Whether you are a writer, or a teacher of writing (or both), you can improve your writing (or your student's writing) by following these six steps:
Step 1: Read Like a Writer
How does a writer read? They pay attention. Think about what you would do if you wanted to landscape your yard. You would check out every yard you passed. You would notice the types of plants and flowers used in other people's yards. You would pay attention to how the landscaping is designed. You would notate the details of ideal yards. The same goes for writers. Writers pay attention when they read. They notice the subtle crafting, how a plot twists and turns, and where a comma is placed. Every book in a classroom or library is your personal mentor text.
Step 2: Write
There isn't any getting around this one. Writers write. The only way to get better at something is to do it over and over again. Writing volume increases fluency. Students should be given the opportunity to write freely in a journal every day, even if only for a few minutes per day. Encourage your young writers to write at home. Set goals, such as daily word counts. Adult writers often set their word count goal at a thousand words per day. This sounds like a lot, but once you get going, you will discover that it's not much at all. The important thing is that you write.
Step 3: Study the Craft of Writing
Whether you study the craft of writing in school, workshops, or by reading books, a writer needs to build on their foundation and learn their craft. As a writer, you are composing something out of nothing. You must learn how to take the seed of an idea and develop it in detail, how to craft a plot, organize an essay, structure a sentence, and choose your words carefully. And yes, you need to learn the basics: grammar and conventions.
Step 4: Read, Write, and Study Poetry
Poetry teaches a writer many things: how language is constructed, how to write precise and concise, figurative language, and how to create a mental image in the reader's mind. In order to get language out, you must first get language in. Reading and writing poetry year round is one way to take your word smithing to the next level.
Step 5: Request and Accept Feedback
Ultimately the writer writes alone. It is your story or article, but an effective writer understands the power of feedback. Step back from your work and let beta readers or critique partners take an objective look at your piece. Critique partners are peer writers who ideally write in the same genre. They give you feedback on everything from plot to misspelled words. Beta readers are people who read your work and give you feedback based on their natural reactions to your work, and questions you pose prior to their reading it. You make the final decision about any changes you make in your piece, but feedback can help you to see the things you missed. It's hard for writers to be subjective about their own work because they are so close to it on an emotional level.
Step 6: Self-Assess
In school, teachers use rubrics with defined criteria to assess young writers. The most effective way to use these assessments is to allow the writer to self- assess their own work using the rubric. As an independent writer, you can devise your own criteria or checklist to help you stay focused during the revision and editing process. Self-assessment is the key to growing as a writer. You need to identify your strengths and weaknesses, and create a specific set of goals for yourself to grow as a writer.
Rinse and Repeat
Learning to write is never done. Each new writing project is a journey to self-discovery. If you want to write, then continuously engage in all six steps for never-ending growth. A well-rounded writing curriculum puts all six steps into place in order help writers improve the quality of their writing.