Image by Mika Baumeister


by Dawn Miller

Contributing Editor, KBI Inspire Magazine

Dawn is a Northumberland County educator, artist and writer. Visit her website at

Even the best writers don’t write a perfect first draft. Ernest Hemingway, the author of several classics, put it even more clearly: "The only kind of writing is rewriting."

So how do you write most effectively and without mistakes?

The answer is, you don’t! No writer creates without mistakes or without needing to return to their work and make improvements. There are, however, some guiding principles to keep in mind that will help you on the journey from first draft to a final, polished piece of writing:


Practice, Practice, Practice.


The more you write, the better you get. It’s as simple as that. First drafts are often messy. That’s okay. Use your skills and strategies to improve your work. Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson series puts it well: Writing is like a sport—you only get better if you practice. 

Let others read your work. 


Writing can be an intensely private activity, but the feedback you can get from trusted friends/family as well as critique groups/writing circles, is invaluable. Friends and family might not always feel comfortable giving constructive criticism, however, so consider joining creative writing groups either in-person or online. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn!


Show, don’t tell.

The most common advice given to aspiring writers is show, don’t tell. This is referring to a writing technique where the story and characters are shown using sensory details and actions rather than “telling” directly. Consider the following example. Which version do you find most compelling?

Example 1: Ben was afraid of the dark. (telling)

Example 2: After his dad turned off the light, Ben huddled under the covers. His eyes darted at the shadows on the walls looming over him like monsters. (showing)


Use active voice in your writing. 

When possible, use the active voice in your writing. Active voice (where the subject does the action) is often more powerful than passive voice (where the subject is acted upon). Compare this example. Which feels more direct?

Active voice – Ben counted the chickens.

Passive voice – The chickens were counted by Ben.

Note that sometimes passive voice can be used effectively. For example: The church was built in 1180.  (We don’t know who exactly built the church, so this makes the best sense.)


Expand Your Vocabulary. 

Vary the vocabulary in your writing. For example, if describing a funeral, don’t repeat the word “sad”. Instead, find ways to show the sadness and use synonyms. However, don’t sound like a thesaurus. Just like so many things in the world, keeping things simple is generally the best. As C.S. Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia, said many years ago, “Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one.”

The most important advice for how to become a good writer? Keep learning, and keep reading.

There are so many resources online for writers! Start searching for websites/podcasts/YouTube videos. The most important thing to remember as a writer is that there is always room to improve your craft! Below are a few free resources to help you on your way. Once you start searching, you’ll see how many resources are out there!

There are tons of online resources on writing, editing, and finding inspiration. Investigate available free podcasts, websites, YouTube videos. The more you look, the more you’ll find!