A simple exercise to improve your writing

Try this out:

Re-type an article you really like.

Almost any article will do. Ideally it’s a good piece of writing, but really the only requirement is that you  like it.

Here’s how to start:

Find an article by someone whose writing skills you admire and whom perhaps you want to imitate. If it’s a magazine, lay it out in front of your laptop and re-type the article. If it’s online, open up a notepad or a Google Doc, put it beside the article, and start typing.

It’s a fun and simple way to improve as a writer.

Why? You notice things when you re-type. You get a sense of the choices a writer makes in diction and syntax; you see how they move between sentences and paragraphs; you figure out how to hyphenate, and the right way to use semicolons after all. You see all of the things that your eyes used to glide over. Even small things like where a comma is placed becomes incredibly important.

It doesn’t have to be a whole article. Just take your favorite few paragraphs and re-type them.

Don’t know where to look? Try out a long piece from the New Yorker. There are some terrifically gifted writers there. Plus, its archive of the last few years is free this summer.

Or, try re-typing the work of a reporter. They usually write clearly and matter-of-factly. Radley Balko is a master of clarity, on the level of both individual sentences and also in terms of structure.

Go for it. It’s fun. Not only will you enjoy re-reading your favorite passages again, you’ll have a better sense of how the magic came together.