Learning how to write properly is the first step every aspiring author, blogger or freelancer takes.
Creatives approach the blank page for different reasons. Some want to make an impact with their work, while others have a story to share. Some writers want to get paid for their work, and it's for a goal, like writing a novel.
All are valid reasons. If you want to learn how to write, let's cover the basics.
Let's dive in.
1. Begin With Your Readers In Mind
The writer who starts a project without knowing what they want to accomplish will find their work hard, slow and awkward.
Deciding your work's purpose or beginning with the end in mind, before you put words onto the blank page, will give confines within which to write. It will give you a goal to write towards. It will help you finish what you started.
Remember, most readers are hungry for information and a new perspective, which you have. It helps write to one person, an ideal reader or a friend.
2. Pick a Type and Niche
What's you preferred means of expression? Perhaps it's a short story, blog post or even a long-form essay? Many creatives want to learn how to write a book, for example.
Once you know what your writing project will look like, consider the conventions of your preferred genre.
Do enjoy confessional writing, thrillers or horror? Or perhaps this is for a client who has specific guidelines.
3. Write Consistently
The easiest way to learn how to write, like any skill, is to turn up and start. So, open up your calendar and block book a set time each morning or evening for when you'll sit down in front of the computer or a blank page and write.
You don't need to write for hours either. Start with fifteen minutes a day. Or pick a set word-count, like 500-words. Now, keep your daily appointment.
4. Track Your Work
If you're a new writer or working on a first draft, I recommend tracking your daily word-count in a simple spreadsheet.
Note the day, time and how much you wrote. This type of self-quantification will help you figure out if you're writing as much as you think you are and act accordingly. It will also help you work towards a writing or word-count goal.
If you're a more experienced writer, you may find it useful to track time spent writing also as this allows for editing and revisions too.
Lots of apps like Rescue time can do this for you if a spreadsheet isn't your thing.
Many writers get easily distracted by the news, social media and even family when it's time to work. It this happens to you, learn how to focus by using the Pomodoro Technique.
Essentially, it involves writing for 25-30 minutes and timing each session. After the timer sounds, take a short break. Then, repeat three to four times before taking a longer break.
Noise-cancelling headphones and white noise can also help trigger a flow state necessary for the writing process.
6. Read Great Writing Books
New writers can easily learn from their betters. From Stephen King to Virginia Woolfe, many of the top writers have written and published books about the craft.
The best writing books are full of inspirational stories and advice for new writers. You can learn a lot from them about the craft.
7. Take a Writing Course
Creatives can choose from a plethora of online writing courses. You can study from great writers on the likes of Masterclass from the comfort of your home.
I've also taken lots of in-person writing courses and attended many different types of writing workshops. These types of classes are good too but don't wait until you take one before starting to write.
8. Study Good Writing
Books and courses from other writers are great but don't go too far down the rabbit hole of instructional advice. Consider the books and stories you enjoy reading from different genres or niches. Underline key passages and sentences in these books. Take them apart to figure out how the writer put them together.
For example, many new writers find writing out the first few pages of their favorite book or an entire short story helpful as it forces them to engage deeply with the piece.
9. Free write
It's easy to procrastinate about writing and put it off until you get the right computer or have a great idea. Instead, consider free writing. It involves sitting down and writing for a pre-determined period without pause or interruption about whatever comes to mind.
Don't stop to self-edit yourself either. All of that can come later. The goal of free writing to teach yourself the art of expression via the written word. This method will also help you beat writer's block.
10. Build a System for Story Ideas
Writers are always on the lookout for free material. If you need a story idea in a hurry, it's usually hard to find one.
Instead, take regular notes about topics you come across, or that come to mind. Read through these old notes regularly and use what stands out.
11. Separate Writing and Editing
Writing employs a different part of the brain to editing. To write effectively means saying goodbye to your inner censor and getting ideas onto the page. To edit effectively means reading through a rough draft and fixing anything that isn't clear, accurate or concise.
Doing both at the same time is a recipe for stress. I usually write in the morning and edit in the later afternoon.
12. Remove Filler Words
Most people's writings are full of redundancies that they can remove or strengthen. If you want to become a better writer, remove some of the below words from the next piece you write:
- Sometimes or somedays
- Better or best
Remember: Shorter sentences are usually better. If you need help with this process of elimination, check out Hemingway App.
13. Use a Grammar Checker
Many writers get hung up on typos and grammar mistakes. While it's a good idea to fix these, you can also break the rules assuming it's intentional and adheres to the house style guide of the publication you're writing for.
If you need help, use a grammar checker. They'll find and fix grammar errors and provide context, so you can spend less time worrying about grammar mistake and more time writing.
14. Inform Your Readers
Informing your readers means peppering your writing with research and facts that build credibility.
If you’re writing for a publication, your editor will provide you with clear directions about what your writing should achieve and how you can give your readers what they want.
When I worked as a freelance journalist, I often received detailed briefs from editors explaining the topic I should cover, who I should interview and how long the piece should be.
Even if you’re not working for an editor, consider yourself as a journalist who must examine a single topic with an unblinking gaze. As a journalist, you must be clear and level headed in your writing.
Put some distance between your point of view and the facts. Informative writing means you’ll be spending time interviewing experts and finding out facts and other pieces of information that your readers will be interested in.
15. Educate Your Readers
Educating your reader means adopting a personal and helpful tone. Put your hand around your reader’s shoulder, and say ‘This isn’t so hard to achieve, I can help you.’
Examples of educational writing include tutorials, step-by-step articles, how-to guides, and even this article.
You don’t have to be an expert to educate your readers either.
Consider the curious case of the teenage maths student struggling with a difficult equation. Instead of asking the teacher for advice, he turns to his friend and asks him how to solve the equation.
In this case, the teenage maths student feels more comfortable asking his friend for advice because he can relate to his friend. He can relate to his friend because the two of them are at similar points along their learning journey.
Use this principle to relate to your readers even if you’re not an expert.
If you are going to write an educational article, pick a writing tip below:
- Use clear and simple instructions the reader can follow. If you’ve ever read the instruction manual for an old appliance, you will appreciate how frustrating ambiguous instructions are.
- Provide practical tips free of jargon or opinion. This way, the reader can learn from your knowledge and decide for themselves what to do next.
- Use metaphors the reader relates to. A metaphor is a clever way of relating a concept to an everyday object or action. For example, “Running a blog is a lot like servicing a car because…” or “Writing a book is a lot like laying bricks because…”
- Encourage the reader to persevere even when they feel like giving up. Remind the reader you were a beginner once too, and then show them what success looks like.
16. Inspire Your Readers
Inspiring readers is a different type of writing altogether. Often, this means drawing on personal stories and passions in your writing. It means invoking an emotion or change in your reader.
It means persuading them to take action and even pushing them over the edge if they don’t.
To inspire your readers, consider what your readers should feel after reading your work or what they should take away from your writing.
Play on their fears and hopes.
Paint a version of hell that they should avoid or describe a vision of the future as you see it. Give your readers specific examples of how you can both move towards your version of heaven together.
The most famous example of inspirational writing is Martin Luther King’s I have a Dream speech.
Here, King paints his dream” that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
17. Entertain Your Readers
Entertaining the reader means drawing on personal stories that only you can tell. Yes, you can use humor, anecdotes, and clever wordplay, but story is king. It’s the way we make sense of the world, and it’s what people turn to when they want to escape from their problems.
Perhaps the best way to entertain your readers is to tell a captivating story. I recommend reading Story by Robert McKee and studying the inciting incident.
If you to learn about story faster, one of the simplest and the best storytelling concepts is this six sentence fill-in-the-blanks template created by Pixar Studios.
Once upon a time there was…Every day…One day…Because of that…Because of that …Until finally …
Here’s how this story-telling template works for the popular animated Pixar film Finding Nemo via Dan Pink:
Once upon a time there was … a widowed fish, named Marlin, who was extremely protective of his only son, Nemo. Every day … Marlin warned Nemo of the ocean’s dangers and implored him not to swim far away.
One day… in an act of defiance, Nemo ignores his father’s warnings and swims into the open water. Because of that… he is captured by a diver and ends up in the fish tank of a dentist in Sydney.
Because of that… Marlin sets off on a journey to recover Nemo, enlisting the help of other sea creatures along the way.
Until finally… Marlin and Nemo find each other, reunite and learn that love depends on trust.
How to Write: The Final Word
Great writing entertains, educates, informs or inspires readers.
A news story is informative because it tell the reader something important about a current event.
A tutorial is educational because it explains to readers how to accomplish a task.
A short story is entertaining because it gives the reader a place to which they can escape from their troubles.
A self-help book is inspirational because it shows readers how they can change their lives for the better.
If you want to learn how to write, decide if you want to entertain, inform, educate or inspire your reader. As a professional writer, you don’t have to achieve all four every time. But, strive towards improving with each piece.
Now all you have to do is start.
How Do I begin to Write?
Pick one idea, sit down and write about whatever comes to mind for fifteen or twenty minutes. Ideally, work in a quiet place where you won't be interrupted. While working, don't worry about the beginning or the ending of your piece. Let the words flow without stopping to edit yourself or fix mistakes. When you're done, take a short break. Then repeat. If you do this for several days, you'll have more than enough material to edit.
How can I teach myself to write?
The best way to teach yourself to write is through dedicated practice. Write often and consistently at the same time and place each day. Share your work with friends, family and start publishing it online. Get feedback from other writers and readers. Read great writing books, study what works and apply these lessons to your craft. When you've a bit more money invest in an online writing course or hire a professional editor.
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