It’s a new year, so let’s go ahead and make a New Year’s resolution right now:
- I promise to write every day.
It doesn’t have to be much. But it has to be something.
It can be a journal entry. (See The Five-Minute Journal.)
It can be a blog post.
It can be a 750 word free-write.
It can be an avant-garde poem about a wilting flower.
It doesn’t matter.
But you need to write… every day.
This is how you master the craft of writing.
Nobody just sits down and stares at a blank page (or screen) and in 30 minutes comes up with the next great piece of literature. That doesn’t happen.
In order to master your craft, you need to practice that craft.
And in order to practice that craft, you need to:
- Maintain a discipline.
What your discipline looks like is surely different than what my discipline looks like, but the important thing is that you stay consistent. You need to consistently stay disciplined every single day.
In case you’re wondering what my discipline looks like, here’s a piece I wrote for the content writing community nDash.co.
I like to think of maintaining a writing discipline like searching for diamonds in the rough. You search and you search and you search, and most of the time you come up empty. But then there’s that one time when you stumble across something great.
It’s that one time that gets you attention. It’s that one time that gets you praise. It’s that one time that gets you success.
But you won’t get any of that if you don’t practice searching for that diamond. The likelihood of you haphazardly stumbling across that diamond without doing some digging is not good.
You’ll need to produce a lot of really bad work before you can produce anything really good.
- The first thing Allen Ginsberg wrote was not “Howl”.
- The first thing Ernest Hemingway wrote was not “The Sun Also Rises”.
- The first thing Maya Angelou wrote was not “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings”.
Every great writer practices their craft. Every day. Without exception.
90% of the things you write will be utter crap. But you don’t need to show anyone those things.
- You just need to show them the diamonds.
Think of anything you’ve ever been good at in life. Were you initially good at it? Or did you have to practice in order to get good at it?
Being good at anything takes practice. A lot of practice.
Don’t think you’re going to become a great writer/blogger/marketer/business person by not practicing. Even if you’re really smart but don’t know how to communicate that intelligence, you won’t be successful.
Writing is an instrument. You need to practice that instrument in order for it to be able to effectively translate the genius that’s sitting around in your head. You don’t want the instrument to be a barrier to your expression of genius.
But if you aren’t practicing writing, you are creating a barrier between your ideas and the expression of those ideas.
Jimi Hendrix didn’t pick up a guitar for the first time and do this:
You may stumble across some luck, but if you aren’t keeping the wheels of your craft greased, you will not be able to capitalize on that luck when it arrives.
In fact, luck is a huge part of business success (especially in the digital age). And if we keep practicing our craft, when that luck strikes, we’ll immediately know what to do and how to respond.
Being A Great Writer Takes Practice & Here Is A Roadmap:
Now, what should we be practicing? Well, the topic of “how to be a better writer” has been covered extensively (here, here, here, etc.) But just because it’s relevant to the topic, here are a few pointers.
1. Tell, Don’t Show
When we’re taught writing in school, we’re usually taught creative writing. We’re not usually taught technical writing, or copywriting, or blog writing. We’re taught how to engage with the creativity of our readers.
Which is a good thing to do… for a story.
And there’s a common trope used in creative writing:
- Show, don’t tell.
That means, draw a picture (with words) for the reader; don’t just sit there and tell them things because that would be boring.
And it would be boring… for a story.
- She opened the door. She walked outside. She got into her car. She drove away. She got to her destination. She stopped the car. She got out of the car.
That’s a really boring story.
But in technical writing (or information-based writing), readers don’t care about how she opened the door, or what the door looked like, or why the door made a subtle creaking sound. They only care about facts.
So practice giving the facts. And only the facts. Get to the point.
Now, “get to the point” doesn’t mean “don’t have style”. For example, there’s a lot of style in this piece of writing, but it’s still informative (even if it’s a little wordy- but wordy is just my style).
Here’s a practical example…
If you’re trying to write a review of a high-powered LED flashlight that works well in absolute darkness, you should say:
- This LED flashlight works well in absolute darkness.
You shouldn’t say:
- As the sun retreats into its ever-looming abyss, the dance of luminescence begins. The cold metal of the phallic apparatus runs counter to the warm rays of vision protruding from its brightly lit face. Darkness no more; the world is ablaze.
For non-creative writing, the “golden rule” of creative writing goes out the window, and the new golden rule becomes:
Tell, don’t show.
Tell your readers the facts.
Don’t get poetic.
2. Don’t A to C
I’m an editor. I edit a lot of other people’s written works. This is one thing I see…
There’s a high likelihood that if you aren’t consciously aware you’re doing this, then you’re doing this.
There’s a technique in improv comedy called “A to C”. This is a process which helps generate ideas. It’s how actors use suggestions from the audience to do their scenes.
For instance, if I have the suggestion “boats”… Well, boats (A) make me think of oceans (B), and oceans make me think of coral (C). So now I would base my comedy scene on “coral” because I went from A (boats) to C (coral).
In improv comedy, there’s also the comedic benefit of not showing this thinking process. Comedy is about being unexpected and spontaneous. So taking a suggestion of boats and doing a scene about coral has a kind of inherent silliness to it, which is perfect… for comedy.
But in copywriting, if I’m talking about boats, and then out of nowhere I start talking about coral, and I didn’t let you in on my A to C thinking process, you’d be confused.
Or let’s say I write a blog post that says “Don’t A to C”, but I never tell you what “A to C” means, it’s safe to assume that you won’t have the slightest idea of what I’m talking about.
And yet, this happens. All. The. Time.
The reason this happens is because the human thought process is based around making connections. But these connections are based on emotions. And emotions are deeply personal.
Our entire thought process is based on personally felt emotions.
Almost nothing we think and say and do is based on logic. Sure, we credit logic for thinking the way we do, but our logic comes from the way we feel about something (i.e. an emotion). And emotions are not logical.
If you’ve ever argued politics before, then you know what I’m talking about. The other person is saying something based off of emotion and you can’t follow their logic. You try to point out to them that their logic doesn’t make sense, and they point out to you that your logic doesn’t make sense to them because they think you’re being too emotional.
It’s the glorious cycle of every political Facebook thread ever…
As a writer, you need to make sure that you’re leading me along a logical path of conclusion.
- If you’re trying to tell me which phone service to use, you also need to tell me that you think it’s the best because it works really well with your specific phone, in your specific geographic area, and is within your specific budget.
Those are important things for me to know when I’m choosing service providers.
- If you mention that France is without question the worst country in the world, it would help to know that your recent ex was French and made you eat snails every day.
That probably has something to do with why you hate France so much.
- Don’t just tell me that Donald Trump will Make America Great Again; tell me where you live, how long you’ve lived there, how you were raised, where you work, why you work there, how much money you’re making, how much you pay for food every month, who you hang out with, where you get your news, what your religious beliefs are, what your health is like, what your family’s health is like, and why you think America is not already great.
Those are all important pieces of the puzzle.
Going from A to C is the basis for every conspiracy theory:
Don’t take for granted what other people might not know. They aren’t you, and they’re not inside of your head. If you want to convince them of something, let them follow your logic, not your emotions.
Here’s the point:
Remove the logicality of your emotions from your writing.
But don’t remove your emotions!! Emotions are great in persuasive writing (i.e. copywriting). They’re what sell things.
Just don’t confuse your emotions with logic.
3. Care About What You Write
Because emotions are so powerful, you need to show your readers that what you’re talking about is something you personally care about.
This starts to tread into “blogging niche” talk, and I have something to say about that:
- It’s gonna be really hard for you to enjoy blogging if you hate what you’re blogging about.
Blogging can make you money, yes. But if you’re blogging just to get money, then dare I say, you’re in the wrong profession.
There’s a job out there for you that will let you do something you love and will make you money at the same time. Find that job, because the last thing this world needs is more people who hate their job.
It’s important to remember that blogging is also a job, and it needs to be treated as a job. You need to work really hard, every day, just like you would with every other job.
And if you don’t like your job, everyone around you will notice.
And if your job is to talk to people (blogging), no one will want to be around you (read your blog).
But if you are a blogger who loves being a blogger, make sure you know what you want to blog about.
- Take some time to figure it out.
- Look really deep.
- Do some serious soul-searching and figure out what makes you excited.
When you’ve figured it out, write about it.
There’s one thing I see a lot, and it’s really annoying:
- Starting a blog about how to make money blogging (because that’s what makes money).
A friend of mine said this:
“Where there’s one person doing something really great, there are 100,000 people around them pretending to do the same thing.”
Unless you’re really, really, really passionate about WordPress, don’t start a blog about WordPress just because it worked for Harsh. Not only will you run out of ideas in a matter of days, you’ll start to hate your blog and you’ll stop blogging.
You’ll also have a hard time gaining traction because there are hundreds of thousands of people blogging about the exact same thing. And those people- the people who are the most passionate about the topic- are the ones who will eventually succeed.
In order to keep yourself motivated, you need to love what you do.
So practice writing about the things you like. Practice conveying the fact that you like those things.
When you start to write about the things you really, really like, everyone will notice, and your chances of happiness, fulfillment, and success will be much higher.
This is not really a writing tip per se, but I don’t think there’s a more important thing to do as a writer.
If you’ve read my other SML pieces, you know how I feel about proofreading…
You need to practice proofreading.
After you write anything, get into the habit of checking it. Read it. Reread it. Reread it again. Make sure there are no grammar errors. Make sure there are no spelling errors. Make sure there are no tense errors. Make sure there are no logical fallacies (A to C). Make sure it’s persuasive. Make sure it’s compelling.
Make sure it’s perfect.
I am continually baffled by the amount of blog posts I read every day from writers that have not taken the time to proofread. I don’t know how anyone can think that that’s a good thing to do… especially when they’re trying to run a business.
It’s like you’re walking into an important meeting and your shirt is on backwards. That would never happen because you’d check to see if your shirt was on correctly. And if it wasn’t, you’d fix it.
But for some reason, people don’t want to check to see if the words they’re saying are being said correctly. They don’t care.
And I get it, I really do.
If your shirt is on backwards, you would have to go through the extra work of turning it around.
And let’s say that you get toothpaste on your shirt. That’d take even more work to fix.
It’s so much easier to pretend that those things couldn’t have even happened.
But isn’t it better for you to check, turn the shirt around, and clean the toothpaste off of your shirt before you go walking around looking like an idiot? It’s more work, yes, but I think you’ll agree that it’s worth the extra effort.
Every single person who reads your blog’s words could be your new business partner. They could be your new investor. They could be the person that takes you from small-time blog to big-time enterprise. Make sure you’re putting yourself in the most beneficial and attractive light possible.
This is a no-brainer.
Practice your grammar. Practice your spelling. Practice your proofreading.
Practice finding holes in your writing and filling those holes.
Don’t think your work is perfect the first time you wrote it- it’s not. It’s guaranteed to have mistakes.
You need to practice making it perfect.
And here’s a great proofreading tip: Get someone else to proofread it, too. They’ll find your mistakes quicker than you’ll find your own mistakes. But before you give it to them to proofread, YOU NEED TO PROOFREAD IT YOURSELF!
5. Practice Practicing
Every day, sit down and write. Follow a schedule, and maintain the discipline of your craft.
Don’t be lazy, and don’t procrastinate. Be disciplined and practice. That’s the only way we can become masterful crafters.
Learn to practice. Practice to learn. Practice means experience. You grow from practice. You get better from practice. Success comes from practice.
So practice every day. Don’t take a day off. Maintain your discipline and practice.
Until it’s perfect.
Practice until your practice is perfect.
And then keep practicing.
Practice To Become A Better Writer
It’s always important to remember to stay humble when traveling along this journey.
Because if you think you’re perfect, there’d be no need to practice.
But you aren’t perfect.
And if you are perfect, the moment you stop practicing is the moment you won’t be perfect anymore.
So practice staying humble. And the way you can do that is by learning how to take feedback.
If someone comes up to you and gives you feedback, you should take that feedback to heart. (Taking in feedback is also a practice.)
Learn to accept that feedback with grace and humility, and you’ll never stop becoming a better person.
Now it’s your turn to tell me: Are you maintaining a daily discipline? If not, what’s stopping you? What kinds of things are you practicing to become a better blog writer? Let me know in the comments below…
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