Writing is one of the most challenging skills to learn. Unlike learning to ride a bike or drive a car, knowing how to write is a subtle art. It takes a long time and a lot of practice to master it. But the good news is that if one commits to it, learning how to write is entirely attainable. Nine steps have helped me improve my writing over the years.
Here they are.
Colum McCann says, “Keep your arse in the chair and write.” Write every day. Write about anything. Natalie Goldberg says, “Write the worse junk in the world.” Fill notebooks with the junk. Tear them apart later if you don’t like to keep them, but fill them first. Write about people on the train. Write about how the old woman to your right looks. Write about the smell of bathroom in the subway. Write about the tall guy who just passed by your seat. Give yourself time. An hour or half but don’t miss to write.
- Write More
If you want to be a writer, an hour is, of course, not enough. Write more. Initially, it is okay if you write for shorter periods but you have to give yourself more time once you establish the initial practice. Begin writing every day. Increase an hour to two or more. Some writers suggest writing a thousand words every day. Others suggest a specific number, say ten or fifteen, of pages every day.
- Write Even More
The more you write, the better. If you want to write a book, for instance, two to three hours may not work. Writing requires discipline and serious hard work. You will have to spend many many hours every day, especially when you are in the final phase of finishing a substantial writing project.
- Write When You Want to Write
There will be moments when you will love to write. Take advantage of such moments. Write more and more. Many writers suggest keeping a notebook and a pen at all times. Take notes of ideas that come to your mind because it is difficult to remember everything given the unpredictability of our memory. Keeping a notebook and a pen or a smartphone is a useful strategy to record critical ideas amid hundreds of thousands of random impressions that visit our mind every minute of the day.
- Write When You Don’t Want to Write
Most of us find it difficult to be consistent in writing. We may write but very inconsistently. Successful writers write every day. They write even when they don’t want to write because there is no easy, magical way to be a good writer. The only way to be a writer is to sit and write. You will see the difference soon than you think. But this only means: Keep writing more.
- Believe that You Can Write
Debunk the myths about the art of writing. Writing is not a gift of nature, and neither is it the property of a privileged few. Some among us may be good at it, but writing can, nevertheless, be learned and mastered almost by anyone who is willing to learn and practice the skill. I could not write a paragraph correctly and coherently until I was twenty. It took me a decade of active and passive learning and practice to write. And now I am here to teach how to write.
- You are almost always Young to write
Many people, especially the youth, ask when is the right time to start to write. The answer is: You are almost always young to write. It is true that some people are fortunate enough to start early, but that does not mean those who start late can not learn to write. However, it is beneficial if one can start it as early as possible. Colum writes that you can write if you are in your teens. You can also write if you are in your fifties, given you have the writing toolbox.
- Research, Read and Think Before You Write
It is incredibly important to read and research before writing. Someone once rightly said, “many people are writing when they should be reading.” At a more advanced level, one needs to think before writing. By ‘thinking’ I mean the why, how, etc. of writing. It, of course, depends on the kind of writing and topic. If you are writing randomly, you can write about anything. But if you are considering to write a serious piece for a newspaper, you need to research and think about the facts, different arguments and dimensions of the article.
- Always Edit After You Write
Editing is the fun and best part of writing. Without editing, writing is never complete. Think and rethink your piece. Read and re-read it. Draft and re-draft it. Revise, re-revise and re-write it. Don’t be afraid of changing, deleting and editing ideas. Keep an open mind. Knowledge and writing skills develop with openness to appreciating the complexity of the world.
Keep writing. With time you will discover that you have real, important things to say. Things that matter in your life and things that are relevant to people around you. Sometimes, it is just about dusting the surface off of random thoughts to find significant ideas. It is not only this; after practice, you will discover your voice. You will gain the confidence and authority in your self that will make what you write matter.
For this post, I borrowed some of the steps from Brian Clark’s post on ten steps on writing and elaborated them. If you practice these steps, I guarantee the gradual improvement in your writing. These are, however, by no means the only ways to be a writer. There could be hundreds of other ways. You may come up with your own, and I would love to hear about your ideas in the comments.
Author: Aslam is a writing Lecturer and Ph.D. student of Global Affairs at Rutgers University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @aslam_Kakar