Have you ever sat down to write and thought, “Writing is hard!” and then reached over to retrieve an old Radio Shack circular that you’d thrown in the trash, because it seemed imperative that you read it immediately?
Or when you know something’s due in an hour, do you suddenly decide that now would be the perfect time to gather up some old clothes for Goodwill? You aren’t alone.
Writing pretty much sucks for everyone. Why do you think so many famous writers have or have had major drinking problems? I mean, sure, part of that is because a lot of writers are already tortured souls, but another part is that writing makes us feel vulnerable, miserable, anxious, and critical of ourselves and we look for ways to blot that out.
Even the best and most prolific writers hate getting started. There’s nothing like a blank new document to make you feel that anything you write is going to be less than great — definitely worse than that other thing you wrote when you were feeling much more inspired right? I can’t help you actually sit your butt down in the chair to write, but if you can get yourself there, I have a few writing tips to help make what you do write better.
1. Be brave
Say something other people are afraid to say. It’s hard to put yourself out there in your writing but honestly, it’s the only stuff that matters.
2. Don’t be afraid of negative comments
This is easier said than done, but if you are going to follow the above tip, you will have to follow this one as well. People who leave negative comments on the Internet are often a-holes. I wrote a post about children’s books I don’t like that was linked on HuffPo (where it got a lot of stranger traffic), and a woman commented that she was a preschool teacher for 26 years and she knew for a fact that she would’ve hated my kids. I was like, “Whaaaaa?” I mean, sure you’re welcome to think I’m a horrible person because I disagree with you on whether or not Love You Forever should be a literary classic, but now you hate my kids? Crazy, right? Yes, but totally typical for the hate-fest that will greet you in comment forums when you post anything opinionated or extremely honest. Do it anyway!
3. Don’t apologize
Don’t say, “It’s just my opinion” or “Sorry if this offends anyone” or anything else that lessens the impact of what you have to say. If you have to apologize, might as well not say it.
4. Make yourself laugh
If you are writing humor (and writing can always use humor) try to make yourself laugh. I always find that when I have a little chuckle at something I’ve written, that’s the stuff that will make someone else chuckle. If I’m not even smiling, chances are others won’t be amused. Then again, I’m my own harshest critic, so maybe people are finding it funny anyway. But I assure you, if you laugh at your own stuff, others will certainly laugh with you.
5. Make yourself uncomfortable
This is closely related to tip number 1 but also stands on its own. When we are truly exposing ourselves, it tends to feel very uncomfortable. I once wrote a line about my father in one of my books that made me feel like I wanted to crawl out of my skin. But people told me later it was one of the most moving chapters of the book for them. Again, I hated writing it the most because I didn’t like the feelings that came up with it, and I worried about what people would think and about what those feelings said about me etc. etc. etc. Do it anyway.
6. Less is more
Whatever you write, go back and remove a few hundred words. I do a bit of editing for people, and 100% of the time people write too much and are loath to remove any of it. They feel that everything on the page is important to their point. It’s not. I guarantee you that you are over explaining. See how short I kept this explanation? There was so much more I felt I could say about keeping it short, but in the end, I just went with this. So … yeah … I think you get it. Right? I mean I could go on …
7. Feel something when you write
Writing from experience is great, but it’s better when that experience makes you feel something. I don’t care if it’s anger, joy, sadness, melancholy, fear, hate, awe or gratitude — just feel when you write. When you get those emails asking if you want to cover something, ask yourself if you care strongly about the topic one way or the other before you take it on. And if you do take something on, get into the emotion it brings up for you. Listen to music if it helps.
8. Find the time of day to write that works best for you
If you write better in the morning then get up everyday and write then. If you find that you tend to dick around too much if you try to do it before you’re really gotten into your day, then accept that about yourself. It’s self-defeating and frustrating to set a writing goal for yourself only to never achieve it because it’s the wrong time. It doesn’t matter if it’s morning, night, during your kid’s basketball practice, or only on weekends; pick a time and do it.
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