“As things stand now, I am going to be a writer. I’m not sure that I’m going to be a good one or even a self-supporting one, but until the dark thumb of fate presses me to the dust and says, ‘you are nothing,’ I will be a writer.”
~ Hunter S. Thompson
Writing ability is one of the most important skills that every person can possess. Even if you don’t wish to write for a living, strong writing skill can help you in so many ways.
An entrepreneur who can write well can communicate well: each time he writes a sales proposal or drafts an e-mail to his team, his writing ability is put to the test. If you’re single, writing ability can help you find a date! And if you’re in a relationship, writing skill can help you communicate more effectively with your partner. That’s because writing ability helps you sort through and organize your thoughts, making you a far better communicator.
Further, if you ever wish to create your own business and market it online, a big part of your success lies in publishing content, and building a brand. Strong writing skill is one of the most valuable assets to have in your marketing arsenal.
Needless to say, taking time to strengthen your writing ability is a worthwhile investment.
To write well, you needn’t possess an abnormally high IQ or be blessed with the writer’s gene. There are a number of simple ways to dramatically improve your writing abilities, and we’re going to cover several of them. Over the course of writing a book, and managing a variety of blogs for myself and for others, I’ve developed a set of guidelines in order to become a more effective writer.
There are also ways to write better by improving productivity. No matter how strong a person’s writing skill, if it takes them an entire day to write one line, then their writing ability should still be considered mediocre. The more brilliant our writing ability, the stronger the “writer’s block” impulse to execute perfect writing. It’s a Catch-22, because the better we are, the more pressure we face.
Every writer has a different style, but there are certain habits we can use to organize our writing so that we can become more productive, thereby enabling us to write better. There are also small structural changes that we can make in order to make our writing more engaging.
So let’s get into them!
1. When writing, don’t engage the critical thinking part of your brain too much.
While writing, the worst thing we can do is critique ourselves. Our own critical thinking is the worst enemy of productivity.
Just write everything out, and do it quickly. You can critique your work later, when the time comes to edit. If you become too critical during the writing process you will spend far too much time trying to find the right words and waste far too much time.
Just get it all out first, finish the writing, and ONLY when do you have a first draft complete should you go back, review your work, and begin critiquing.
When you start a thought, but don’t finish it, create a little note within the text to remind yourself to follow up, or to perform more research next time you sit down to work.
I will often add notes before or after paragraphs such as:
[*Note: research this later]
[*Note: edit this later – sounds too confusing]
If you don’t leave these small (but important) reminders, many of your best ideas will go to waste. Creating these notes will also save you a ton of time when you sit down to complete your work during the next writing session.
2. Outline before you write
Writers come in all shapes and sizes, and each has their own style, but I believe this to be true. If you outline each chapter before you sit down writing, it will make your work stronger. You’ll also be more organized, work more quickly, and be able to better communicate your ideas.
When I outline, I go through two different steps:
1) On one page, I’ll practice a technique called “mindstorming.”
I start out by writing the topic of the blog post or chapter I’m writing about at the top of the page. Then I simply write down everything I can think of related to that topic. I’ll usually write down all of my own ideas related to the main topic, and also any related external resources I can think of that I can use to check out and reference. I’ll list out any third-party sources to use for research as well.
The process of mindstorming works the same as #1 above – do not think too much. Just write down everything you can think of at the moment. Do not be critical of your ideas – write them all down, even the dumb ones. Sometimes these are the most valuable.
2) After mindstorming, I’ll take a separate page and outline the structure of the piece I’m writing.
I’ll write down a numbered list, and separate each with a few empty lines. These become the header titles within the content. Then, in the empty lines I’ll write down 3-10 different ideas which will fill out that section of content.
By the way, if you don’t yet have a journal, go get one. If you’re truly serious about writing, then a pen and paper are your best friend. I don’t care that there are all kinds of apps and programs to store notes and whatnot. Nothing beats good old fashioned pen and ink when it comes to jotting down ideas.
I really think it’s better for brainstorming if you plug away from the screen – when you’re on your laptop or phone, it’s far too easy to get distracted, and waste time checking Facebook or chatting away on WhatsApp. But when you have a pen in your hands, it’s just you and the empty page: your canvas.
3. Use “you” when speaking to strengths, and “we” when speaking to weaknesses, it comes across as less condescending to the reader.
I think whenever addressing problems or flaws/weaknesses it’s better to say “we” than “you.” The first can come across as condescending, and the latter is a sign of a good communicator.
“I just want you to understand that in large part you’re afraid of things that are sensationalized and blown way out of proportion, and not because there are any real or legitimate reasons for that fear.”
might be stronger if it read…
It’s just important for us to understand that in large part we’re afraid of things that are sensationalized and blown way out of proportion, and not because there are any real or legitimate reasons for that fear.”
4. Speak simply so that your work is easy to understand. Use the active tense.
Say: “The dog ran into the house,” not “The house was run in to by the dog.”
This is the biggest mistake that novice writers make, and it’s the easiest to catch. Even veterans may do this from time to time. I even corrected myself in #1 of THIS article, where I changed “get the writing finished” to “finish the writing.”
Be mindful of the tense you use, and whenever you see misplaced use of past or future tense, fix it if possible so that it reads in the present tense. It will make your writing clearer and easier to follow.
5. Make the work easy to follow – separate your ideas and break them into different sections.
Break up sections with headers. Break up different ideas with paragraphs – for your own sake. It makes for easier writing when you separate your ideas instead of writing them as one big long paragraph. It will also make your writing structure clearer and more attractive for your reader.
6. When you create headlines and headers to break up sections, always try to include a benefit to the reader.
This encourages them to continue reading. In addition to titles for each of the four parts and all of the chapters, my first book contained one hundred and forty-eight different section headers. After the manuscript was complete, I analyzed each and every one. I checked to make sure it was clear, engaging, compelling, and encouraged the reader to continue reading.
Section headers that start out with “How to” are a good place to start because they offer something of value to be learned. Give a tease in your header which will draw the reader in, instead of using boring and generic headers.
7. There are other ways to make your work easy to follow.
Put important ideas in bold lettering. If you have freedom with the writing structure (such as in a blog or sales letter), use “bucket brigade” phrases to make your writing more engaging to the reader.
Examples of bucket brigade phrases include things like:
What does all this mean?
Are you still with me?
You’ll never believe what happened next…
And so I stole it.
If you want to “swipe” some great examples of bucket brigade phrases, check out some sales letters written by David DeAngelo, such as this one here.
Here are some examples from the article:
“What could this mean?”
“Here’s the big secret:”
“It just happens.”
“So let’s wrap this up.”
Placing ideas in bold lettering has an additional benefit: during the editing process as you scan your document, it shows you which paragraphs have already been edited and where you need to resume editing. This is huge, because it’s easy to get lost in editing and re-write the same parts over and over again.
There is nothing more daunting than sitting down to a large document of work you’ve already written with a “fresh” brain. You aren’t in the same frame of mind that you were in when you were writing previously, you have to go through and sort out everything before you can even begin.
8. Read the work of others to help you find your voice.
Every writer has good and bad days. Some days you’ll be on fire, and other days your writing will come across as dry, trite, and uninspired. It happens to all of us.
You can try to continue writing, but you’ll probably hate it when you re-read it later. That’s why sometimes it’s best to put the keyboard away. Plug the laptop in and let it recharge. Get outside, get some air, chat with a friend, take a nap, or do something else for a while.
When you sit back down to the computer, don’t immediately engage in writing. Instead, take 30 minutes – an hour to read the work of other writers that you admire. Note the way their work flows, the way it draws you in, and encourages you to keep reading. Each paragraph should entice you to what to know what happens next. The tone of the writing should speak to you at a fundamentally human level – a good writer never creates any sort of “disconnect.” They never come across as condescending.They write so well that they communicate directly to the thoughts you already have in your subconscious mind. A great writer enters into a conversation the reader already has in their own mind.
What are some conversations people have going on in their minds? Here’s a few of them: money, love, sex, infidelity, drama. If you need more examples, check out the tabloids next time you’re shopping. People are fascinated by the lives of celebrities because at a fundamental level, they are simply humans, dealing with many of the EXACT same problems that you and I deal with.
That’s all for now!
Hope you enjoyed this post, and are able to implement some (or all) of these techniques to improve your own writing ability!
Do you have any of your own special techniques that you use in your writing? Please write a comment and tell me about it.