Monday, January 5, 2009

How Can You Be A Better Writer? (Part 1)

I often have conversations with people say they wish they were better writers. They usually speak as if writing were a talent that you either have or you don't. While I think it's true that some people have more of a natural gift than others, the core skills of writing in general, and grant writing in particular, can be learned and improved over time. Of course, as with most things that don't come easy, people usually just want to be better without putting in the time, effort, and work.

I have also been asked if there are any shortcuts. Well, I don't think you can get around the time part of the time-effort equation, and there has to be some effort involved, too, but I do have some suggestions for anyone who is on a journey to be a better writer.

Be forewarned - these are bigger picture suggestions, not technical suggestions like always proofread your work, use spell-check, take a class, etc., although I certainly think those are good ideas and important things to do if you are serious about improving your writing.

Here's the most important thing you can do to be a better writer.....

Be a reader.

I don't know anyone who is (or was) a good writer who isn't (or wasn't) also an avid reader. Everything you read teaches you something - about language, grammar, vocabulary. The beauty of it is that you don't necessarily realize it at the time.

And don't limit yourself to reading only within the genre that you write. Read anything and everything that interests you. Grant writing is ultimately about telling a story. Your grant writing skill can be greatly enhanced by reading fiction, as well as non-fiction.

Here's the list of what I have read within the last 7 days:
  • Cross County (a novel by James Patterson)
  • Today Matters (inspirational nonfiction by John Maxwell)
  • The Holy Bible
  • The Daily Democrat (our local newspaper)
  • The Christian Science Monitor (a much better source for national and international news than our local paper, and it comes to my mailbox five days a week, which I really like)
  • The Wall Street Journal (I get it every day, but don't read it every day)
  • Many different internet blogs (I have about 15 favorites that I subscribe to....I read several every day, and the rest I review once a week or so)
  • Various websites of interest
  • 2 grant Requests for Proposals (RFPs)

This list doesn't even count all the email, regular mail, and catalogs I looked through this week. Also, I didn't read any magazines this week, but I usually do.

I read something for pleasure every day. I read something for inspiration every day. I read something for my own ongoing education every day. When all three of those come together in the same piece of reading, I get to experience pure joy.

The typical response when a share a list like this is that I must have lots of time on my hands. That makes me laugh. I try to remember what a good friend of mine told me long ago, "We make time for those things (and people) that are important to us." It's easy to see what you really value by examining how you spend your time. If you don't think your values are being accurately reflected in how you send your time, it's time for a change, don't you think?

The other issue with time is this ---I don't read all of those things every day and in large blocks of time. I prefer to read novels when I have a block of time of an hour or more, but all the other things I read I can (and do) read in smaller snippets of time - 5 minutes here, 20 minutes there. My favorite time to read is late in the evening after everyone has gone to bed, but I'll read wherever and whenever I can. If I find that I am not reading as much as I want to, I'll block out and schedule a period of time every day to do a certain type of reading. I keep it scheduled until it becomes a habit.

So, if you want to be a better writer, the first step is to become a reader.

Of course, reading is not all there is to becoming a better writer. Continue to Part 2 for the rest of the story. . .

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Woodland, CA, United States
Creative Resources and Research is a consulting firm specializing in grant writing, grant seeking, program evaluation and professional development training. We have worked with hundreds of clients including public and private schools, school districts, universities, non-profit organizations, and social service agencies throughout California, securing over $155 million from federal, state and private foundation funding sources over the past decade. Our primary grant writers and program evaluators have over 50 years of combined experience in the education and social services fields. At CRR we prefer a personal approach to the clients we work with; by developing long term relationships, we are better suited to match client’s needs with available funding sources. We provide a variety of services to help assist you, including grant writing, evaluation consulting, professional development opportunities, and workshops.