Some practical, straightforward advice for the non-writers who want to get better.
Not everyone can write.
This is something I learned gradually, over a period of decades. And while the timid and anxious part of me struggles with admitting this, I am — objectively — a good writer. But I wasn’t born with this skill. At most, you could argue I was born with an interest in it, which kept me practicing throughout my formative years and into adulthood.
Along my writing journey, I’ve met many people who’ve expressed a desire to write well. Once, I would’ve brushed that sentiment off. Writing is easy! I’d think to myself. Even I can do it, so it can’t possibly be hard.
Now, things are different. I’m finally mature enough to understand that, no, writing isn’t easy. It’s damn hard work — I’ve spent decades of my life writing on and off almost every day, and I still find it hard.
With all this in mind, I’ve put together the following list of tips that anyone can follow, whether you consider yourself a writer or not, to help you get into the writing groove.
What point are you trying to make?
When you’re writing, it’s important to have an idea in your mind of where you want your writing to go before you begin. It doesn’t have to be fully fleshed out or realized in a notebook or in your head, but there needs to be some kernel, a little inkling of the direction you want to take your writing. Once you’ve got that sorted, you can start putting pen to paper.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
When you’re writing, it’s easy to get caught up in the details. My suggestion here is to not sweat the small stuff and focus on the big picture. Instead of worrying about whether you got the grammar right, or the spelling, or if this sentence makes sense to someone else, focus instead on the message you want to convey. Remember that writing is iterative — just get the first draft down and you can come back and edit later.
Consider a basic structure
Essays on how to write essays are a dime a dozen. Everyone and their mothers have their own way of structuring whatever it is they want to write. For me, when I’m writing a blog post I stick with a very basic structure: an introduction, the body, and a conclusion. In other words, introduce yourself and your topic, then write about that topic, and finally conclude with a wrap-up sentence or two.
Write like you’re talking to a new friend
There’s an assumption that people need to write ‘formally’ or ‘professionally’ for the web. This isn’t entirely true. Yes, some publications may have strict writing guidelines you need to stick to. But for your own blog? I suggest writing as though you’re talking to a new friend. In other words, be casual, charismatic, and polite. Just be relatable, and not only will you find it easier to write, but you’ll also find that people tend to resonate with your work more effectively.
Don’t fear contractions
This is a more literal example of the previous point, but it’s important enough to warrant its own entry. Contractions — turning “it is” into “it’s” — is a great way of maintaining the flow and rhythm of your work. We use contractions all the time in verbal dialogue, but they’re frustratingly rare in a lot of online content.
You are your own worst critic
One of the most challenging barriers to good writing to overcome is your own sense of self-doubt. You might think your writing is terrible, but your opinion (in the nicest way possible) is irrelevant. You may write something you think is awful, but people resonate with it in ways you never dreamed. Remember that, as a writer, a good story isn’t one that you like — it’s one that your readers like.
There’s really no way around it. I spent years writing 500 words a day. I write for my professional career. I’ve written novels, and even I struggle to consider myself a competent writer some days. This isn’t meant to dissuade you — every day that you write makes you a better writer than you were the day before.
Moving on to something a bit more physical — you may find it hard to write because you’re in a physical space that hampers your creativity. Move elsewhere, go outdoors, to a library, to the pub. I write best when I’m in an area with lots of ambient noise, outside of home. The feeling of being a fly on the wall in a busy area for some reason just gets the creative juices flowing.
Always trust your gut, and your imagination
Sometimes you need to just let your mind do its thing. Pretend that the backspace button doesn’t exist, even for a sentence or two, and just start writing, You may be surprised at what you come up with. You may have heard this technique referred to as Stream of Consciousness, and though it’s similar, I’m promoting a sort of ‘Stream of Structured Consciousness’. Have an idea of what you want to write in your head, and just start writing the relevant words and sentences as they come to you.