“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”
– Richard Bach
January 4, 2021.
Sometimes people ask me how I got better at writing. The thing is, I don’t think I’m good. As a matter of fact, I don’t even believe that I will ever get close to good.
However, I also believe that the secret to getting better at writing is having a robust mindset meaning having great clarity on why exactly you want to get better at it and what stands behind the love for this craft in your heart.
Of course, I will be improving my technique and polishing my voice, but process-wise, I think over the past 4 years I’ve come up with the system that definitely works well for me.
So here’s a little sneak peek into my processes. Hope these tips will be of help to you in your writing journey.
1. Understand the writing process.
Writing does never exist by itself. It always consists of three major phases:
Understand that you will have to break down your process into these three steps.
No writer enjoys staring at the blank screen thinking about what word to type first, and this is why you need to spend some time on ideation.
This step is similar to the process of drawing. Refuse to feel pressure, and just start “sketching doodles”. Keep calm and remind yourself that you will always be able to fix it down the road.
Accept the fact that most of your ideas will suck. But you do not need many ideas. You just need to pick a good one and then focus on transforming it into something worthwhile.
A good practice is to ideate on paper. Different brain circuitry gets engaged when you are handwriting. You can use an old school paper notebook, I personally use an iPad (trying to save those trees you know 🌳).
The second phase is the writing itself — you develop your idea into a full-body essay.
Lastly, you fix your writing, you let it rest for a while, and then you come back for the final edit.
2. Write in different formats and on different platforms.
To progress faster you have to write a lot. The good news is you can choose different kinds of formats to practice your writing and not to get bored. Here are some of the formats that you can try.
Ask yourself these 3 questions on a daily basis:
- What went well
- What didn’t go well
- What I can do better
Reflect on the past day, make a plan for the next one. Record your intention and mood.
Write three things you’re grateful for every day. It’s a great practice because you are not only learning how to write but also slowly rewiring your brain 🧠 teaching it to think positively. Works as well as meditation. Proven in practice.
Just write what’s on your mind until you are empty. Use it to create space and remove the state of being overwhelmed by your thoughts. No censorship, just pure flow. Monkey business, you know.🐒
Social media posts.
Short-form is a great way to learn how to be concise and how to be punchy with your wording.
LinkedIn posts for example are limited to 1,300 symbols. Make it a ritual like brushing your teeth.
Write one post a day and see what happens after 6-months both to your writing skills and your personal brand the importance of which we have discussed yesterday.
Write here on Medium. The reason why I love Medium is that it is like a training ground where you can test out your ideas before sending them to places where the criticism will matter. Try it out, Medium is a great place to start.
3. Read a lot.
“If you want to be a writer you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
~ Stephen King
The following is the difference between reading and writing.
Reading is like riding in someone’s thought vehicle. You get on board, fasten your belt, and the author takes you on a ride throughout which you are learning how to think like the author.
Writing is learning how to drive the vehicle yourself. You are literally learning how to think on your own.
To be a better thinker you need to experience riding many different mind-cars. But above all other cars, you must learn how to drive and be in control of yours.
“Education- reading and meditating on the wisdom of great minds - is not to be done for its own sake. It has a purpose.”
~ Ryan Holiday, “The Daily Stoic”
Learning how the wise ones of this world think (or thought) is a foolproof shortcut to your own wisdom.
Check out these 3 books 📚:
- “The Daily Stoic" by Ryan Holiday.
- “365 Days with Self-Discipline" by Martin Meadows.
- “The Book of Life" by Jiddu Krishnamurti.
I want you to pay attention not just to the pearls of wisdom contained in those books but to the format that these books are written in — the format of daily meditation.
This format is available to you. Read one new quote a day, write it down, and then add your meditation on the matter — compose some thoughts 💭 of your own.
You kill three birds with one stone — you become a better reader, a better writer, and a better thinker, all at the same time.
4. Try the Bread Crumbs method.
Here is the technique that I call a “Bread Crumbs method.”
First, start with writing a bullet list mapping out all your ideas that you want to cover in your essay. You’re building a skeleton on which you will later be growing meat.
The bullets give you the structure. You follow them like a bread crumbs trail, and they keep you on track (hence the name).
This step is crucial especially for a quantum thinker like me, because if I don’t give myself some boundaries, I can often end up not where I intended to arrive at the beginning.
Next, examine each bullet individually and develop it into a paragraph.
And this is my writing secret.
I do not write. I speak.
In order to transform a bullet-idea 💡 into a complete thought, I use voice typing — technically, I explain the idea and by doing it I unfold it into a full-sized mature paragraph.
There are many voice typing software available these days. For instance, if you are a Windows 10 user, you can press Win + H to access a native voice typing application. I personally prefer using Gboard from Google, with the latest patch the voice-typing feature is lightning fast (kudos to team Google).
First, I start with typing a bullet-list skeleton 🦴 on my computer in the Medium web app, but then I open the Medium app on my phone and voice type the draft.
As I go, I am switching back and forth between the phone app and the web app — the former for growing the meat, the latter for editing and cutting out the redundancies.
The cycle repeats itself until I am satisfied with the form, the looks, and most importantly the sound of it. And that’s the next tip.
5. Read your piece aloud when you finish.
It’s all sounds rosy in your head while you are typing but in reality, the finished piece will almost always lack coherence.
Read it out loud, because this is exactly the process that will occur in the mind of a reader — the reader will be vocalizing your content by his own inner voice in his head.
Do you want to get better at writing? Write as you speak. And then eventually you just might end up becoming a better speaker as well. Hence the next tip.
6. Less is more.
We do not speak in some kind of convoluted, hard-to-follow word patterns.
There is music to speech.
Long sentences with complex vocabulary that are designed to communicate sophisticated thought-forms are harder to process so they create a strain on the reader’s mind.
Short sentences are simple. The reader rests when he reads them.
(See what I have just done here with those sentences) ☝😉
For me, this will always remain an indication of a good writer.
A good writer is mindful of these dynamics, and so he teaches himself how to alternate the sentences that have weight and create tension with the sentences that release the tension and give a reader a break.
The language must be functional. The first priority of a good writer is to be understood, and not to produce pretty and excessive writing.
Professional writers always strive to write lean.
They write with their inner editor turned off. Yet they edit like they want to demolish the whole piece to the ground leaving nothing but the essence.
Keep this in mind. If there are words in your writing that can be dropped, they must be.
7. Sleep on it.
As mentioned, editing is a separate process. Let your writing age a little bit, come back to it the next morning or even the following week to look at it with a fresh eye.
You might acquire some new knowledge by that time and maybe even change your opinion entirely. But do not wait too long, after all, the beauty of writing is in the process itself. The pleasure of it is in that state of flow that you immerse in while you are working — the state that makes the whole world disappear.
8. Ignore the impostor syndrome.
We all doubt whether we should write. And we doubt even more whether we should hit that “publish" button.
Ignore that feeling.
Entertain this perspective for a moment — your best writing is still the one that you are to produce in the future.
However, you won’t get to that point in the future if you do not overcome the resistance of making your work public in the present moment.
In order to be good at anything, you have to embrace the phase when you suck at it.
So push through it. Remember the words of Richard Bach that I put at the top of this page.
“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”
And even if you don’t have the ambition to become a professional writer who earns his bread by wordsmithing, I am pretty confident you have the ambition to be the master of your own life.
Write for the sake of designing a better life for yourself.
Do you know what is the commonality between all the richest people in this world? The richest people have the largest vocabulary. The quality of language defines the quality of thought. The quality of thought defines the quality of life.
9. Stay consistent.
“Amateurs seat and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
~ Stephen King
Your ability to write well is directly proportionate to the writing system you have established for yourself.
Your muse won’t show up every day. But you should.
Same time, same place — make missing the rendezvous with yourself unacceptable and the results will come. They will have no other options.
Pick up the challenge like the one that I’m in right now. I definitely encourage you to do that.
Resolve to publish 30 essays in 30 days here on Medium, and I promise you that by Day 30 you will be a different person.
I’ll leave you today with another quote by master King:
“You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will. Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art.
The water is free so drink. Drink and be filled up.”
~ Stephen King
Write with your purpose in mind. Write with flair.