Want To Be A Better Writer? Do These Three Things!
If you’re looking for a quick fix, you can stop reading right now. This isn’t one of those, “5 Easy Tips To Becoming The Next Stephen King In One Week!” type article.
I’m not going to lie to you. Writing is hard work.
Even though it’s part of my day job, I still struggle to get started, let alone come up with something brilliant to say.
Becoming one of the greats like Stephen King, Anne Lamott or others, may not be on your radar, but writing anything that matters should. .
The power of good writing extends far past the need to make an argument or sell a product. Writing is a fundamental right and opportunity to find and share your truth—if you choose.
It can be liberating not only for you the writer but for those who are moved by what you write.
Just like any polished skill, writing takes practice. Here are a few things I do as I work to improve my writing.
Become A Critical Thinker
It’s time to take yourself off of auto pilot! We are all guilty of this. Tunnel vision is real, and we are all missing out on the stories happening on all our us. There are lots of interesting things to observe if you just open your eyes and look around.
Great writers are active observers. They are constantly collecting, analyzing, and learning from new information. In this process, they improve their thinking and improve their writing.
A critical thinker brings truths to light by
raising vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely.
gathering and assessing relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively.
testing well-reasoned conclusions them against relevant criteria and standards.
thinking open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as needs be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences.
communicating effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.
being self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinkers (criticalthinking.org).
Just like any skill, becoming an astute critical thinker takes practice. It's a muscle that needs continuous flexing.
The Best Way To Sharpen Your Critical Thinking Skills.
Become like an investigative journalist. Ask a lot of questions. Make the WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY, and HOW part of your thought process. You aren't looking for evidence to prove a point. You're looking to find truth—even if it conflicts with your assumptions and beliefs. Here are a few things to consider when reading.
What is the argument the writer is trying to make?
What is the writer trying to sell?
What is their evidence? Why or why isn't it persuasive to you?
How does the writer present their ideas?
Are there holes in their story? What is missing?
What is another way of looking at a topic or idea you just read?
2. Read, Read, Read!
"If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut" (Stephen King).
I love reading, so it's not a chore for me. However, I do need to make time. Each morning, before everyone arrives at the office, I read one of my marketing books or a few articles from HBR.org, Copyblogger, Seth Godin's Blog, MarTech Today. If I really want a mental challenge, I'll go for Brain Pickings.
My Favorite Marketing Books So Far This Year:
"The Wizard of Ads" by Roy H. Williams
"Ogilvy On Advertising" by David Ogilvy
"The Elements of Style" by William Strunk Jr.
"Made to Stick" by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
"Hey Whipple, Squeeze This" by Luke Sullivan
To supplement my reading, I also like to listen to podcasts or books on Audible. Some are business-related, but most are memoirs, historical fictions, biographies, and other genres that get me out of my head.
My Favorite Audible Books In 2018:
"Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott
"The Alice Network" by Kate Quinn
"Educated: A Memoir" by Tara Westover
"Hillbilly Elegy" by J.D. Vance
"Shoe Dog: A Memoir By the Creator of Nike" by Phil Knight
"Lean In" by Sheryl Sandberg
"The Everything Store" by Brad Stone
"Never Split the Difference" by Chris Voss
"Radical Candor" by Kim Scott
"Braving The Wilderness" by Brene Brown
"I am Malala" by Malala Yousafzai
3. Write Every Day.
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough got it right, "Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard."
As an English major in college, I first learned the value of using free writing to help stimulate new thoughts and cultivate ideas.
Before writing any school paper, I would spend at least 15 to 30 minutes writing about anything that came to mind. Often, it was pure nonsense. But, other times, I was able to unlock ideas and solve complex problems.
With free writing, there are no rules--no right or wrong answers. You are not judged or graded. You are uninhibited and can therefore write whatever flows onto your paper.
If you feel stuck when first trying to write, I suggest using writing prompts. They are an effective way to get past writer's block and active your critical thinking muscle. 750 Words is another great tool to keep you on track and accountable to making writing a daily habit. It will even let you know when you're slacking!
Wrapping It Up
If you've gotten to the end of this article, good work. You've just added at least 5 minutes to today's reading tally! Now, all you have to do is open up your laptop or put your pen to paper and start writing. Good luck!