Writing well comes down to habit and discipline. That’s good news, because I used to think writing came down to genius and inspiration.
Genius and inspiration are hard to rely on. But habit and discipline — we all can learn those.
Below are the step-by-step systems for writing and editing that will help you become a stronger writer (and maybe even become someone who gets paid to write).
First. The power of the sh*tty first draft
Start writing. The first time I worked in publishing, I ran into a reader who would send in emails about mistakes in our books. Then he started commenting on our blog. Then he offered to write a blog post. Then he wrote a book for us, and that book was a huge seller.
The lesson? Just get started. Many potential authors start with a form of paralysis, afraid that they won’t be able to achieve perfection.
If that’s you, start here: How to Overcome Perfection with the Sh*tty First Draft.
Second. Writers use systems
Writing is not an act that springs from raw inspiration. Or rather, if you plan to write well and often, it’s much better to have a system.
Many writers are starting simply from a small intuition and then are hoping to find where that intuition leads. If that’s you, you may use the phrase “Write to think.” Writing turns an intuition into a fully articulated idea.
Well, there’s a simple system for this: How to write clearly if you are an intuitive thinker.
Third. Learn to edit.
Editing is a separate step from writing.
We liked this piece The Complete Guide to Editing Your First Draft Like a Pro so much that we added it to our style guide.
When you think of editing you may think purely of spelling and grammar (hint: install Grammarly). Or you may think about Strunk & White’s Elements of Style. The guide above fixes the issues that I run into all the time as an editor: piece is a mishmash of multiple ideas, boring/confusing subheadings, weak conclusions, weak writing.
Great writers are great editors of their own writing.
Fourth. Professional use systems to manufacture great writing on demand.
A friend of mine on The Moth storytelling circuit says, “Everyone can tell one story, if you can tell two, then you’re a storyteller.”
That first story is the one you’ve been telling your friends and family for years. It comes naturally. That second story is new — and actually much harder. You have to learn how to manufacture it from scratch.
In writing, strong amateur writer will produce great writing about things they already know about. They only write when the mood strikes them.
The thing that a professional does differently is that they can write about anything and do it on a deadline. They learn how to manufacture great writing.
If you want to make the leap from amateur to professional, we’ve captured the detailed, tactical workflow of professional writers from tools to research to organizing your article:
We are missing one thing in this guide: how do you choose what to write about. How would you answer this question?
Coach Tony, Better Humans & Coach.me