I’m not a writer in the stereotypical sense… at least not according to popular culture or the image in my head. I don’t live in a studio apartment in Brooklyn or a brownstone in Manhattan. I won’t be found in a coffee shop, staring at my laptop while checking Facebook each time I’m stuck. Regardless, though, each time I write something, I end up thinking about how I could improve myself next time. Or what I’ve figured out on how to do it all over again. So over the months and years, I’ve amassed quite a few “tips” I’d give myself. Now, after finally writing them down, I feel like they’re worth sharing with the masses… and by masses, I mean current writers, those who’d like to start or for those who just have something to say.
Read, read, read. Henry David Thoreau once said: “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” So in that same respect, how silly would it be to sit down to write, without opening a book to read? It’s not as catchy, but it’s still similar. Reading inspires us, fosters new ideas, introduces new perspectives and so on. Writing without reading is kind of like trying to be a doctor without training… in the most theoretical sense. There’s a lot less bodily harm in writing without reading than doctoring without practicing.
2. Be unoriginal.
It sounds backwards, but what I mean is, read authors you like. Notice their style, subconsciously or not. Emulate your favorites. There’s no need to say don’t use their exact phrases, but adopt aspects of their pieces you like — even those from the ThoughtCatalog itself (i.e. the ever-popular “list” format). Everyone has their influences, so use yours to their full advantage. Words are meant to inspire other words just as much as they’re meant to inform and evoke.
3. Just do it.
Oddly enough, a slogan meant to sell athletic sneakers and apparel can apply just the same to writing. And I guess a large amount of other activities too, but still. You get it — just write something. Anything. It could be pure crap. It could be pure non-crap. The mere practice of putting pen to paper or finger to keyboard is the best and only way to improve your writing.
Ever have an idea or a thought bounce around in your head for weeks or even months? If so, it’s probably kind of important. So make use of this little gold mine. If you don’t feel like putting it to paper or in Word document just yet, at least talk about with someone. Some of the best things I’ve written have come from really good discussions. Talking about some idea out loud goes a long way into transferring it into something worth reading.
5. Pare down.
“Less is more.” “Keep it simple stupid.” “Simplicity is the key to brilliance.” I feel like these quotes should be the golden rules of composing. While I still struggle with this, it has gotten easier. Paring down rids your work of unnecessary clutter and guides the reader more quickly to your point. Sure, it can feel counterintuitive sometimes, but it will ultimately make your work more powerful and compelling. By losing the distractions, the entire purpose of your piece can only become more clear and meaningful.
6. Be honest.
That’s the point of writing — honesty. If you’re not communicating an honest thought, your relation to the reader is probably going to come off as insincere. The best books, articles and essays are often those which spell out something a reader’s struggled with but hasn’t been able to put to words. So maybe don’t try to write the next Big Thing… just write what’s on your mind.
7. Learn to deal with criticism.
This might be the hardest tip to take because, unfortunately, criticism comes with the territory of writing. Yes, it may feel like you’re baring your soul only for the world to stomp on sometimes, but in reality, you’re more than words on a page. People are their actions and thoughts other than those expressed on a particular topic. We’re constantly evolving, and so we should never base our worth or success off the reception of one single essay (or even one, two or three…) — and especially not one comment at the bottom of one page.
8. Sharing is caring.
One of the other only ways to improve your writing is to share it. Because otherwise, what’s the point? You may never want to write the next Great American novel, but I believe the entire point of writing is to connect and relate to people. By not sharing, you’ll never know how your ideas come across to anyone except yourself. Sure, your heart might start racing and your palms might get sweaty in those seconds before you hit “submit, share or send”, but that’s a good thing. No one ever got anywhere worth going without taking some risk.
9. Finish your thought.
Like tying the ribbon on nicely wrapped gift, you’ve got to tie your ideas together too. An ending is necessary to remind readers why your idea was important in the first place. You want people to think about what you’ve written long after they’re done reading, and a good ending can do that.
10. Get a great laptop.
Nothing is worse than having a really great idea for an article, essay or whatever, and turning on your computer only to wait 10 minutes for it to start up. And then another 10 minutes to open Word or your Gmail drafts. Honestly, I feel like gnawing off my own arm when that happens. Either that or poking my eyeballs out. Sure, you could do it the old fashioned way and use pen and paper, but that may seem too slow when the words are pouring out of your brain cells. If pen and paper is your thing, though, then by all means. But for the rest of us slaves to technology, I would most definitely invest in a nice piece of typing machinery.
So, speaking of endings… I’ve come to realize these tips are kind of hard to apply all at once. This means I have, and you probably will, write a lot more crappy things than good things sometimes. So in that respect, I think the most important advice of all is to keep going. Plain and simple, just keep writing.