1. Read. Every day. Never let a day pass without reading high quality prose, and spend some days reading poetry. If you’re an academic read at least one piece every day that is not academic. If you imbibe only the fruit of the academic vine you shouldn’t expect to improve. “Academese” is one style of writing that champions proving, arguing, demonstrating, but it does not prize writing. If you don’t know what I mean, start reading non-academic stuff and come back in a few months. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on subscriptions to find good writing. Get the Longreads app, for example, and you’ll find daily delights, most of which are free to read. If you don’t have a device that uses apps, just go online and start with the goodies from Vanity Fair, GQ, Esquire, The Atlantic, the Los Angeles Review of Books, The New Yorker. Start with these and you’ll soon branch out to lesser-known but equally brilliant publications.
2. Write. Every day. At least five minutes. Write about the weather. Write about the bird chirping outside your window. Write about what you wished had happened yesterday. Test your abilities to describe, to evoke, to feel with your eyes, to touch with your ears. Writing is like anything else and if you don’t use it you will lose it. “But I don’t need to work on that. I just need to do good research.” No one knows what the future holds, but I would guess that the more the academic market is flooded with publication after publication — there seems no way around the assumption that tenure committees will continue to demand a high number of pubs — you will need some way to stand out.
3. Edit. Not everyone can do this officially, but everyone can do it. Get some pieces from a publication you think is…erm…not so good. Maybe the best place to start is with short pieces from academic venues. Book reviews, for example. Edit the piece the way you would if your reputation depended on it. Edit like you would if it were yours. How would you re-write that introduction to engage more readers? How would you have perked up the prose in paragraph three? Is it pedantic and in need of more narrative punch?