4+1 (Common) Writing Advice I Ignored, To Become a Better Writer
Because what MOST people say doesn’t have to be the BEST for you
I was new to writing, and just like with starting anything new, I began with the (almighty) net. How to become a good writer.
Being the generous soul it is, it bombarded me with a deluge of writing advice.
And just like a thirsty puppy, I lapped up everything, eager to become what I aspired — a good writer. I was running full throttle, equipped with what the world said was the key to success.
A few weeks down the lane, I sat back and realized that things were not going the way I had visualized. Something is off. I couldn't put my finger on that. The steam fizzled, the pace slowed, and ultimately, it halted.
I gave up.
Maybe I am too old for this race, and time has moved past me.
But, you see, I am not a quitter. I don't enjoy giving up. So, I buckled up again, decided to middle-finger all the advice, and did it MY way.
Thank God I did that!
So, if you are one of such writers struggling to see some results, maybe it's time to do it your way.
1. "Find a niche," they say.
I have wasted nine days, half a notebook, and 1 (pen) refill making notes, and lists, striking some off, adding some — to decide my ever-elusive niche.
And it boiled down to one topic, my original niche:
I wrote many articles on parenting—fairly okay articles. But the problem was that I also wanted to write about personal essays, self-improvement, and my experiences as a writer. But then — NICHE.
"Don't talk to everyone; talk to someone," goes the rule.
What exactly happened:
- I could write on parenting; trust me, there are n+1 topics to write about. But I felt stifled. I wanted more.
- As a result, I failed to explore other grounds.
- My interest drooped.
But on the second round, when I had ditched the hat of niche, I was free to write anything. So, I wrote — everything. It was a no-bondage feeling. And in between the myriad stories on so many topics, I penned my first story on writing:
And it clicked. It was a heartfelt story, and people related to that. One thing led to another, and I found my niche.
- I don't say that you shouldn't have a niche. That's a MUST.
But, don’t start with the burden of finding one.
It will only slow down your journey.
2. Explore your way to your niche. It's like a calling, that will come to you. (I have been watching a lot of high fantasy lately)
3. You need to have a niche because it will be something you must write about a lot. So, it is better to write your way to the niche than think of it and then write.
2. "Publish every day," they challenge.
Just yesterday, a writer wrote & expressed his desire to publish one (or maybe 2) articles daily. Write, not publish — is all I said in a few more words.
Early in my writing days, I came across this advice to challenge yourself to publish an article daily. 30-day writing challenges? I thought it was a great way to pace up the process.
Building the writing muscle, fighting procrastination, enhancing one's vocabulary and communication skills are some benefits of doing the challenge.
What exactly happened:
- It got me all edgy.
The need to hit the ‘publish’ button made me do things I am not proud of, as a writer.
>>I was overlooking essential things that I knew I could refine.
>> I Didn't work on my headlines that much — framed something decent and went with it.
>>My editing process was just a namesake.
All in all, I whizzed past the whole writing process.
- The challenge took a toll on other activities. Being a writer doesn't mean one must write. Reading, exploring, learning, pitching, and researching — are just a few of the many other things that come with the job. Unfortunately, everything took a back seat once I was riding the daily challenge.
So, this challenge was not helping me become a better writer for sure. A daily writer? Yes, that was a tick. But that was not my purpose.
You don't start running the moment you wear your runners. You warm up first.
Taking up a challenge during the initial days might do more harm than good. So, take it up only if you feel confident about it. But if you see symptoms similar to mine, be prudent and cut the chord.
- Focus on the writing part. Not on how many stories you can publish. Please note that I am talking about the formative period when you are trying to find your way around writing.
- Rather than publishing daily, keep a target of writing daily, rather. But again, give yourself leeway to grow and learn. That's more important.
I will not say that a challenge is an absolute no. Just gauge the effect it has on you as a writer.
3. "Write as if you are being watched," they warn.
And I don't disagree. Yes, what you write is how the world perceives you as a writer. No confusion there. From where I am coming is, hold on to that thought in the initial days. Perfection is something you don't concentrate on at this time.
When I started following this advice, I got entangled.
What exactly happened:
- Whatever I wrote looked 'unpublishable'. It was not worthy of seeing the light of day.
- So, my drafts started piling up and my confidence dwindling.
- The pursuit to come up with something perfect sapped the pace of my writing.
Margaret Atwood perfectly nails it.
“I think the main thing is: Just do it. I go swimming in icy cold lakes. ‘Am I really going to do this? Won’t it hurt?’
And at some point, you scream. Once you’re in, keep going. You may have to crumple and toss, but we all do that. Courage! I think that is what’s most required.”
Trust me; you will come to a point where you will be watched, and you should remember that.
But, for now, just drop the robe and be shameless.
4. "Write what you know," they preach.
I knew nothing about writing, and then, here I am. So, there goes the advice out of the window.
This was something that I never followed, so I don't have a 'what exactly happened' section. Yes, I agree that you will have more to say when you write about something you know. But you can never guarantee that it will be the best you can write about.
I know numerous writers who write wonderful stories about things they swear they had no idea about at first. So how do you figure this out?
- Writing is an arena where you need to step in with an open mind. More than what you know,
Try writing about things you want to know.
2. Or about things that interest you, completely divergent from your knowledge base. Trust me; there are a sea of people who would love to read on this 'divergent' topic. Can you make it interesting for them to consume?
3. What's the harm in treading new paths? Hasn't that always been the basis of evolution?
Resonating with what M.Scott had written in The Road Less Traveled, it is the action of loving that is more important than the knowing.
5. They say; I say.
I am going to give you a concoction of small doses of tidbits that I have picked up on my way. And trust me, they have worked for me just fine.
a) Time it right.
They say: Morning is the best time to pen your thoughts.
I say: Find your own slot when you're the most productive — 2 am, 2 pm, anytime.
b) Aim for the publications.
They say: Keep an eye on the prize—bank on the readymade readership. Don't let your story go waste.
I say: It is great if you get the ticket. But it also works for you if you don't. Take a leaf from the rejection, but never fret. Just write your way. Publication, no publication — the most essential element is to sharpen your writing more every day.
c) Always dot the Is and cross the Ts.
They say: A lot. About the etiquette of writing? Grammar? I can't even start to list them.
I say: Feel free. Ditch the active voice sometimes if you feel passive brings out more of the sentence. You are allowed to use longer sentences. You are also entitled to joke around a bit or even cuss. Just feel the vibe, go with the flow, and see how it works out. Remember, you can always mend your ways.
The most crucial bit of advice (common or uncommon, I don't know) is to use what works for you. Discard the rest.
There are some ‘usually’, ‘commonly’, and ‘mostly’ in this field, but there is no ‘absolutely’.
You have to be the judge of that. Don't try to force your square mind into a round peg. Just embrace the process and see yourself grow.