This is a question I have been seeing repeatedly on Quora over the last year or so and as far as I can figure out there have been nearly 3,000 responses.
So I thought … rather than let my answer get lost over there on Quora … that I would tackle that question here, in my own little way.
OK – so how do I become a better writer?
In some ways it’s a silly question because there are as many different types of writer as there are days in a year – possibly more.
Writers can range from the technical type who is restricted to the point of strangulation in what they can say other than bare, bald facts … all the way to the science fantasy writer who (within literary structural reason of course – does that exist?) can write that aliens invaded Planet Earth, tickled most adult humans to death with poisoned itching powder and thrived to the point of humans’ extinction on a diet of elephant turds and Japanese Knotweed. And get away with it.
However there must be some common denominators, and here is my attempt at nailing those down.
Whatever sort of writer you are or want to be …
1. Ignore people who tell you that writing is only something you can do if you’re a genius. Unless you want to reach an audience of intellectuals (or pseudo-intellectuals) by writing literary fiction, your experience of life, your imagination, and the ability to research things (if appropriate) are about all you need.
2. If you’re scared of the blank screen or piece of paper, don’t use them. Not to start with, anyway. Instead use your conversational skills, and I can’t think of many people who don’t have those. Talk, don’t write. Talk into an audio recorder and transcribe it, or use voice recognition software on your computer.
3. Never kid yourself that you should just start writing or speaking and a whole blog, article, book or whatever will flow. It may flow for a while, but if you don’t have a plan to work to, you’ll get stuck.
4. Use a plan and work to it. Even if all you’re writing is a short blog post, scribble down a skeleton of headings and sub-headings to work to, and develop those further with bullet points that become more and more detailed. Using this approach you may even find that your post almost writes itself.
5. With a longer writing project, do the same – only more so. With nonfiction books I always recommend that you plan the structure and each individual chapter out to within an inch of their lives. Why? Because not only does this make practical sense in overall terms, but usually you’ll find that the more detailed your structure plan is the more you book has a tendency to write itself. However this can apply equally with fiction, too, as you can see from this article within Lucy McCarraher’s wonderful series of tutorials here on HTWB.
6. Don’t be scared of seeking inspiration. One of the biggest mistakes I think people can make – and I’ve done it, too – is to sit down at the computer and say, “OK, what am I going to write about?” If you don’t know, don’t try to force it. Instead, go looking for some ideas elsewhere. There are a few other articles on HTWB you might find helpful, like this one.
7. If you need inspiration and total guidance for writing blog posts or articles, I can help. Here comes the commercial, OK? Indulge me. I put many sweaty hours into this book and it is the result of years of painful experience on how to come up with good ideas for business and other blogs. Don’t take my word for it (she said, wiping away a tear…) have a look at the book because it will help you. Honest.
8. If you need inspiration for fiction or other “creative” writing, open your eyes. There are no set procedures for this. You need to be aware of anything around that sparks off your imagination. I just read an amazing thriller which was inspired by the author sitting in a commuter train back and forth to work in the city every day. As I write this it’s number 4 overall on Amazon best sellers.
9. If your grammar, spelling, punctuation and syntax aren’t perfect, don’t lose sleep over it. These are the mechanics of writing and can be learned, or if you’re utterly useless at them, they can be sorted out by editors and proof readers. But whatever you do don’t publish stuff that contains mistakes: it makes you look either unprofessional (if you’re writing for business) or like a nitwit (if you’re into creative/fiction writing). Get everything checked, OK?
10. Write a lot. And read a lot. People tell you that the more you write the better you’ll get at it, but if you don’t add new, fresh notions into what you’re writing you will tend to go over and over things without moving on. Combine your writing with lots of reading. If you know what your writing genre is, read as much as you can of other people’s work in the same genre. If you’re writing for business blogging or other content, read up on everything you can in your own particular niche. The more you know, the more you can write about it.
If you found these tips helpful, please share them!