There have been some lovely responses to my A time to write article about mindfulness and my writing habits. Ged Caroll wrote about his motivation for writing, and his workflow.
Encouraged by the reactions, I asked my network to share their writing tips and habits via a Google Form. Amateur and professional writers shared their views; authors, bloggers, copywriters, journalists, and teachers all joined the conversation.
Here’s what I got back, along with web links and Twitter profiles. From style to structure, and from editing to forming habits, there’s something here for everyone.
Thank you to everyone that contributed.
Reading and research
Keep an open mind and instrument handy when reading or listening to (new) speakers and ideas. Jot down things that give you ah-ha moments. Process evolving concepts “in the air” from a variety of perspectives; amalgamate (attribute!) and create your unique take. Encapsulate in a post title EARLY on.
Read! Not just about the topic you write about but read widely – I am a big believer that if you do not read you cannot write. Read novels, read magazine articles, read government reports, read poetry, read anything; the more you read the better you will write!
Determine your best time to write – whether it is in the morning or later on. Once you decide what time works for you, make sure to schedule other activities around it. Create a space that allows you to do your best work.
I’m most creative first thing in the morning. The night before I rough out a straw man covering the points I want to cover, and the order. I ruminate overnight then, on waking, I plough through a first draft. The rest is tinkering and style.
You need to find a pattern and method that suits you. Some listen to loud music, some write in bursts and some camp out in cafes. Find what works for you and embrace it without comparing yourself to others.
Write it down, all of it
Don’t get it right, get it written. As a journalist, it’s always easier to edit something bad, than write something perfect off the bat.
Resist the temptation to edit before you finish a first draft. Bash it out – spelling mistakes and all – as quickly as you can. It’s too easy to lose both time and ideas to noodling around and editing minutiae you’ll later delete altogether.
Keep a record of every thought that pops into your head, no matter how small/trivial – and plan to revisit and review periodically. It’s a useful exercise that enables you to find inspiration for new content and turn around posts packed with information and context in no time at all.
Skip ahead. If you know what needs to happen but you’re bored by the idea of how you get there, just skip to the bit you’re most interested in and fill in the boring bit later. I always find the journey is more satisfying once the destination is decided.
At school my dad always used to say if you’re stuck just write something, anything it doesn’t matter what. The act of writing will release you. It used to frustrate the hell out of me but it works.
Writing for yourself versus your reader?
Often, not always, get your readers thinking of themselves, early on. Here’s a story that I wrote today: >>Do you think skipping a lawyer and representing yourself in divorce court will save money? <<
Remember you’re writing not to impress the client, editor or the interviewee but the slightly bored person who has precious little spare time and a lot of distractions.
A good friend of mine once told me you should always write your blog for you and you alone.
“Imagine no one else is ever going to read it. Do it solely for your own pleasure, and like magic others will almost certainly enjoy it too.”
Write like you are writing for yourself so that you don’t get overwhelmed by what people might think. Keep it short and sweet, use headings and chunk it so it is easy to read. Leave it and revisit it a few hours later.
Give your writing eyes. Or cauliflower ears. Give it something that the reader can see in themselves. I call it ‘Henry the Hoover’ writing. There may be better, more efficient hoovers out there, but it’s Henry who scrubs up all our primary school carpets; and it’s all down to the eyes.
Editing and proofing
Every time your brain reaches for a familiar way describing something, like a “bustling market”, “an oasis of calm”, or a “stunning view”, delete it.
Read what you’ve written out loud before publishing. When proofing you’ll read what you intended, rather than what you wrote. Saying it aloud forces you to actually read the words on the page. Also recommend investing in beautiful stationery, you’re worth it!
Emotion and candour as a means of connection
Expertise and passion
As a blogging newbie, I have a dream to be much more than a blogger one day, I want to become a real source of inspiration. So when it comes to starting to blog, there’s no better advice than to think about where your passion lies. Just blog about what makes you happy and what makes you, you. The rest will follow.
Lean and clean
Write as you speak. Don’t over-complicate it with pompous words to look like an expert. People want to read to understand, learn and enjoy. Write for them. Not for you.
I start with headlines and subheads, and then fill in the paragraphs. I don’t write it in order either. Sometimes good starts are the hardest bit, so don’t get stuck with them!
I bullet point my main facts first before fleshing out the content into a story full of paragraphs. It means I can often turn paragraphs into #1 #2 etc. making reading easier.
Consistency is key. When you don’t feel like writing, write more. Consistency is improvement.
Read and seek inspiration from one of the greatest writers in history. Ernest Hemingway didn’t use italics, capitalisation or underline. He didn’t use exclamation marks or ellipses. These are all crutches. Hemingway wrote the truest sentence he knew, and then rewrote it, and rewrote it again.
Discipline and habit
Set yourself (or ask an editor to set you) deadlines and try to stick to them. Oh – and email yourself with ideas for posts and sentences/lines as they come to you. Alcohol, lots of it, can also work.
Say something every day. Even if it’s simply spilling your inner monologue onto a cafe napkin, tweeting a tiny poem, writing a note to yourself for later.
It’s getting started that then enables the planning and production of more directed, deliberate work.
Get out of bed, clear your head by journaling, and take a cold shower, for as long as you can bear it. Do not check your social media/emails. Drink a protein smoothie and brew a coffee. Get to a computer and write 750 words with notifications off. Daily. Without fail.
When I’m at final draft/proof stage I read my draft on my smartphone, it’s amazing how viewing it on a different platform helps me cut out things that aren’t needed, spot any missed typos and add a bit of polish. Always do this if I’m writing for online as it helps me see the end user’s perspective more clearly.
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