For the Love of Writing
Tips for getting inspired, getting started, and getting published.
Every weekend, I worry about carpal tunnel.
Because every weekend, I write. A lot. On Sundays when my boyfriend disappears for the day mountain biking, I grab a notebook, pen, and laptop, and write till my heart’s content or my wrists are worn out. (Generally until about happy hour.) I write because it’s a way for me to process, reflect, and work ideas out. I write because if enough people ask for my opinion on a topic, I might as well have somewhere to point them to. I write because I learn things along the way. And I share in the hopes that the lessons I’m learning can help a greater group of people — not just me. It’s why I have so many side projects this year, and why so many of them come with bylines.
Whenever I hear others considering dipping their toes into writing, I get excited and encourage them to give it a shot. It’s a process I love and look forward to, so I’m happy to play writing coach and help them along.
It turns out there are a few roadblocks to writing that commonly get in a would-be writers’ way.
For new and lapsed writers, these can be daunting! But take it from me (a formerly lapsed writer who didn’t write for four years, and then finally did) — it can be done.
Over the years I have learned a thing or two about getting inspired, getting started, and getting published. For anyone who’s ever tried to start writing but didn’t know where to start, here’s what I’ve learned:
1. The right tools make a difference. Whether you’re writing from home or on-the-go, I’m a firm believer that your workspace and toolkit set you up for success. Find the pens that make you write neater. Play the music that makes you think clearer. Make yourself your favorite café latte and treat your writerly self to some dark chocolate. Enjoy the set up. This is now your writing space, and you are now a writer in writing mode. Lean into it.
2. Discipline counts. They say “practice makes perfect” for a reason. The truth is, practice doesn’t make perfect, but it does make you better and better, and faster. Set aside regular time to write, and you’ll get better and faster over time. If you’re having trouble prioritizing writing, try these tips on making time for the things that matter most.
Prioritization → practice → progress.
For instance, try journaling for 15 minutes as soon as you wake up, or just before you go to bed. Free-write about whatever comes to your mind before worrying about a topic “good enough” to share more broadly. Do this for a month without pressure of publishing anything to the world.
3. Your life is your content. People often say they don’t have anything to write about. This is false! There are lots of things you can write about. Draw from your life for inspiration and go deep on areas that interest you:
- Pick something you want to learn about and understand better
- Notice a trend and dissect its origins, or weigh in on its future
- Share something you feel strongly about
- Teach something to someone else
In my case, I’ve written about quitting jobs and starting anew, dating in the Internet age, UX and the future of wearables — all ideas that came from my life, conversations with friends, things I was noticing in the world and wanted to understand more about.
Don’t worry about being an “expert” — we all have experiences to share and life lessons we’ve learned. Share from there.
4. There is a fine line between editing and over-editing. Once you have a draft of your article, it’s time for the editing phase. Now is the time to sharpen your argument, cut unnecessary repetitive points, and make sure you’re saying what you mean to say. Watch out for word-smithing though; don’t focus on fixing style until substance is there.
5. Sometimes you need an extra pair of eyes. Especially in the beginning, you may be less confident about your writing. If you’ve got an editor, send them your work! If you don’t (and most of us don’t), share your piece with a friend or family member who can give you some honest feedback. Make sure you specify what kind of feedback you’re looking for (grammar? story structure? comprehensiveness or strength of argument?). If there’s no one you can show your piece to, let it rest a few days and return to it with fresh eyes. When you do, read it aloud; you’ll find a lot of awkward phrasing that way.
6. Every publishing platform is different. Let’s say you’re finally ready to hit publish — congrats! The question is… where? Today there are so many publishing platforms to choose from it can be hard to know where to begin. Here are a few I tend to use, and why:
- Medium —easy to use, best for personal, self reflective pieces or news and trend pieces
- LinkedIn — clunky to use, best suited for professional related content
- Tumblr — limited but effective; primarily for visual content
And of course, I tweet everything I write no matter where it’s published to help broaden my reach.
7. Visuals matter. Posts with images tend to do better than those without. I illustrate most of mine, but there are plenty of stock photo resources for those who don’t have the time or interest in illustrating their own. This list has my favorites.
8. Share work with your friends, but remember that good content has a way of making itself known. Post your work on Facebook, share it on Twitter, publicize it on LinkedIn — share your work with your social networks, then wait. If your content resonates, your friends will share it with their friends, and so on. Don’t ask them to share your work, but see if it has any traction on its own. See how far your work goes and wonder why. Think about what you might change next time. Then start to write again.
Eventually you’ll hit your stride as a writer. What used to take a few days to write will take just a few hours. Writing will feel easier, and so naturally you will enjoy it more. Your words will do the heavy lifting for you, and your edits, too. You’ll know when you’re over-editing and when it’s time to just hit publish. You’ll stop trying to make a piece “work,” and know when it’s best to just abandon a pitch altogether. This will make you faster, better, and more prolific.
Just remember to be kind to your wrists.