This Is the Easiest Way to Become a Better Writer, Starting Today

Kelly Dawson
3 min readMay 1, 2023
Looking up at a trio of tall palm trees, which have lights strung around the trunks.
Photo by Kelly Dawson

Years ago, when I was a college journalism student, I entered a classroom and became instantly terrified.

“Pop quiz, everyone,” my professor boomed to a handful of bright-eyed peers. “Take out a piece of paper, rip one out of a notebook if you need to, and here we go.”

He asked us 10 questions before even getting our names. All of the answers, he said, could be found if we had read the newspaper that day. Did we read it? I know I hadn’t. I scribbled down answers as fast as I could, not daring to leave a single question blank, and turned my paper in with the rest of the class. A few minutes later, he laughed looking at my submission.

“Whose paper is this?” he asked. I said it was mine. “Do you know how to spell ‘Schwarzenegger?’” I didn’t. He knew I didn’t. And now the class did, too.

“I…don’t,” I said, shyly.

“That has to be the worst attempt I’ve ever seen.”

I could’ve walked out of the room right then and there, leaving my plan — my only plan — of becoming a writer behind. But like Rick says in Casablanca, this professor’s favorite movie, it ended up becoming the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

He cared deeply about his students’ success, and wanted all of us to be the type of intense yet respected reporters who could hold their own with people who thought they did nothing more all day than a boring version of P.R.

And this lesson, which he made us repeat almost daily, is the reason why I became a successful writer after all: We were taught to read our stuff out loud.

“Read your work out loud!” he would write on whiteboards as we read through the drafts of our classwork and then the other ones that were for the university paper. “I don’t care about spellcheck! You catch more than just spelling errors when you read it all out loud.”

Reading words silently is one thing, but when you hear them, it’s another. The rhythm they make together is much clearer, and you’re able to determine more confidently if a sentence is too long or not long enough. You want your work to be conversational, sure, but perhaps when you read a paragraph out loud it sounds too informal — or worse, like an…

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Kelly Dawson

i write, i edit, then i write again. | kellymdawson.com | instagram: @kellydawsonwrites