The Easiest Way to Become a Better Writer
“I’m an aspiring writer and I want to become better. What advice do you have for me?”
“Write more and read more.”
Great writers are not simply spawned into the world in the center of a library. They do not attract eyes to their pieces over night. Their writing does not flow like manna from Heaven upon command.
Becoming a better writer is a process of consumption, creation, consumption, and recreation.
Mastering writing well and quickly is a powerful skill. It’s being a quick and effective writer that has landed me some of the best opportunities in my life, like paid speaking engagements (side note: writing has done more for me here than podcast interviews and media appearances), consulting opportunities, and writing the foreword to a book by my hero. Yet, if you went back and looked at my writing a few years ago, it was abysmal. Despite the fact that I got good grades in writing classes, I didn’t know how to write for real people.
When asked how to become a more effective writer, I tell aspiring young people to simply, “write more and publish.”
As you write more, you’ll see your style improve.
People who want to master any kind of skill have to practice it regularly. Whether that’s basketball, public speaking, or writing well, you cannot become a master of any of these without regularly engaging in them.
When I get asked where to get ideas for writing, I tell them, “read more.”
My 2016 book The End of School came from such a process. I devoted myself to writing once a day for at least a month and was reading everything I could get my hands on pertaining to education in the weeks and months prior. What came out was an original amalgam based on everything I had recently read combined with the information I had already allowed to steep in my mind for years. And it was enough to publish as a book.
The Two Traps of Aspiring Writers
Aspiring writers tend to get trapped in one of two mindsets. They either get captured by a sort of perfectionism, concerned that, putting their writing into the ether for everybody to see, they may end up looking silly. They imagine the writer’s equivalent of standing in front of the 6th Grade class in their underpants while everybody laughs.
If not perfectionism, they get caught up with imposter syndrome. This is especially true for writers who struggle to discover topics on which they can write. Despite the fact that everything we know is a remix, they feel that they are frauds or incapable of writing well because they can only think of things based on what other people have written or done.
Both of these are a bunch of malarkey.
I’ve written elsewhere on how getting into a habit of writing can increase your self-efficacy and make you generally stronger and more effective at your work. This is particularly true if you publish your work openly. If you only journal to yourself but refuse to write publicly for the world, you may improve in your writing but simultaneously become more self-conscious of it.
Overcoming perfectionism is just a function of publishing openly. If you feel you are a perfectionist and this is keeping you from publishing openly, please take the time to go look at some of my original writings here and on www.ZakSlayback.com. This will take you back at least five years and you will see a marked improvement in my writing in that time (especially between 2012 and 2014).
I started writing more and for real people.
Also go ahead and take a look at the comments on those pieces. Do you see anybody saying how awful the writing is? No! In fact, in most cases, you don’t see comments at all.
The reality is that your perfectionism is rooted in a mis-placed self-importance. When you are starting out as a writer, most of the people who read your content are just your friends and family. They admire you for putting yourself out there (unless you come from a family of writers, you weirdo).
By the time you will have to worry about crowds of strangers reading your writing, you’ll be so improved that it won’t bother you at all.
Go ahead, click “publish.” It will feel that much better than leaving it for only yourself to see.
Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
“But I don’t have anything to write about!”
Don’t worry. Nobody does.
Especially in the worlds of nonfiction and blogging, most of the Greats built themselves up by rehashing and remashing other people’s work. They read a book that reminded them of a concept that they applied at work and distilled that concept into an original blog post. They wrote a teardown for a “how-to” article. They wrote a review of a book or a movie.
Nobody expects you to have anything terribly original at this point. So long as you aren’t plagiarizing, you’re okay.
What matters in getting started is getting started.
Here are two quick ways you can get started writing:
A) Write a blog post responding to this post. Tweet it at me @zslayback. I’ll take a look and RT it if I think it’s interesting.
B) Go to Quora.com. Sign up. Choose some topics you know something about. Write short answers about these. You can then republish these answers as blog posts.
Becoming a better writer is easy.
Find stuff to write about and start writing.
It’s those that stick at it who become great writers.
Go to www.ZakSlayback.com and join my email list for regular tips on becoming a better writer and accelerating your career. I’ll send you a copy of my favorite book for free.