5 writing tips for non-writers from a writer
Writing is a skill. Like any skill, with practice, you can become good at it. If you don’t believe you can write, you first need to start believing that you can. You also need to have a process.
This may seem counter-intuitive. How can something that is creative require process? You need to set the right conditions in which you can be creative. These will be different for each person but, once you’ve set your conditions, as you practice writing these conditions will become triggers that put you in the zone for writing.
Embrace being anti-social
Writing for me was once a stressful thing. I’d worry about the fact that I needed to write and that made me anxious. If you’re anxious, writing becomes hard. You need to be relaxed. I now enjoy the solitude of writing. It’s a self-absorbed, anti-social activity needing absolute focus.
You need to make sure that you have zero distractions. Relish the excuse to switch off your email, notifications and all social media distractions until you are done. Go to the toilet, make a coffee, shut the door on the world and enjoy having focus.
I use music to block out distractions. It does vary a bit but mostly I listen to a writing playlist. I know that the instant I put it on on my mind will put itself where I need it to be creative.
Set a timer
When you start on your first draft, set yourself a target of either time or number of words. I usually opt for time as my ability to have absolute focus is generally limited to an hour or so at a time. Resist the temptation to do anything other than write. If you find yourself thinking about doing the washing-up, opening your email, or checking Facebook acknowledge that you are actively searching for a distraction and push it to one side. Your only job is to keep writing until you hit your target.
Switch off your inner critic
When I discovered this technique, it transformed my ability to write. Your first draft needs to be instinctual, so switch off your inner critic. Don’t re-write paragraphs, change words or worry about punctuation or spelling. Don’t be tempted to go back and change your headline or your intro because you’ve had a new idea. Let your sub-conscious take control and simply write until you hit your target.
Write with the end in mind
Your writing needs purpose. What do you want your readers to learn or understand, or what action do you want them to take? Without purpose your blog will wander and lack clarity. When you have completed your first draft it’ll be ugly but that’s ok. Your next job is to work back through it and edit.
Start by looking at the big picture. Is that one thing that you want your readers to take away absolutely clear? If not, re-work until it is. Then trim out the excess by making every paragraph, then every sentence, and then every word count. Quite often, at this point, you’ll find that you can cut your first paragraph and get straight into the main thrust of your article.
Don’t write like a Cambridge scholar
For some reason, when people first put pen to paper, they adopt a tone of voice that isn’t theirs. They use big words and long sentences. They pepper their work with unnecessary punctuation. If you struggle to find your voice, try using a voice memo app first. Speak your blog out loud then when you write it down you’ll naturally find your own voice.
Also, don’t obsess about punctuation and grammar, it is not critical if your writing delivers value. Effective communication is about so much more than whether you should use a colon or semi-colon. Personality and delivering value will override accuracy. You’d best check your spelling before publishing, but don’t let technical hang-ups get in the way of writing. If you do feel you want to brush up on your grammar ‘Eats, shoots and leaves’ is a classic. Alternatively ask a friend or colleague to proofread it for you.
These are some of the things that put me in the zone for writing. What helps you get in the right headspace for writing?