I’m not the best writer in the world and I really only have a small list of people that I consider to be amazing writers. But I have been doing it for a while. Mainly because I enjoy the process, but also because it’s damn challenging. My personal programming blog (www.thatsoftwaredude.com) currently sits at almost 1000 articles and there’s a clear progression in overall quality if you were to look at the first 10 articles versus the last 10 articles.
Please don’t look at the first 10 articles. Needless to say, I’ve had a few years to analyze my writing and to come up with a writing process that suits my needs. And while every article written isn’t a mass hit with the world, a fair number have done very well.
Here are a few non-negotiables that I do daily to both improve the quality of my writing for the reader and to reduce the stress that comes with it for me personally.
Edit, edit, edit
Some people take editing to be a sinful task. They write a collective stream of conscious thought because that’s what the universe demanded of them. I heard a podcaster say that recently, and chuckled a bit. Because I edit, alot.
It’s not wrong what they said though. You can totally sit down, write 2000 words, and hope that it makes sense by the end of it. But why risk it. I edit for you the reader, and for myself as well. The work that you produce and send out into the world says alot about the person that you are. It speaks to your attention to detail and your overall professionalism.
Having said that, the first initial draft that I produce is definitely a non-cohesive stream of thought that sounds great in my head as I’m writing it. I typically will follow that stream to the end which might take a few hours to a few days in total.
Then, feeling proud, I put it aside for a while. I never publish immediately. Once I’ve recovered from the writing session, typically with food, I will come back and read the entire piece from the top down. And pretty much every single time without hesitation, every typo and grammatical error that I made appears before me as if by magic.
Sometimes I even leave out whole words in the rush of typing. Now, I tend to type relatively fast. My average, depending on hand temperature and caffeine levels, tends to sit at around 100WPM. Which is definitely the biggest cause of errors that I make. I have a fast typing speed, with a low accuracy rate.
But bad grammar can kill an amazing story almost instantly. I’ve seen it and I’ve done it myself many times. As a reader you are in the throws of a riveting tale in which the author is about to slay a dragon and level up on life, only to encounter a ‘…I conquered ny demons’.
So subtle, yet so powerful. When you write something, particularly something more creative, you want the reader to leave behind reality temporarily. You want them to be a part of your story and to relate and visualize as much as possible. The typo kills that by bringing them back into physical realm to correct the mishap.
And the same holds true for using punctuation. This is when high school English definitely comes into play. Having run on sentences or overdoing it with commas changes the way that people interact with the story. This is why giving your work a few hours to rest is important. You want to leave it behind just long enough to forget what you wrote that way you can read it just as your audience would.
Last tip on editing. Once you have done a complete run-through of your first draft content, do it just one more time before you send it off and ship it.
Keep it consistent
Sometimes it is hard to maintain a steady and cohesive narrative when telling a story. Both written or verbal, though we have a better grasp on the verbal. But by consistent I mean two things.
First, I mean consistent in terms of time. I’ve read a few articles in my day that had an underlying story that was fantastic. The only issue was that the author kept jumping around timelines without informing the reader. I’m sure those parts made perfect sense to them, particularly because its their story. But to me, I had to do the extra work and to piece together what I thought they meant.
It’s your story, and you can can write about the past, present and future as much as you want. Just be sure to mention it to the reader if it isn’t explicitly clear. A short “2 years ago” in front of a sentence can make a big difference compared to a “I once…”. I can picture 2 years ago, but I can only guess when “once” was.
And secondly, I also mean consistent in terms of selecting a single point of view. There’s a big difference between telling a story in which “I” did something versus a story where “You” do something versus a story where “they” did something. Sometimes you will switch perspectives half way through a piece completely changing the overall tone and narrative without even noticing it.
No perspective is wrong mind you. Choosing a first-person view can make for just as good a story as a third-person view. Just stick to one. This is sometimes why writing for a solid chunk of time with no interruption is important. This happens to me all the time.
I leave an article half written only to come back the following day and instead of continuing with why “I” did something, I suddenly change it to a “we” should do something and it almost feels like 2 completely different stories.
Do it everyday
This is the hardest part for most people, including myself. Everyone wants that killer idea that’s going to propel them into stardom overnight. So they wait until inspiration hits. They might be waiting a while depending on everything else going on in life.
My advice is to just write. If you are a good writer, then you can make any topic interesting. And if you aren’t a good writer, then the world isn’t going to criticize you too harshly or suffer in any way from your bad writing. But more importantly, it’s in writing the bad that you become good. And the more you do it, the easier it gets.
That tiny voice telling you that the topic is off or that there’s a better way of saying certain things loses its volume over time. Not to mention, that whether an article, blog post, story, etc is good, isn’t up to you. It’s up to the readers. Some of the best articles that I’ve written (to me) are some of my least read. And that’s totally fine. I still enjoyed writing them and partaking in the storytelling process.
On the opposite end, some of my most popular articles are the ones that I came up with on the spot and that just kind of wrote themselves almost. Those were fun too, but in a different way. It’s satisfying seeing other people enjoy your work and sharing their kind words about it.
Which brings me to my last point, and that’s that you should really be writing for the sake of attempting to tell a good story. You shouldn’t write to one day go viral or to trick an algorithm. And you shouldn’t “not” write, because you are amazing and can’t afford to make mistakes. You should just write and see if you can come up with a good tale that you enjoy sharing that perhaps others might enjoy reading.
So write frequently, write good, write bad (like this sentence), write thoughts and emotions, just write something and eventually the right audience will make its appearance and help to guide the rest of your work.