Creativity is a habit, not a feeling.
So the trick is to write regardless of whether you feel like it or not. Treat writing like you would any job. Schedule it in. It’s called “force of habit” for a reason. Writing only when you’re feeling inspired won’t make you a writer.
Write first, edit later.
Much later in fact, because otherwise the chop-chop of editing will cripple your writing before it’s even gotten moving. You can even use an app that temporarily disables your backspace key.
You don’t know what you have to say until you start
Where was this blog post before I started writing? Loitering at the back of my brain somewhere? Or did I reach up and pluck it from the ether? Nobody knows. All that matters is that it’s out of my head and down on the page. Writing makes you smarter, even if you sometimes feel stupid doing it. I promise.
Write for the reader, not yourself
Journaling excluded, it’s crucial to remember the audience for your words. Imagine you’re talking to a single person. What would you say to him or her? (Not “what would you write”, see ‘write like you talk’ below)
Judging the quality of your own work is hard
It’s easy to run a spell check, but how do you know if your thoughts will resonate with people? Simple. The best way to find out if what you’ve written is any good is to hit publish.
Write about the things that you’re most scared to write about
If you’re scared to hit publish, that’s often a good sign that you’ve written something worth sharing. Writing about depression hurt like hell, but I’m glad I did it, because it seems to be helping other designers in a similar place.
It takes a while to warm up
It’s not often that I sit down and turn the words on like you would a tap. There’s usually some squirming first. But after staring at the blank screen for a while, and a few hesitant sentences, things start to flow. And from time to time, you stop being aware of anything else. You become the flow of words. And magical things happen, and suddenly you look up and see that you’ve written that makes sense, and you have no idea where it came from. (Last night I watched a documentary about the writer Sue Townsend and she said it usually took until midnight until she sufficiently worked herself up to write).
Resist doing a word count as long as possible
I haven’t done one for this article yet. I’ve been tempted though. Must. Resist. Why? Well…
Focus on the habit, not the result
Yes, it gives you a fuzzy warm feeling inside to knock out 1,000 words in one sitting. But if you say I MUST WRITE 1,000 WORDS EVERY DAY OR I HAVE FAILED, then you are only doing one thing: setting yourself up for that failure. Far better to commit to the habit I WILL WRITE EVERY DAY, than the end result.
Write more than you need to, then edit with abandon
Being precious about your words is a surefire recipe for pain. Get as many of them out as you can, and edit ruthlessly afterwards. (Seriously, making editing a separate part of your process from your writing changes everything).
A clever way to catch typos
On a Mac, you can have your computer read aloud any text. Select what you’ve written and choose Speech -> Start speaking from the ‘Edit’ menu. Hearing someone else (even if he is a little robotic) read out your writing is a really great way to spot typos.
Write like you talk. Imagine that a friend is sitting opposite, and you’re trying to explain something to her. Would you use words like “obfuscate” or “necessary”? Probably not. The simpler your words the better. If you don’t talk formally, don’t write formally, yo.
Think about your audience before you start
If you want lots of people to read your content, think about where you will share it before you start writing. For example, Why I cycled a hundred miles to meet my first customer was written for Hacker News — it worked, and the article was viewed about 30,000 times in one day.
HEO not SEO
Don’t write for a computer, write for a person. Hence Human Emotion Optimisation, not Search Engine Optimisation. The SEO stuff will happen naturally if you write content designed to help people, so don’t worry about it if you’re just starting out. And besides, the freakonomy needs you.
Make your advice actionable
Unless you’re writing a diary, it helps to be helpful. What tips do you want people to leave with? Use subheaders and formatting to highlight your main points — this also makes your writing more skim-readable. Don’t be afraid of repeating things either. Don’t be afraid of repeating things either.
If in doubt, finish with a question
What do you want the reader to do or think about next? Spell it out for them. Everything you’ve written should be designed to take the reader on a journey to this point.
PS. Want to start writing?
You might like my upcoming course: 7 Days of Writing. You’ll get a series of writing prompts over a week so that you have no need to worry about what to write about. All you’ll need to do is sit down at your computer and bleed.
Posted to Writing in 2016.