Everybody has to write. But many (if not most) people dread the process.
Even professional writers struggle. Many of them say, “I don’t like to write – but I love to have written.”
Why is writing so hard for so many people?
Most of us learned how to write in school. Our teachers gave us good grades for good writing, and poor grades for poor writing. The idea was that poor grades would motivate us to write better.
Remember the dreaded 100-word essay? We might have only had 60 words to say, but we were graded on length. So we added 40 words of fluff. We learned that longer writing was better than shorter writing.
We turned in papers that were our best effort at writing. They were returned with red marks highlighting everything we did wrong and few comments about what we did right. To get a better grade, we had to strive for perfection.
There was no learning curve. There was no place for bad writing.
So we developed a mindset that said, “Only good writing has value.”
And that’s exactly why writing has become tedious and painful for so many people. They dread the process, so they procrastinate – and constantly feel the silent eyes of their teacher saying, “It’s not good enough” while they’re putting words on a screen. (This isn’t a critique of teachers – most of them are awesome, and we grew because they believed in us – and helped us believe in ourselves.)
It’s taken me a few decades to overcome that imprinting, but I’ve learned a few things that have made writing less painful.
- Know exactly what you accomplish with your writing. Start with the outcome you want for your reader, and write with that in mind. What should they walk away with? A clear purpose is like putting the address in your GPS system – it guides every decision.
- Never edit while you’re writing. Writing is a creative activity; editing is a critical (but necessary) activity. If you do both at the same time, you won’t do either one well. Why? Because you come up with an idea, but your critic says, “That’s dumb.” So you quit coming up with ideas.
- Write poorly – first. James Thurber said, “Don’t get it right; get it written.” The hardest part of writing is getting it from your head onto paper. Once that’s done, you have something to work with – but not before. Write rough drafts, then polish.
- Don’t write in a cluttered environment. When we get stuck, it’s easy to get distracted. Clutter gives us plenty of distractions. I almost never write in my office, because there are too many shiny objects. Physical clutter encourages mental clutter.
- Stay seated. I never have anything to write about for the first 20 minutes. I’ve learned to force myself to stay seated for at least that long, whether I produce any words or not. No email, no solitaire, no reading – nothing but writing. Usually, inspiration comes near the 20-minute mark, and I’ve built some momentum.
- Keep it short. People have information overload, so you’re doing them a favor by staying concise. People don’t usually ignore your content because it’s too short, but they will ignore it if it’s too long.
- Keep it simple. Simple people try to appear profound; truly profound people strive to be simple. Think ‘Reader’s Digest’ – the most popular magazine in the world. They must be doing something right.
There are as many suggestions as there are writers, but those are a few that I’ve found to be valuable.
What about you, my writing friends? Whether you’re a professional author, or you simply have to write documents at work or personal emails – what makes you more effective? Share your ideas below so we can all learn from each other.
(Comment below – or at the link near the top.)