Five useful writing habits
Whether you’re a professional writer, an occasional scribbler, an aspiring wordsmith, or just someone who has a term paper due by the end of the week, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve experienced some blockage when it comes to slamming language onto paper.
Here are a few ways to prevent that from happening.
1. Set a schedule.
This may seem like common sense (and really… every single item on this list is), but this is absolutely crucial. In the same way that you eat, sleep, wake up, exercise and unwind at a certain hour, your body and mind need to become accustomed to sitting down at that desk and tapping away on the keyboard for a designated block of time. To write effectively, you need to condition yourself to the act.
If it’s for a short-term project, get into the habit of writing for a half-hour minimum per day. If you’re working on something longer, extend the time accordingly. By the end of the week, you’ll find that the words practically pour out of you.
To be clear, this doesn’t include the preparatory parts of writing. Research, interviewing and on-site data collection are their own things entirely. We’re talking about the actual act of creating a cohesive narrative, properly structured, which others will find appealing to read. The more accustomed you are to doing this, the better your final product will be.
2. Read in the field of your interest.
This is far from a new idea. As Stephen King put it plainly in On Writing, “You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot.” Think of it this way: you have just started working a new job. Let’s say it’s a job chopping logs for firewood. On your first day, your best course of action—easily—is not to just start chopping away like you’ve been doing it for 20-odd years, but to check out how someone who actually has been chopping wood for 20-odd years does it. Chances are they’ve developed a few techniques that will make your job infinitely easier.
You may be thinking that this is an unprincipled approach to doing things—copying other people—but, ultimately, it’s impossible for your own style—your own personality—to not seep into your work. You can copy others to your heart’s delight, but whatever original material you produce is patently yours. After all, when was the last time you read something you wrote and afterwards thought that it seemed like someone else wrote it?
3. Seek peer review.
They say that a man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.
The same can be said for writers who don’t outsource for proofreading purposes.
Yes, although we’re often our own worst critics, we miss a lot of the décor in the room standing so close to the mirror.
Bottom line: don’t be your own editor.
4. Convey ideas as simply as possible.
Writers need audiences. What you write needs to be literarily digestible while still remaining intellectually provocative.
Okay… that above sentence could also have been written: “Writers need people to read what they write and, to do that, they need to make what they write both readable and interesting.”
Vocabulary-based egos aside, which sentence do you think has the potential to reach more readers?
Like any good boxer will tell you, throwing hard punches all the time will only serve to tire you out and offer openings to your opponents. The most important thing is to just touch your opponent. It’s why jabs are so crucial. Not only do they set up every subsequent shot you throw, they make that eventual heavy shot all the more effective.
5. When all else fails, take a step back.
This is one that takes some getting used to, but it will serve to forever eliminate writer’s block from your list of problems.
Take whatever kind of narrative you’re trying to convey and rewind time. Write about your subject earlier than is truly appropriate—a few minutes, an hour, sometimes even a few days before—and then work up to what you’re actually trying to write about. By the time you get there, your writer’s block will be gone. You’ve written your way out of it.
Once you’ve finished, get rid of all the unnecessary parts.
Writing needs to be tight for the reader, but it doesn’t need to be that way in its development. Carve as wide a narrative swath as you need and then cut out the fat later.
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