I recently got asked by a friend how to unlock their best writing. I am surely not the best writer but here are the points I sent in a text message:
- Write more. Bad writing is required to get to good writing. Sometimes it’s an out of touch problem. Sometimes your mind needs five pages to get to a sentence that cracks open the creative doors. But, if you don’t give yourself permission to get to page 5, bad writing will continue.
- Import good writing. Good writing comes from good reading. So, read Paul Graham, Jane Austen, Anne Lamott, whatever writers get you to think deeply about the words in a sentence; read them. It’s difficult to write beautifully without seeing beauty first.
- Write a shitty first draft and poeticize it after versus trying to poeticize first. If the bar for your writing is perfection on draft one, the writing will never be its best. When editing other people's work, it's easier to write better because you are working with something semi-polished. Now, you’re building your own piece, from a blank page, something far more difficult.
- Make use of the storyboard. Good storyboards provide the points and structure so writing an essay is more formatting than creating new words. To write one, you'll need to know the points you want to include and their order. Write bullets underneath with a rough sentence structure you'd like to follow. Include what you still need to research or figure out before the storyboard is finished and complete that before re-storyboarding. The re-storyboard validates that after all the pieces you want to include are in the essay, the flow makes sense. Bad flow makes for churny readers.
- Prioritize great ideas over great writing. Thanksgiving offers a nice analogy here. Ideas are the turkey, writing is the gravy. You need a great turkey first, otherwise you'll be left eating only the gravy. And, gravy is sugary nor does it taste good after two or three bites. Also, people can eat the turkey without the gravy. In writing, I think people prefer novel, profound ideas (turkey) over their packaging (gravy). Now this isn't to say that bad writing with great ideas is ok. It has to be good enough to be understood.
- Cut more than you write. Each word in a sentence should have a reason for existing.
- Create a checklist. What needs to be true before you release a piece?
- Build a writing advisory board. Find a good thinker, because they'll challenge the ideas you've written about. Find someone who effortlessly connects ideas to words. Find another person who has good taste and is finicky about what they like. And, find a champion who will always support your writing. You can choose how to run this board but each person should receive/edit your drafts.
Find me @zaynpatels on twitter or send me an email: [email protected]