Mar 27, 2017. 7 things for non-writers that will make you write better!

Hello!

So a funny thing happened. Last time I asked you guys what I could write about in subsequent essays. And three of you asked me to write about how to write! Three requests for the same thing in the same week. Now that’s something cool and something that I know I cant stop talking about.

And here I am. Please know that unlike other essays where I try and distill what smart people think, this time I am trying to make a list of things that I believe will help you. Also, rather than doing a long-drawn narrative and essay and anecdotes and all that, I am going to use the click-bait-y listicle format.

But before I get into is, what makes me qualified to write about writing? Two things.

  1. A book — irrespective of the fact that there are as many typos as there are stars in the sky.
  2. The mountain of 1500 odd blogposts that I’ve written over the last 13 years.

Wait. But why would you want to write? And write well? Thing is, not all of us may want to be Chetan Bhagats or Amish Tripathis and make a living out of what we write. We may not even want to be famous. But in the world we live in, communication is super important and we HAVE to be able to communicate our thoughts. And because writing is such a potent tool — it has its advantages and disadvantages over other mediums like speech, video etc — it makes sense to have some command over it.

Plus, more than merely communicating, writing allows me to get clarity in my head. I can structure my thoughts in a logical flow. I can revisit what I was thinking and add more to it. I also tend to retain things that I write down. And the best part, it something that will last forever. Well, till the Big Bang reaches its conclusion — whatever it is. So I have this philosophical shot at immortality.

So, without any further ado, here’s my list of 7 things for non-writers that will make you write better.

a. Ignore the language barrier.

If English is not your first language (assuming you would write in English), do not fret. Think in your mother tongue, translate in English and write away. Agreed you will make mistakes. And thats ok. Most great things that us humans have discovered have happened because we mad mistakes.

I say, its ok to butcher the grammar. Some people may not comprehend what you’ve written, Grammar Nazis would scorn at you — but that’s ok. Remember what Anton says about critics? The idea is not let language play the villain and prevent you from writing. Even if no one understands, you do it, you write for the sake of writing. And for yourself.

Of course with time, you need to work on it and get better. But, you have to start. Even if English is not your first language.

b. quantity vs quality

I am a very very strong believer in quantity. And I know that quality follows.

It has to. By sheer law of averages. They even have a theorem for it — the infinite monkey theorem. And the “principle” is valid in anything that you can think of. Throw a thousand darts at a board and one will hit the bullseye. Buy enough lottery tickets and you will get lucky. It’s as finite as maths and physics. And its starts with writing. A lot. Quantity. Write a lot and you will become a better writer.

How much is a lot? We’d come to it in a bit.

c. Share it with the world (feedback loop)

More than writing a lot and burying the text in a deep cave, expose it. Get it in front of people who read. And then ask for feedback. Still better, identify 5 people who want to see you succeed. Share everything you write with them and pester them to give feedback until they ask you to f*$% off.

And once you get feedback, do whatever it takes to implement it. And then repeat.

Plus, more you write, better you get. Better you get, more “positive” feedback you get. More encouragement you get, you start to write more. It’s a circle. It starts from writing more. And sharing more. If shame is your thing, the first few requests for review will be painful and you’d have to be ready to listen to all sort of things. And after that, it gets better from there. Slowly each critic will become a supporter and a time shall come when you’d actually see that your pen is mightier than the proverbial sword!

d. 1000 words a day

How much is a lot? A 1000 words a day is enough. Anything more than that is a lot.

In fact, if I could give just one advice, I’d say you write a thousand words each day. On any topic. In whatever order. On an average. As long as you write every day its ok to write 10 words a day or 10000 words a day. But you have to average a 1000 a day. Everyday. For the rest of your life. To the day you die. Even if you are on a holiday. Or when you are unwell. You write. On the day you get married. On the day you get fired from job. The day when you get a new home. The day when the book comes out. You dont have a pen? Borrow one. But write.

It has to become second nature. It has to become akin to breathing. You cant live without breathing. Well, try to reach a point where you can’t live without writing.

e. Start with Bullet points

Whatever you want to write — fiction, non-fiction, you can break the entire thing into an outline. And outlines are like bullet points. So, start with bullet points.

And then expand each bullet point into a line. And then expand that line into a paragraph. In some cases, stretch that paragraph over multiple paragraphs. May be carve chapters out of those paras. And so on and so forth. Till you have your book ready. And then the next book. And the next. And so on.

You would soon realise that its not too tough to write.

f. Write for that one person

Even though you may want the world to read what you’ve written, always assume that you are writing for just one person.

Think of it like writing a love letter. To your beloved that you (hopefully) know all about. So when you write that love letter, you often use inside jokes that no one else knows of, you are not afraid to make generalizations, you are happy to bare your soul and so on and so forth. Most importantly, you’re not trying to make everyone happy — which is near impossible. Even Lord Rama, Homer J Simpson or even Barack H Obama couldn’t make everyone happy. Who are you then?

The point is, for every piece you write, always have a picture of a person in mind before you write. If you can make that one person happy, you’ve done your job.

Take this piece for example. I am trying to make JS happy — he asked me that he wants to publish a non-fiction book and wanted tips. Here are 7 tips, Jas. He has to be happy. If I make others happy, thats like cherry on the cake!

g. Use simple words

While fancy words make your pieces look stylish, they often do not add any value to the reader. To me, fancy words are a sign of vulgar display of the gift of grammar. And you know what we think of vulgarity. So, you better avoid that. Even if you are a celebrated literary author (assuming celebrated authors read tips).

Thats it. Seven simple things to help you write. Better.

And like all weeks, I am going to end this with a task. Write a 1000-word piece on a topic of your choice. And share it back with me? And with 4 other people that want to see you succeed?

Until next time!

Note: This is a slightly edited version of a weekly email that I send to a few friends and select contacts. It typically contains a summary of things that I’ve picked over the week gone by. There are days (like today) when I try and peddle gyaan on things that I believe I have some “authority” over. Either ways, I try and make sure that each of these letters makes you smarter, more aware and thus, better. Thanks for tolerating these.

Older letters are archived here.

If you’d want to get these emails, do write in and I will add you to the list.

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