How do you want it to sound?
Another suggestion is to take something that you like, a fairy tale, fable or short story from a certain time period and rewrite it to modern times. This is a popular activity in ESL teaching and helps provide a structure to the writing but encourages free thought with developing the parts of a story (setting, characters, plot and theme) to a different time period.
Another activity, similar to this one, is to read comparative literature. Read the same story written by authors in different countries to see how the story changes. Analyze the words used and other features of the story.
- Write every day
Writing is my love. If you love something, you find a lot of time. I write for two hours a day, usually starting at midnight. At times, I start at 11:00. – A.P.J. Abdul Kalam
Like most other things that improve with practice, the act of writing every day will help to improve your writing. You will see vast changes almost immediately. It will be easier for you to “find” words to use from your increasing repertoire of words, it will be easier to string ideas together, it will be easier for you to embellish your writing by making it your style and adding your voice. Who knows? You may even want to write. You may need to write.
The desire to write grows with writing. – Desiderius Erasmus
- Observe your surroundings
My ideas usually come not at my desk writing, but in the midst of living. – Anais Nin
We all agree that the world is fast-paced. It is hard to slow down when you have so many obligations with work and school, family and fitness, etc. By looking around at nature and the uniqueness of each season, by taking time to connect to people, and by engaging in various activities, you will enlarge topics to write about and develop a deeper perspective of what you are writing about. You will bring interest to your writing. You will connect to the reader. In the end, there will be an inner feeling of accomplishment or beauty that you will feel. It is hard to explain, but you will know it. Anne Morrow Lindbergh credits writing as more than living. She feels writing is “the conscious of living”. That’s powerful stuff.
Have you felt that power in writing? The feeling comes when you find that one idea for the blog, or the right ending for that story, or that special point of view to take when you write. Maybe it can be characterized as inner satisfaction. This feeling will empower you to keep writing. And as you proceed, your writing will continue to improve.
Perhaps Seamus Heaney says what this feeling is all about: …I’ve always associated the moment of writing with a moment of lift, of joy, of unexpected reward.
- Stay up on current writing and authors
Take time to read about new books that are published or stories about authors and how they write. Visit bookstores and peruse different books. Look at best seller lists and all sorts of recommended book lists and read recaps of what the books are about. Ask a reference librarian at a library what books are recommended for whatever reason.
Do you like movies? Find out if the movie is based on a book and certain events, and read these first. Compare the book to the movie. Analyze the style of writing between both mediums. What can you learn to be a better writing? Did the authors use a certain technique like flashbacks or reoccurring events or thoughts? Did they take a completely different angle to reel in their audience? How can you “reel in your audience”?
- Rewrite to use those power words
Sometimes it is just enough to get the writing done. But if you can take the time to rewrite, your writing will be so much better. That’s okay. Scribble all over the text. Look up words and find better choices. Try to add symbolism, some figures of speech, add dialogue and suspense. Be creative. Be clever. Continue to rewrite until every word and phrase you choose is exactly what you want. Then when you have finished you will feel the power that words have brought to the page. You will undoubtedly feel a sense of power yourself.
Learning to Write – Writing to Learn
Don’t worry. Everyone can learn to write. Some people have more of natural ability to write. They might have a wider vocabulary. Their ESL skills might be more advanced. But you can actually develop the skill of writing through many of these techniques mentioned.
Truman Capote, one of the best writers of all time, feels that some people are born knowing how to write. But if you’re not one of those people, then fine. You can develop writing to show light and shade just as a painting does and just as music does. He shares the value of the writing process in saying that to him the greatest pleasure of writing is not what is about, but the inner music that words make.
Now, that’s power.
Hint: You can write to me about this blog post below (see #3 above).
That would be great. Let me know your thoughts about writing and your thoughts about this article. And if I can help you gain confidence and skills in writing, and in overall ESL skills, write to me using the comments section below, too. I would love you to feel the power in words and for you to have the professional opportunities that you dream of.