How To Become A Better Writer If Writing Doesn’t Come Naturally
When I lived in Medellin in the summer of 2016, my close friend Dave and I would hang out in nightclubs and talk to talk to girls, but I wasn’t very good at it.
Even though I spoke Spanish much better than Dave, girls weren’t as receptive to my approaches.
Even now, I cringe thinking about all the ridiculous things I said to impress Colombian girls. I remember one night when he told me, “bro you’re like an approach machine. All you do is talk about logical stuff. You need to bring the fun!”
We were both working online at the time. My failures were so laughable that they were even the inspiration for material in his recent book on conversational confidence. I haven’t seen him in almost a year, but that was some of the most important writing and communication advice I ever received.
17 other tips to be a better writer
1) Write for 20 minutes without stopping. Then remove everything except the first and last paragraphs.
The purpose of writing stream of consciousness is to get out of your own head.
It doesn’t matter what you write, so long as you just keep the words flowing. When I write this way, it’s usually a mix of: things in my immediate environment, meanderings through the maze of my own mind, and complete gibberish.
If you keep writing, you’ll feel the pull to complete open thought loops. So, even knowing that you’ll be cutting out 99% of what you write, the first and last paragraphs will usually maintain a sense of logical coherence.
2) Exercise every single day
This is the best tip for becoming a better writer on this entire list. If you’re body isn’t in a peak state, your mind won’t be ready to produce fresh new ideas — your writing fuel.
3) Lead with vulnerability
What’s the purpose of writing? To be read. We write to connect with others, and connection can only happen when we are vulnerable. That means good blog posts tend to lead with a feeling of “Oh shit, here we go.”, rather than an inspirational “Aha!”
4) Don’t explain yourself
Make your point and be done with it. If someone has, consciously or otherwise, given you their attention, you’re likely to lose it by giving too much of a back story. Focus on THE THING.
5) Write every day
Most of your stuff is going to suck. Probably around 95% of it won’t amount to anything. When you look back at your work a year from now, you may cringe. Congratulations — you’re moving in the right direction.
The important thing is to stick with it. Sticking with it won’t necessarily be less work over time, but it will feel more natural.
6) Read every day
When two ideas meet and have sex, you get new ideas. Those new ideas are inspiration for writing.
If you don’t read, your stream of ideas will dry up, and you’ll feel stuck. Always be reading.
7) Learn to see
If you want to write to have any sort of meaningful impact, you must first live in a meaningful way. It’s glaringly obvious when someone writes about something, but has never lived it. It just… comes out wrong.
Remembering that what you do day to day will be fuel for writing, you’re more likely to be present in the world. In doing so, you learn to see the world in new ways.
8) Read first
There’s the temptation to start writing first thing in the morning, or immediately after your morning routine. The trouble is, I’m usually a bit fuzzy in the morning and my mind isn’t quite primed to write.
Rather than writing first, go for a walk and listen to an audiobook, read an article online, or listen to a podcast. Give yourself some intellectual brain to fame the creative spark.
Some of the people I enjoy reading early in the morning; enough to get into thinking mode, but not overly dense:
- Tim Ferriss
- Brian Tracy
- James Altucher
All of the writers are in the top 1/1000 of 1% of writers. What you are reading has to be at that level or else it won’t lift up your writing at all.
9) Morning routine
My morning routine is in a constant state of flux, but three elements don’t change: meditation, contrast shower, and gratitude journaling. If I skip those, I feel anxious for hours before realizing why.
10) Break the rules
After reading the book Daily Rituals, I learned that most artists have a strict routine, though their routines may differ greatly. There’s a temptation to always stick to the script. And though, in order to be creative, we must show up every day, I’ve found that staying flexible in my approach is the most effective way to write interesting stuff. Each blog post is different, and knowing how to ride the wave of each story arc is something I’ve gotten better at with time.
11) Enter the conversation that’s happening right now
If you’re just getting started with writing and blogging, don’t try to change the world all at once. Rather, enter into the conversation that’s going on today. Scott Adams says:
“If you’re a new writer, write for the current market, and the current public consciousness. That’s where the money is. Get famous by telling people what they are ready to hear because they already think it is true. They just want to see you explain it better than they are thinking it.”
James Altucher says:
“Tell people the stuff they all think but nobody ever says. Some people will be angry that you let out the secret. But most people will be grateful.”
Perry Marshall says:
“You will capture the attention of your customers when you enter the conversation already taking place inside their heads.”
Explain the world in a way that helps people better understand what they already felt was true.
12) Be cool
I like to rant. My friends often tell me I’m a cranky guy. While ranting can be therapeutic at times, I made a committment that this blog is not the place for it.
It’s not my M.O. to build an audience by calling people out.
13) Don’t be afraid of what people think
We hear this all the time. Don’t give a f*ck what people think about you! Many of my friends live by this message. They even make YouTube videos about it and write NY Times bestselling books on the subject (read: this one).
The more you worry, the more your writing is the same as everyone else’s writing. Imagine that the first 80-90% of ideas you have are, more or less, the same ideas as everyone else (they are). It’s in the last 10-20% where you offer some kind of unique perspective. It’s also in that small percentage where your ideas are open to more criticism.
“Going the extra mile” feels scary, but it’s there where I find my best material. Curiously, my most vulnerable posts have been the most well-loved by friends and family.
14) Use clickbait titles
Everyone wants to be a fancy thinking blogger these days. Screw that.
The reality is, people have the attention span of a flea. Clickbait titles are not unethical; they’re addressing the reality of the time we live in. That is, if you can’t get people to click your link, then your amazing 5000-word post will never get read.
Who does this well? Look no further than Tim Ferriss. Even his podcast blog posts have catchy titles that get me to click almost all the time. Here’s an example: “Ezra Klein — From College Blogger to Political Powerhouse“. He could say, “Episode 208 — Ezra Klein”. After all, a lot of people will still listen to his podcast because he’s Tim Ferriss. Many podcasters use that format. But the extra umph adds some spice and entices us to click and listen.
This is something I will work on more this year.
15) Steal like an artist
My first decision making principle is: Model Success. This is my way of telling myself that it’s okay to copy others, piggybacking on what works. It’s also one of the core tactics in persuasion and NLP, and taught by performance coaches like Tony Robbins.
You may notice how this post looks very similar to someone else’s post on writing tips. I took his ideas, added what was uniquely my own, and created something unique and valuable.
16) All heals in time
At least, I like to think that it is. I hope that it does. Because man, I’ve done some horrendous, embarrassing stuff in my life. As I get older and more comfortable, I’m only now finally telling other people about it. Some of it, I’ve written about on this blog. When I tell people, most don’t care — probably because I don’t care. But others are a little spooked. Even close friends.
Regardless, as time goes on the cracks open up and old wounds heal. It’s inevitable.
17) Make people laugh
“If you can make a woman laugh, you can make her do anything.” – Marilyn Monroe
I would love to have had the opportunity to meet Marilyn Monroe and make her laugh, and see how things turned out. Alas, she’s gone and I’m left with a sense of what could’ve been.
Laughter breaks barriers and brings us closer to together. It brings clarity to a world that is often absurd and ambiguous. I’m not naturally a funny person, but I like to laugh and like it when other people laugh too.
Dave didn’t want to go back to Asia after living in Mexico. He had other plans. Let’s go back to Mexico City, he said. It’s close to home, the city is awesome, and the girls are beautiful. “I just love Mexicans.” I feel more at home here than anywhere else in the world.
It sounded like a great plan.
But then he went stateside for a while, and I felt the craziness of Saigon pulling me back like a magnet. Now he’s back in D.F. and dating a Mexican girl. And as for me…
I still suck at talking to girls, but somehow life keeps getting better every year.