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I've recently followed the advice of our very own Jeff Atwood and started a blog site in order to become a better writer and communicator.

My goal is to improve my skill at technical writing and business writing; to be able to write crisply, clearly, and to the point. I want to develop a writing style whichs is, at once, both informative and enjoyable. Stylistically, I'm aiming for a (crazy) mixture of Bill Bryson and Christopher Hitchens.

I've chosen a blog because it seems a good first step - it gives me a platform to write. It's a place I can write frequently and get as much practice and I need. However, I'm concerned that I will not go too far just by blogging frequently without any external input. How can my I use my blog to improve my writing, beyond just writing a lot? Is there something I can do as part of my blogging that will push my limits and make me a better communicator?

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If you already are writing a lot, go and write more. –  John Smithers Mar 12 '12 at 22:11
    
You might consider putting a link to your blog in your profile! –  Neil Fein Mar 13 '12 at 1:22
    
This question is pretty unfocused. Closing this, as per this discussion in chat. We'd love to discuss ways to improve it, either in chat or here in the comments. –  Neil Fein Mar 13 '12 at 5:26
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glitch, I've edited your question pretty heavily. I hope I understood what you're asking, and that my edits match your intentions. Basically, I focused on "I want to improve my writing, so I'm blogging, but I'm not sure how to make that really effective" - that's your goal, your attempt to reach it, and the problem you're having. If I've misunderstood, you can revert or edit further; I hope the importance of a focused, practical problem is clear. –  Standback Mar 13 '12 at 9:02
    
Standback, you're correct at your interpretation of my question, thanks for re-enabling it. –  glitch Mar 13 '12 at 22:12
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3 Answers

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Looks like you're already following the One Big Law of becoming a good writer: Write! :-)

So, with that out of the way, I have a few ideas to contribute. These are in no particular order though they are interrelated. And, of course, all standard disclaimers apply:

1) Find a local writing group to join that can critique your work. You say you miss feedback, so go get some. The key to this is getting the right writing group. Many are self-congratulatory groups of folks having fun hanging out and pretending to be artistes. You'll never hear a bad word out of them. Others are outlets for petty tyrants to boost their own self-worth by cutting down everyone else. You'll never hear a good word out of them.

What you want are a group of honest, constructive people that can tell you what they liked and what they didn't like -- and then can tell you why.

2) Read writing books. Look around at some of these "best writing book" lists people put out or elicit on sites like this. Pretty soon, you start to see the same subset of books show up over and over. Orson Scott Card's Characters and Viewpoint, for instance, if you're doing fiction. Have a look at some of those, and start in on one that interests you and addresses an area where you think you're weak.

3) Slice your writing into elements, rate each element, then pick one to focus on. By elements, I mean things like voice, characterization, pace, setting, clarity, and so on. Obviously my list is in the vein of fiction, but you get the idea. When you rate yourself on these elements, look for worst and the best.

Then, pick one or two, and study it, practice it, and polish it. For those you rate the worst, you're looking to improve them to the point where it doesn't damage your writing. If you're lucky, you'll start to "get it" and it could turn into a good thing in your writing. Or at least stop the bleeding.

For the best, these are the elements where your talents lay. You want to practice them, polish them, and play with them -- these are the elements that will make your writing shine and give it star power.

Final note on that before moving on: you don't have to be great at every element. Very possibly, you can't. JJR Tolkien was a master at creating mythical worlds, but his plots were fairly straightforward. HP Lovecraft's still around a hundred years later because he could narrate imagery that would sink its claws in your mind -- but he couldn't write dialog with a gun to his head. I read somewhere that out of a million-some published words he only wrote about 5000 of dialog. And those are... painful to read, in a bad way.

4) Look to the masters. You mentioned Bill Bryson and Christopher Hitchens. Two parts to this idea:

a) Read their stuff with "a writer's eye". See if you can identify what it is that makes you like them. Then, figure out what they do and how they do it that makes it so appealing. I'm not talking about in a broad sense, especially not at first. Take a single sentence, or bit of dialog, or paragraph that really grabs you, and figure out how they did it. Or at least figure out what they did. Explicitly defining it will help you put tools in your toolbox.

b) Sit down, pretend you are that author - like you're an actor playing them in a movie - and write as if you are them. Write what they would write, if they were sitting in that spot instead of you. I'm sure that plenty of people will be critical of this idea. After all, as a writer you want to find your own voice, not be a pale imitation of the other guy. But I do think it's useful sometimes. When you do this, you use those tools you've discovered in a way that flows, uninhibited by yourself and all the thousands of other possibilities of what you could put on paper. And in the process, you're actively learning to use those tools in a way that boosts your own writing. It's like training wheels.

5) Write some more. Or, so this has already been covered, but I'll repeat it here. It's a good one to end on. In some article I read, they claimed you can't really be a good writer until you've written a million words. The more I write, the more I believe them.

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Thanks, that's a great response! –  glitch Mar 13 '12 at 8:47
    
This is a really great introductory text for a beginning writer... but I think it's mismatched with the question. Even before the cleanup, this was tagged [technical-writing] and [business-writing]. Almost everything you've got here is heavily aimed towards fiction (I'm not familiar with writing groups that critique tech blogs...). Maybe you can re-post this on another [beginner] question where it'd be a better fit? That'd be great :D –  Standback Mar 13 '12 at 8:58
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Hmmm. If OP says this is a great response, I may well have misunderstood the question :-/ –  Standback Mar 13 '12 at 9:03
    
I was just being appreciative of the long write-up! :) –  glitch Mar 13 '12 at 22:12
    
@Standback I answered the the question asked, not what you reworded it into after I answered. Your rewording may have matched the poster's original intentions, but not the original question. I did miss tags about technical & business writing, though I had the nagging thought that glitch wasn't a fiction writer. I'll give you the first one - writing groups - which might be hard to find anywhere but online in technical writing. For the rest, I stand by them. My examples leaned to fiction, and that may be a bad thing, but all four are applicable to any kind of content writing. –  Patches Mar 14 '12 at 0:49
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Your next step is to start editing yourself. First up: clean out those clichés, redundant words, and worn-out filler phrases you're relying on without even noticing. To wit:

...and started a blog site in order to become a better writer and communicator.

..and started to blog to improve my writing.

I'd like to figure out how exactly I can improve the fastest, as I suspect that I will not go too far just by blogging frequently without any external input.

These two clauses actually have nothing to do with one another. Start with "I suspect."

"literary tricks"

If they're tricks, then they're not skills, which is what you're really looking for. And by "literary" do you mean "to do with writing," or "mainstream and not genre, because genre books are for [insert insult]"?

will push my limits

Find a way to freshen this.

and make me a better communicator?

Do you want to be a better communicator or a better writer? They aren't the same thing.

At the end of the day

Cliché, and a particularly tired one.

I want the reader to feel that what I wrote was accessible, fun to read, informative and inspiring, while still eloquent, but without being elitist.

Anything else? Should it freshen the breath and defragment the hard drive? Should it taste great and be less filling?

I'm being snarky, but you get my point. You write a lot; that's great. Now start examining what you've written and see where it could be tightened, polished, trimmed, and reworded.

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Thanks, you "ripped me a new one" there, but it was good feedback! –  glitch Mar 13 '12 at 8:47
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Takeaway: Your next step is getting Lauren to critique your writing regularly :P –  Standback Mar 13 '12 at 9:57
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Sorry about the wounds, but in the very same sentence that you proclaimed you wanted crisp, powerful writing like Hitch's, you used a truly obnoxious cliché. I kinda had to ding you on that. :) (Of course, Standback edited it out, so now my answer looks odd.) –  Lauren Ipsum Mar 13 '12 at 10:38
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If you want to practice technical writing, start contributing to an open source software project. You could write how-tos or sections of the user manual. As a novice, you'll want to find a project that already has an active writing team.

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