10 Writing Tips I Gathered Reading The Promised Land by Barack Obama
Regardless of which side of the political aisle you’re on, I think we can agree that former President Barack Obama is a talented orator. He has a gift for speaking and writing.
I watched Barack Obama’s 60 Minutes interview and learned that he has a new book out, The Promised Land, a memoir about his road to the White House, and life after being the 44th President of the United States.
Barack Obama’s autobiography is fascinating as I knew it would be. What I was pleasantly surprised to discover are the writing insights peppered throughout his book.
Of course I’m inspired to do my public service duty and share the tips I gathered with you!
#1 — Active Reading.
Barry’s mother taught him to not only read, but to actively read by reporting back to her what he learned.
If you want to be a professional writer, reading is a requirement.
Reading is not a problem for me and I doubt it is a problem for you. You are proving right now that you like to read for learning and pleasure.
The problem is active reading (instead of skimming, admit it, you skim, I skim, our Medium stats prove most readers do!), highlighting memorable points or taking notes, putting what we learn into action, and knowing when to stop reading and start writing!
#2 — Write in longhand.
Just in case you’re wondering if anyone writes in longhand anymore, former President Barack Obama does!
An advantage of writing longhand is you don’t have to worry about online distractions. I am very comfortable typing as I have been doing it since high school journalism in the late 70’s and can type almost as fast as I think, so it’s not a problem for me, but I still like to scratch out my ideas in longhand.
There is a deeper mind, body, soul connection when I write in longhand versus typing or pecking words out on my smart phone.
#3 — Create a clear outline.
Remember speech class? We got graded on our outline. I think as writers we still do! An outline assures you cover all the topics you want or need to and remember the important points.
A clear outline also helps your writing flow more easily from one topic to the next.
#4 — Keep a journal.
I’m not surprised to discover that Barack keeps a journal. Most successful people I’ve studied consistently journal and write clear, specific goals to keep moving forward with their dream and vision.
A journal is a great place to store ideas and thoughts of the day that may come in handy when you create your memoir. Whenever I read my journals, I am reminded of events and details I had completely forgotten.
Journaling is also cathartic and provides insight to your current mindset. If your journal writing is slithering into the abyss, it’s time to consider the next tip…
#5 — Get out and live a little.
Barack Obama has lived outside his comfort zone a lot and has many rich stories to share as a result.
We writers tend to be more comfortable living in our head than the real world. But, the more we go out, experience life, and help others along the way, the more fulfilled we become, and the more vibrant our stories will be.
#6 — Use your voice.
I notice that Barack Obama’s voice is the same whether he is addressing kids, reporters, officials, fans, or haters. That is a gift he continues in his book.
The Promised Land feels like listening to an old friend talk about his greatest adventures. You can’t help but be spellbound and excited for future leaders his stories inspire.
Mr. Obama could have easily hired a ghost writer and narrator, but he wrote his story and reads it for us. That personal touch is magic for fans!
#7 —The Hero’s Journey keeps readers engaged.
The call to adventure, the mentors that helped along the way, overcoming challenges, revelations, returning home, sharing his gifts…
I can see The Hero’s Journey at work in this book. It reminds me that even memoirs need an arc to keep the story moving and readers turning the page.
Joseph Campbell would be proud.
#8 — Writing takes longer than you think. Don’t rush it.
Barack said he thought it would take a year to write this book. He started writing it about a month after leaving office in January 2017. It was published November 2020.
Three times longer than you think to write and publish a book? Sounds about right to me!
As indie authors, we can rush a book to market if we want to, but are we willing to pay the price of disappointed fans, one-star reviews, or dismal sales?
I have found the books I publish in a hurry often need revised. Typos, grammatical errors, important details left out. It would have been better to take my time writing it and find a good editor in the first place.
Hard lessons learned.
#9 — Keep it raw and real.
Barack shares stories of the toll his political career took on his marriage. Often when we write, we are not sure how much to share to make our point. We don’t want to hurt our loved ones feelings so we hold back.
There is definitely a fine line when it comes to writing memoirs, but the more raw and real we keep our writing, the more our readers resonate with us. No longer are we up on a pedestal or otherwise not relatable, we are human dealing with some of the same real life issues.
I’m reminded of the Paris Hilton documentary, This is Paris. Before watching that documentary, I thought Paris was a spoiled rich kid growing up. After watching her keep it raw and real in the documentary, I see her in a whole different light. Her mess has turned into a message of hope for abused kids.
Yes, we may expose sensitive information or family secrets in our writing, but in doing so we may also help begin to heal heart wounds in ourselves and others.
#10 — Leave them wanting more.
I never want a good book to end. The subtitle of The Promised Land is “The Presidential Memoirs Volume 1.” Does that mean there are more memoirs to come? I hope so. We need more stories like this to inspire the next generation of writers, leaders, and positive change makers.
The Promised Land exceeded my expectations by providing so many great writing insights. Look out Stephen King, I think Barack Obama On Writing could become the next best writer resource!