I’ve been reading some advice from successful writers lately and exploring what their routines are like to see what I can learn about them.
Here are six of the most common pieces of advice I came across that have helped me a lot improving my writing here at Buffer.
It also features actionable tips for you on how to implement them in your own writing.
1. The best ways to get over the “blank page hurdle”
I write because it comes out — and then to get paid for it afterwards? I told somebody, at some time, that writing is like going to bed with a beautiful woman and afterwards she gets up, goes to her purse and gives me a handful of money. I’ll take it. — Charles Bukowski
Unlike Charles Bukowski, writing well doesn’t come so easily for a lot of us (including me). It takes a lot of mental energy, strains your working memory and often makes you feel vulnerable if you try to be open and honest in your work.
The pure effort of writing is hard enough, but coupled with the pain of putting your work out into the world and letting others judge it, this can be enough to stop you from getting started at all.
The trick to overcoming this isn’t easy, but it’s surprisingly effective: give yourself permission to write badly, and just start.
Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird wrote an excellent essay on why writers must start with horrible drafts:
I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much.
Anne’s essay makes me feel much better about the hard work of writing great content, as she makes it clear that all great writers struggle with their first drafts:
We all often feel like we are pulling teeth, even those writers whose prose ends up being the most natural and fluid.
So to get over the biggest hurdle–the blank page–just get writing. Don’t be afraid that your draft might be bad (it probably will be, but that’s okay.)
Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something – anything – down on paper.
(Great infographic from Copyblogger)
2. Discard clichés: How to stop writing like “you’re meant to write”
Down with the cliché! If only it were that easy. Clichés surround us, and it’s surprisingly hard to avoid using them.
Put simply, in writing, clichés are bland and overused phrases that fail to excite, motivate, and impress your readers or prospective buyers. (6)
Clichés dominate our language both in speaking and writing. This is because we hear them all the time, so they become the first phrases that come to mind when we want to express ourselves. Which is exactly why they’re a problem:
Given that clichés are the phrases that have struck our eardrums uncountable times, we either don’t associate them with particular ideas and products, or we associate many products and ideas with a particular cliché.
The fact that clichés are so generic you can attach them to any idea makes them ineffective. (6)
This actually has a lot to do with how we take in words and phrases when we read. The more familiar a term or phrase becomes, the more often we start skipping over it as we read, rendering it ineffective.
The best way to avoid this problem is to use different language to explain familiar concepts.It’s a careful balancing act between being so different that your readers are turned off by the effort of understanding your content and being so familiar that your work becomes trite.
In other words, your audience has to feel your content is new, but also credible. (7)
3. Don’t make it sound like writing, instead “Write like you speak”
It is only by writing, not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style. — P.D. James
Novelist and screenwriter Elmore Leonard knew how important the reader was. More important than his English Composition teachers, that’s for sure. He never let “proper” writing get in the way of telling a great story and making it engaging for the reader.
If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. — Elmore Leonard
Writing like you speak is harder than it might sound. For some reason, it’s easy to “put on” a tone when you start writing, without even realising it. This is something I’m still working on, and it takes a lot of practice.
In Kurt Vonnegut’s list of rules for writing with style, he explains how much better his writing is when it sounds the way he talks:
I myself find that I trust my own writing most, and others seem to trust it most, too, when I sound most like a person from Indianapolis, which is what I am.
One thing that’s really helped me to improve in this area is a trick that Leo taught me:imagine someone sitting in front of you as you type, and write as if you’re talking to them.
Continue reading # 4-6 here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/belle-beth-cooper/6-of-the-best-pieces-of-a_b_4628690.html