No one who writes for a living will tell you that they actually enjoy writing. It’s tedious and soul-crushing to stare at a blank computer screen, knowing what you want to write but being unable to call up the proper words.
Canadian author Ann-Marie MacDonald describes it aptly: “Writing is a hellish task, best snuck up on, whacked on the head, robbed, and left for dead.”
This year, I was asked to lead a workshop on writing for non-writers. Participants were of varying experience levels, so I spent the majority of our time discussing how to make the writing process less hellish.
What follows is my immodest list of writing tips.
1. Do your research.
Writing when you have nothing to say will lead to instant frustration. Do your research. Begin researching your topic by asking good questions—of yourself, of the books, websites, reports you read, and of anyone you interview.
2. Create an outline.
Once you’ve completed your research, write an outline. An outline is the foundation of your article, but it does not have to be complicated, like the outlines they required in high school. It can be as simple as a numbered list.
3. Learn from other writers.
Good writers are voracious readers. Like musicians who listen to music to analyze it, writers read to analyze. Pay attention to the structure, technique, and diction of the material you read. What can you incorporate into your own writing?
4. Keep your audience in mind.
As you are writing, think about your audience. What would make them chose to read your material? What can you do to make your topic relevant to your readers?
5. Separate the writing and editing processes.
Do not edit as you write. Research on the lateralization of the brain tells us that editing is a “left brain” function and writing is a “right brain” function. To make your writing more effective, turn off your left-brain critic and just write.
6. Write in small sessions.
Take frequent breaks. If you find you can’t write any more or that the words just don’t flow, it means you should stop. Take a break, work on something else, and then come back to your writing.
7. Read your work aloud.
How does it sound when you read what you’ve written back to yourself? Is your writing clear and direct? Are your sentences too long? Is the style too informal?
8. Be done with it.
Once you are finished with your written piece, stop and put it away overnight. When you come back to it, make your refinements and then stop. Hand it off to someone else to edit. Resist the urge to keep refining your work.
It’s taken me years to learn and apply these practices. Though following them can make the writing process easier, it rarely makes it any more enjoyable.
Laura Hale Brockway is the author of Impertinent Remarks, a blog about writing and editing.