How to Become a Better Writer
1. Don’t Write
Especially if you don’t have anything long-term, then you don’t need planning, you don’t need daily writing and you can be sure that motivational posters with Hemingway are totally unneeded.
Like Ryan Holiday, I believe that wanting to be a writer is mistake #1. I used to want to be a writer and the only thing that I got in return was countless blog posts full of useless information. It was only for the sake of my ego. It was writing for the sake of writing.
The paradigm in our culture seems to be shifting from “quality over quantity” to a productivity-obsession that hurts, first of all, our ability to communicate the really qualitative stuff. There are countless websites that send you countless emails written by countless individuals with the sole purpose of creating a buzz.
You don’t want to be that kind of writer. You don’t want to spend your time writing to say something instead of having something to write. And the issue is, most of us who imagine ourselves to be creators don’t have anything to write, to begin with. Even worse, the cultural advice sounds like “spend more time in your Mom’s basement. You have to write. You have to wake up at 5 AM in the morning and do some pushups then spend your entire day bleeding on the paper.”
It sounds cool to “bleed on the paper”, but if you don’t have any blood to begin with, the whole idea is counter-productive.
So don’t write. Observe and experience the world instead. Learn new skills. Do stupid things. Do smart things. Learn from others. Read books. But don’t be fooled into thinking that writing works like drawing, because, coming from someone who does both things, they don’t. You might get better at drawing trees if you draw them 1000 times, but you don’t get better at articulating your thoughts and ideas with words by typing. Having thoughts and ideas, however, works. And you don’t get them in your Mom’s basement.
2. Don’t Romanticize Writing
There is nothing cooler about being a writer than, say, anything else. Writing is not a whimsical battle. For most active writers, it’s a job, and most of the time, they write stuff they aren’t really interested in. Some people don’t even have the luxury of conceptualizing the possibility of writing anything because of their financial situation.
The tendency to romanticize something is, really, the active refusal of trying to understand it.
Good writing is hard. What takes practice (deliberate, smart and purposeful practice) is the ability to connect with the reader and to communicate effectively and beautifully what you have to say. As David Foster Wallace said:
“In my experience with students — talented students of writing — the most important thing for them to remember is that someone who is not them and cannot read their mind is going to have to read this. In order to write effectively, you don’t pretend it’s a letter to some individual you know, but you never forget that what you’re engaged in is a communication to another human being. The bromide associated with this is that the reader cannot read your mind. The reader cannot read your mind. That would be the biggest one.”
If you keep on romanticizing writing, you will miss the point that if people don’t understand you, it’s your fault and you need to improve. Yes, there is such thing as bad writers, good writers, and amazing writers, and if you don’t want to understand this, you’ll totally miss on the latter.
3. Write about what interests you
That is to say, don’t attempt making writing your major source of income, at least if you really like to write. The probability that your book is going to make you rich and famous is very low, and most people know this. That’s why, if you really want to write, you will be recommended to become something that implies writing but does not imply writing what you want. You will become a columnist, a journalist, a screenwriter or a simple content creator for more independent businesses. There is nothing wrong with these jobs, obviously, but you will spend way less time writing about what interests you or piques your curiosity than you think.
In order to get to a place in which you are engaged, you have to feel at least some small token of interest and challenge about the action you are trying to engage in. This means that real progress (at least in writing, I believe) is achieved when you care about the message you want to get across enough so that you will withstand the chaotic reality of your own insufficiencies.
This brings me back to the second point, because, if you don’t want to see that you have insufficiencies, to begin with, you will not improve, and no matter how great your message/story/idea is, if people cannot get it or don’t care, it will be wasted.
So, a great and simple place of improvement is just writing about stuff you’d like to learn more about, and, ideally, share it with a community of people who are interested in the same ideas/subjects. They can point out mistakes and help you be less horrible.
4. Learn vocabulary and spell-check more often
Vocabulary matters, because, in some contexts, some particular words are better than others in conveying a certain idea. Besides, you get the benefit of improving your ability to verbally articulate ideas by becoming more sophisticated, eloquent and coherent.
If nobody ever told you this, words are important, because they are a standard we adhered to as a community of humans a very long time ago and it makes access to people way easier.
When it comes to spell-checking, this is something that I struggle with, to be honest. While you could read badly spelled sentences (and sometimes, without even a struggle), you have to bear in mind that people’s proclivity to judge you in a satirical manner is forever present and it has the ability to damage your reputation.
Sometimes, simply by checking for mistakes one more time could make a difference in how a percentage of your readers perceives your article, and it could lead to better communication, which is, what we are trying to do.