January 27, 2015 / Alice / No Comments
People are always telling me they like to write but have some combination of the following problems:
1. Lack of time
2. Lack of discipline
3. Difficulty getting the creative juices flowing
4. Lack of confidence to “put it out there”
What they don’t always realize is that the resolution of problems 3 and 4 is the inevitable outcome of the resolution of problems 1 and 2. And the good news is, solving 1 and 2 is completely within their control.
With that in mind, here are five (relatively) simple ways to make yourself a better writer, starting today:
1. Write more often. You’ll often hear writers tell you to write everyday. While certainly a noble objective, I recognize for most people this is unrealistic. Still, there’s much to be said for commitment and frequency. Like any skill, writing improves with practice. And practice is best done as a set part of your routine.
Start simply by setting yourself a goal you can stick to. An hour before bed. An hour before work. On the train. Over lunch. Once a week. Twice a month. Whatever it takes, as long as it’s regular and more than what you’re doing now. I often find myself tapping away at blog posts on my phone while waiting for an exercise class to start.
Make a plan and stick to it. What you write is almost irrelevant. Just write more. You’ll suddenly find the words flow more easily and the thoughts more quickly with practice.
2. Write more stuff. If discipline is your problem, don’t try to take on the same writing task every time you write. Just like variety in exercise is essential to conditioning the whole body, variety is vital to the creative process.
During especially busy times in my life, the only writing I was doing was fairly repetitive and work-related. When it came time to change things up a bit, I found it was more difficult for me to break my habits and think laterally and creatively. The remedy, of course, is to not fall into these patterns in the first place.
Spend some time writing a “journal entry” about your day. Put effort into a long email to a friend. Write a story with your kids. The most important thing is to think laterally and write differently.
Because my time is so structured, I understand the desire to only write what’s useful, but the fact is, it’s all useful. If you’re trying to generate content for a corporate blog, it’s far easier to work with a brain conditioned to write than one that’s still sitting on the sofa glued to the TV.
3. Forget about the rules. There are many people in my life who fixate on grammar. They wear their allegiance to the AP Style Guide (or similar) like a badge of honor. While I concur there is some degree of honor in respecting and upholding the laws of language, to me there’s far greater honor in telling your story effectively.
Some of the greatest writers of all time used grammar judiciously. Some used it sparingly. Others hardly bothered at all.
Challenge yourself to write for you audience. Make them understand what you’re trying to say. Review what you’ve written for clarity. Cut. Edit. Move things around. Be brutal. When you feel the rules are restricting you, break them.
4. Read aloud. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over years of writing it’s that there’s a great deal to be gained from time and perspective. I’ve returned to my work from years earlier–work I was convinced was the best of my life-–and been appalled by how badly I’d written it. I’ve also had the opposite experience, wondering why I’d given up on something promising I’d thought was terrible at the time.
Because few of us have the benefit of extended time to review our work, here’s another almost-as-useful exercise: Read what you’ve written aloud. Hear it through someone else’s ears. It’s amazing how quickly the problems reveal themselves, the too-long sections become apparent, and the opportunities for improvement become clear.
5. Let others read what you write. If you follow the suggestions above, there’s no reason not to start putting what you write out there. Too often, people (myself included) protect what they write in the interest of perfection. Here’s the truth: perfection will never come, and if you wait for it, you’ll never even get close. Write, release. Write, release. It’s painful, but it will make you stronger–and better.