How to be a good writer

Thanks for the great feedback on my top 8 tips for good writing! As promised, I’m back with some friends who have generously offered their advice.

They’re an interesting mix of copywriters, marketers, bloggers, editors, songwriters, authors, and academics. Some commented on the work of being a writer, and others looked more at the act of writing itself. Read what they had to say below, and please do click on over to their websites/work!

WRITE. Don’t stop. Or in some people’s case — start. Who cares if no one reads your blog posts? Just keep writing. Start writing and don’t stop.

Gabriella Llewellyn, Tapestry Magazine

Get personal. When you write a corporate/promotional email – however many people will receive it – write as if you are writing a personal email. In other words, write from one person (you) to one person (the reader). It’s your job is to be the reader’s friend.

Secondly, take the ‘pub test‘. If you are unclear about the central point you want to make in a piece of writing, try the ‘pub test‘. Imagine you are sat next to someone in a bar or cafe and they ask you “so this story you’re writing, what’s it all about?” What would you say to them? 

Ben Cohen, copywriter and editor at Tearfund

Don’t let perfect get in the way of good enough.

Daniel Brown, Hugh de Lacy, First Earl of Ulster

Be authentic. Write how you know things to be. Forget the cheese and the cliches – how do YOU feel something? Write it and then read it – and then write it again. Rarely is anything perfect first off.

Use your words, and use the spaces between them too (those pauses are so important!) Just commit it to print. The ideas are what matter. Anything can be embellished after.

Emma Martin, Life at the Little Wood

Read – not the least the styles that you wish to emulate. But not too narrowly: read people who have a related but different approach. Secondly, invite critique.

Alan Wilson,

Write. Read. Avoid cliches.

Emma Wood, creative writer at QUB

Create distance from your writing for a period of time before returning to it for editing. This will facilitate a much more wholesome and perspective-fuelled crafting process.

Claire Hamilton, songwriter and blogger at

One thing I’m working on in terms of being a good writer is being very clear about whose opinions of me matter. Writing is vulnerable, putting yourself out there – your words, your interpretations – is scary. So being sure of whose opinions matter is an important part of freeing me up to write how I want to write and what I want to write about.

Mel Wiggins,

To write well I have to have made space in my life for practices that are life-giving to me. That sounds simple, but it has taken me a long time to actually realise what those things are! And as a mum to young children I have had a tendency to try to write the moment I get some free time because that time is so precious, but I can’t actually write running on empty.

The most life-giving practices for me are reading novels and going for solitary walks. I have always been good at making space for reading, but I have to push myself to choose walking. It seems counter-intuitive to leave the laptop or pens behind but a solitary dander clears my head and resets my soul like nothing else I know, and that makes me a better writer.

Sharon Arnold, Wee Frizz

Find what inspires your writing – travelling, cooking, reading, walking, listening to music, fishing, or whatever – and make time for it. Words and ideas will often emerge and begin a sweet dance, and you’ll be itching to get back to your desk.

Tim Bechervaise,

To be a good writer, I believe it is necessary to truly live. We write well when we have a well from which to draw on. A well of experiences, observations, insights into human nature and inspiration from time spent reading/in nature/in solitude. We must be engaged with our own emotional landscape in order to write authentically.

Bethany Dawson, My Father’s House

Are you a writer? What would you add to this advice? I’d love to hear!

2 thoughts on “How to be a good writer

  1. I loved reading all of these viewpoints Gemma, thank you! So useful and insightful…as a former PhD-er, I would add, hold your first, second, third and fourth (ad nauseum!) drafts loosely! If you want to improve you have to be brave enough to let them go – they’ll still be there, in your final draft, if not in black in white. Xx

  2. This is such an inspiring post for those who suffer from the odd crisis of confidence in their own writing. I’ve been struggling with motivation lately but I’ve come to learn that writing for me comes in ebbs and flows; it’s not something I can force. Thanks so much for sharing this Gemma! x

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