I have been thinking a lot lately about how to become a better writer. I guess starting kurthurst.com back up has lead me to think about this topic more and more. Or was it wanting to write more that lead me to relaunch kurthurst.com? That is a topic for another post. Today, I want to share with you some of my thoughts on writing well. I am a very analytical guy. I like lists, bullet points and flow charts. So, I am going to try to summarize my musings into a short, four step, list.
Write… Really, it’s that simple.
The first step to writing well is to literally put pen to paper, or in my case keystrokes to my text editor, and start writing.
There are several hurdles we have to overcome to get this step done. The biggest of these hurdles is often ourselves. It is fun to fantasize about being the next Hemingway or daydream about earning a living writing as a tech blogger. Unfortunately, as long as we keep our writing in the realm of fantasy we won’t have to come to grips with the potential fact that we are not as great as we think we are.
Ouch… I know, right? It might be hard for some of us to accept that our writing has room for improvement.
But I’m not talking about you. You know your limitations, right?
If you were a delusional self-aggrandizer, who was unaware of his inability to communicate well through written words, you wouldn’t even be reading this article. So you’re safe from delusion. (I’ll let you discuss your self-aggrandizement with somebody that knows you a little better.)
You know your writing could improve and we can move on to step two.
Keep writing… Repetition is a good thing.
It takes roughly ten thousand hours to become proficient at any given task.
If you want to write well, you are going to have to spend a significant amount of time engaged in the process of writing. To accomplish this you might have to make some adjustments to how you spend your time. Ten thousand extra hours are not just going to magically appear. You are going to have to carve out that time by adjusting your schedule.
You might have to cut back on how much time you’ve been spending re-watching the first season of Homeland. You might even go so far as to schedule some dedicated writing time into your daily routine.
Think how much more time you would actually be writing if you carved out forty-five to sixty minutes a day to just sit at your desk and write. If that hour a day were translated into consecutive working days, over the course of a year you would be writing as much as a full time job for nearly seven weeks. That little hour a day can add up pretty quickly to some serious time.
Now that you are writing more, you might find yourself needing a little inspiration. That brings us to step three.
Read… I am a firm believer that we don’t achieve greatness in a vacuum.
We need the inspiration and example of others to become better ourselves. Since our goal is to be a better writer it might benefit us to familiarize ourselves with other people’s writing.
If you want to write novels, read novels. If you want to write technology reviews, read some websites that focus on that genre. You might even pick up a technical writing book or two and learn some practical tips you can employ to improve your own writing style.
It doesn’t really matter what you read as long as you find things that interest you and you enjoy reading them.
As you’re reading, ask yourself the question why you enjoy that particular piece. Analyze it. Try to pinpoint what aspect of the article or story is appealing to you. Is it the cadence of the article? Is it the topic? Is it the author’s wit or humor? What is it that you could try to discover in your own creative voice that would bring about enjoyment in others as they read your work?
This brings us to a natural segue into the fourth step.
Let others read what you have written… Yep, you’re going to have to put yourself out there.
You are going to have to click the publish button. You are going to have to send the email. You are going to have to print off what you have written and give it to someone else and (this is the important part of this step) ask them to give you their honest opinion. You are going to have to listen to what they have to say and try to learn something from their criticism.
Before you get
insecure defensive worried, remember that you are not going to get better without letting other people give you their perspective on your work.
When a blacksmith makes an ax blade, he first heats up one piece of iron and then starts to smash it with another piece of iron. That is the sharpening and molding process. It takes a lot of heat and pressure to turn a raw lump of iron into a sharp and useful tool.
Your writing ability is going to have to be sharpened in the same way. You will have to feel the fire and the pressure of criticism if you want your writing to be effective. You want your tool to be sharp so you can accurately communicate your thoughts to your audience. It is a lot easier to chop down a tree with a sharp ax than it is with a sledge hammer.
I think if you were to follow these four steps, you will start to see your writing improve. I also think you will see your enjoyment of writing increase the longer you stick with it.
What do you think? Can a person follow these simple steps and improve their writing skills? Leave a comment below if you want. You can also give me some criticism on my writing style if you feel like it. If you’re not the comment leaving type, you can hit me up on Twitter or email me.