12 Writing Tips I’ve Learned After 20 Books and 3,000 Articles Over 20 Years
As much as we might think the written word is slowly being phased out in favor of video, right now we are writing more than ever before, both in general communication and in sharing information through content. But very few people are actually taught to write the type of copy that we have to produce these days.
I write a lot. I write books, blog posts, magazine articles, newspaper columns, and much more. I've learned a lot, to the point where now I teach people to write and publish everything from books to blogs.
The following 12 tips have really helped me over the last 20 years, and they might prove helpful to you.
1. Always visualize a person who is your ideal niche whenever you write
For example, when I am writing an article for a small-business audience, I put a picture of three small-business owners whom I know on my computer and I write as if I were sitting and talking to them (in fact, as if I were sitting and having a cup of coffee with them).
2. To keep continuity with your writing voice, at the beginning of each session, go back and read what you wrote last time
This is a great tip to ensure that your writing style and voice stay constant. Great writers and popular columnists have a consistent voice and your writing will develop the same style if you follow this tip.
3. Don't waste a whole session on a piece that isn't working
I often used to spend a whole day trying to write a chapter for a book or an article, only to end up totally frustrated and no closer to being finished. For whatever reason, it just didn't work. Now if I am writing something and it isn't working, I give it 15 minutes, then I move on and go back to it another day. I find that when I go back to it, it is easy to write (which is really frustrating for other reasons).
4. Keep an anecdote and story list
Any writer will tell you just how important it is to have stories and anecdotes in your writing, but the problem is that it's hard to remember all of the stories we have in history. Start a list of all your anecdotes, stories, observations, etc., and keep adding to it. This become very handy when sitting down to write your piece, you can simply flick through your list and find the stories that will make your article perfect.
5. Don't multitask when you write
It is impossible to write your best words while multitasking. As an experiment, I have tried doing this many times, and I have no doubt that it can't be done. Sure, you can write an article while doing emails, but will it be your best work? Probably not. When you write, write and do nothing else.
6. Use Evernote all day long (or a notebook)
I am thinking of ideas for articles, books, and blog posts all day, every day. I use Evernote (or a notebook) to jot down these ideas. I keep a list "Article Ideas"--at present it has 700 ideas on it. I never struggle to come up with an idea for an article because I'm always looking, noting, and observing. On average I would add between five and 10 article ideas daily, so there is little chance of my ever running out of ideas.
7. If you struggle with perfectionism, engage an editor
I went through a stage where I was spending way too long on each article. I was struggling with perfectionism (which is actually a convenient form of procrastination) and my articles were never finished. So I engaged a wonderful editor. I wrote my article and sent the rough version to her, and she edited it and sent it back to me to approve or reject the changes. This cost me $10 per article, and I used her for a year--the best money I ever spent. Eventually my confidence was back, and I no longer needed her services
8. Don't just write what is safe
I had the great pleasure of seeing Seth Godin in Sydney recently and he said something that really resonated with me: "If you are just writing to get 'shares' or 'likes,' you are writing too safe and too conservatively. If we really want to connect and engage our community, we have to be prepared to write content that is not popular, but it needs to be written."
9. Retrain everyone around you
In my little world, everyone knows when I am in book-writing mode--and they are trained to leave me alone. All I have to say is "I'm writing this weekend" and they get the message loud and clear. We need to enlist the support of our family, friends, and colleagues--otherwise they can start to get into the bad habit of dropping by for a coffee because you are not doing anything important--just writing.
10. Figure out when you write your best words
I used to write really well late at night. I would turn up the music and lose myself in my writing. Of course the neighbors were none to happy. These days, I'm in bed by 9 p.m., but up at 5 a.m. and ready to write. Figure out your best writing zone and make the most of it.
11. Read other writers material, not for the content but for the style
When I started writing I became intrigued by other people's writing style. How did they get their points across, how did they tell stories, how did they open, and how did they close? I became a student of other writers--and I suggest you do too. Read from a range of areas--newspapers, magazines, blogs, etc., and read for material that is intended for a range of markets. You will find authors you really like--and whom you can learn from.
12. Be very selective about whom you ask for feedback on your writing
Not everyone is qualified to give you advice when it comes to your writing. Be careful of one-person surveys that see you rewriting thousands of words based on what one person says. Learn to believe in yourself and get good at knowing what is good writing and what is not.