Of the writing tips I've read, and I've read many, my favorite is this famously wry remark by Ernest Hemingway:
There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.
Perhaps I took his advice a little too seriously when I asked my mom for an antique typewriter when I was fourteen, the one that sits around my room still (I was a really big fan of his nonfiction work, A Moveable Feast).
Luckily, through years of transferring my thoughts into pixel, I've devised a few strategies that require no bloodshed and minimal pain.
I'm an amateur writer by any measure, so this is by no means a Strunk & White guide to the craft, but more a distillation of the techniques that help make writing an effective and satisfying process of truth-telling for me.
Especially if you've ever felt like you had something to say that you thought might help someone, here are a few tips.
- Begin with the question, "What do I really want to say?" This helps me cut through most of the fluff, and I'm a really fluffy writer.
- Let yourself be moved, and write from that place. The thing you're trying to say has to have some emotional pull for you. And if it does, it'll come through your writing, and it will move your reader, too. That's the end goal, whether you're trying to end at a call-to-action with sales copy, or whether you're trying to write powerful fiction.
- Write for the internet. Make things scannable and well-formatted. Even if you don't want to write for the ADD generation of gif-and-meme audiences, you can still write an elevated and thought-provoking piece that is also easy on the eyes. You do this by breaking text into small paragraphs, emphasizing your key points with bolding and italics (judiciously), and proofreading.
- Put your work out there. This is the fastest way to hone your instinct for good content and style. I used to have a Tumblr with regular readers, so if I put out a mediocre piece that sounded flat or confusing I'd immediately know because I'd get less feedback. This is useful training; it's like having an editor but often even better, since there's no mediator between your writing and the audience. These days I'd probably recommend Medium for this. (If you have other recommendations, let me know!)
- Write simply. Use short sentences and casual words. Your reader can't be moved by your message if they're too busy trying to figure out what you're saying. This is actually devilishly hard for me but I believe I've improved. If you find your sentences getting flowery or pretentious, you're trying too hard to be impressive or you lack clarity of thought. Clear thought = clear writing—so know your main points and figure out the easiest way to get it on paper.
- Focus on one main idea. Each well-received article I've written had one key point to convey. Know what you want your reader to leave with before you begin writing. If you try to leave them with too many ideas, they won't remember much—but if you have one main idea, odds are it'll stick.
- Find your voice. Writing from an authentic place is more engrossing for the reader, and more pleasurable for you as the writer. Seth Godin has a great point on this (and on writer's block): Write how you talk. No one get's talker's block.
- Catch inspiration when it strikes. I try to write about ideas when they feel most alive and dynamic to me. Otherwise the words just don't flow; you're stuck trying to breathe life into something that's either unripe or just not that important to you. This is why I note down ideas or phrases I come across, so I can keep a running list of ideas that feel like they contain the seeds of something promising I can write about. I have a très sophisticated system of sending myself subject-less emails and dumping them all into an ongoing Sticky note on my desktop. Your system may be less rudimentary, but if you want to keep your well full, it's a good idea to devise a system to collect inspiration.
I encourage you to write because it can be nice to get your truth out into words. Even if you don't share it with people, it's a helpful way to gain clarity for yourself.
These are the techniques that have been helpful for me. I'd love to hear about yours.