5 Writing Tips from Someone Learning to Write
Seasoned writers have a lot of wisdom to offer, but hear ye, hear ye my fellow learners of the craft, you should take heed of what thy comrade has to say!
Dramatic effect aside, you may ask, why should you listen to me? That’s obvious, ain’t it?! I am learning to write, right now, so who better to let you in on the secrets than someone riding out the journey as we speak?
Now then, without further adieu:
1. Write Every Single Day for at least an Hour
“If I started to wait for moments of inspiration, I would never finish a book.”
— Mario Vargas Llosa
Yep, that’s the first thing you need to do, and for good reasons too. First, writing, like any other craft or activity, requires discipline. Contrary to popular belief, writing does not much depend on inspiration. It depends on constantly crunching out ideas for stories. And that my friends, happens when you train yourself to do so.
I am not BS-ing you here. After I decided to take writing seriously, I started sitting down with my laptop every single day. The first couple of days were the worst. The blank screen gave me a headache pretty fast, so I switched to old-school notebook and Pilot G2. The headache subsided, but the notebook continued to glare at me with its blank pages none the less.
But then magic happened. I got an idea, and then the next idea, and now I can’t stop getting ideas! GUYS! I CAN’T STOP…. HELLPPP… I am thinking about the next article in the shower, while ordering my usual burrito bowl at Chipotle, and even in my dreams!
(Pro-tip: When just starting out, if you have no clue what to write, write whatever. Really… sky is blue, guy next door is too loud in the mornings… kid at Starbucks smells like pee… JUST WRITE! That’s all you have got to do — WRITE!)
2. Learn the Rules
I know the fad is to forget all the rules. That’s all nice and dandy, but I think in order to break the rules you need to first internalize the rules. It’s like playing the piano. First you practice for years to learn the rules, and then you can bend or even break the rules as you please, and still make captivating sound. I’m not a pianist, but I think most jazz pianists would agree.
Writing works much the same way. Fortunately, I think you can get away with less training here. However, you still need to know the rules. You see, each genre of writing has its own set of do’s and don’ts. You need to follow certain pattern for an academic essay, different rules for short stories, and yet more different rules for novels, or blog posts, or ad copy, or a perfect pitch. Learn the rules first, then bend or break them as you see fit.
Research what you want to write whenever possible. For example, I am trying to write more blog posts, so I spend some time every day researching what makes a blog post truly stand out: a captivating post title, an unconventional first line, short paragraphs and short sentences, headers and sub-headers, lists and how-tos, etc., for example.
3. Read with Intention
The best way to learn to write well is to read well. Don’t just read a text. Read with intention. The intention to learn and internalize everything you are reading. Keep a notebook and pen with you while reading, so you may take notes on interesting usage of certain words, or a word whose meaning and thesaurus you need to look up, or an entire quote or passage you wish to revisit later. Reading is perhaps the most important and the most effective strategy in learning to write well.
Read a lot of what you wish to write. I have been trying to hone my skills for writing posts on Medium, so every day, I spend a considerable time reading popular posts on this platform.
4. Improve Your Vocabulary and Thesaurus
“One of the things that really good writing does is that it’s able to get across massive amounts of information and various favorable impressions of the communicator with minimal effort on the part of the reader.”
— David Foster Wallace
I know this is supposed to be advice from your fellow student of writing (a.k.a me), but here I feel like I should quote someone quotable to really drive the point home. The quote above says it all. Your writing needs to be simple but effective in order to be considered good. And the first step in learning to do just that is by improving ones vocabulary and thesaurus. I just went and bought a paper copy of Merriam-Webster dictionary and thesaurus, FYI.
5. Revise, Revise, Revise
No piece of writing is complete until you have revised it at least three times. Well, at least that’s how many times it takes me to revise a single article for it to be considered sharable with public. You do not revise just to eliminate spelling and grammar mistakes per se, although those are just as good as any reason. You revise to economize your words, make sentences more interesting, and just to improve what you have said already in a way that reinforces the David Foster Wallace quote I mentioned in the previous section.
Starting out, if you think revising three times is too much, then start off with revising at least once. Even that will considerably improve a certain piece of article/essay/post or whatever it is you are writing, I guarantee that!
Your first draft should be written freestyle. Don’t overthink it. It’s during the revisions that you really dig deeper and bring out the essence of a certain piece while getting rid of all the redundancies.
BONUS: DON’T QUIT!
You read it! Don’t quit guys! You will most definitely think of quitting when you first start writing, but that’s OK, and expected. Those who refuse to quit are the ones who make the coolest things happen in this world. Don’t be a quitter. Stick to it. Create your own pace, and improve at your own pace. But above all, do not quit. Keep going, keep writing, and soon you will fall in love with this craft, and you won’t even want to quit anymore! Because you know what? Writing is one of the most satisfying things one can ever do!
For the time being though, just believe what I am saying and keep going!
If you liked reading this post, you may also enjoy reading The Trials of Learning a New Skill and Overcoming Them.
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