My ethos for writing is quite simple: everyone can write and everyone should write.
Since the end of February 2019, I’ve begun to get into weekend freelancing, and I get a nice couple of grand from clients, who’ve found me online through writing. It’s a nice bonus, in addition to having a full-time job as a content strategist.
Regardless of your skills in the craft, writing as a way to relay your message is a practice that pays dividends, whether directly in the form of SEO juice or through getting individual clients.
So here are some quick tips to help you start writing.
1. Accept that the first minutes will be excruciating – and that’s fine
In some ways, writing is like a 12k jog, While the first 3 kilometers can be quite excruciating – as you intermittently curse and gasp for air – the path ahead will be a breeze.
Well – not really, but you get the point.
In writing, you need to accept the fact that you might have no ideas, before you actually start to write. The more important thing is that you actually sit in front of your laptop with the intent of typing in words to that docs.new file you just opened.
2. Sometimes, you need to trust your memory over excessive research
Sometimes, you just need to trust your memory or write other parts of an article before the part you’re not certain about. This may sound counter-intuitive, but sometimes, in writing, a lack of certainty might impede you from progressing further in your writing exercise. This is a type of mental obstacle that ultimately takes more of your time than gives back in.
I am guilty of postponing my writing for weeks because I wasn’t sure of a fact and couldn’t find the references to validate my claims.
When this happens, remember that most of the time, you can always create a narrative that emphasizes other details over the thing you’re not sure about, or just introduce another idea that altogether skips the other thing you’re uncertain about.
Of course, when you have time, it’s almost always better to have due diligence checks if you are really unsure about something after your writing session. But don’t let uncertainty impede you from writing.
3. Divide what you want to write about into smaller pieces
This is a nifty trick that I use with spreadsheets. When I brainstorm my ideas, they often come in a discombobulate, non-linear strands of thought, and my job is to piece them together afterward.
Using spreadsheets, I have my root ideas on one column and the actual content on another. This allows me to really dive into the ideas, without getting distracted by my own thoughts/of other ideas.
It’s a fun exercise in writing composition, which particularly helps me visually arrange my ideas in blocks that I can arrange afterward, depending on how I want to structure my article. It is also a powerful reframing tool that helps me get over the dread of the blank page.
In the subsequent columns, I also have other types of content that might be important for me in terms of research. These are quotes or links that I might want to include after I finished a preliminary draft of the article.
Of course, I don’t always write using spreadsheets, but spreadsheets are very useful when I have to write longer essays, or when I have to partition my thoughts into a listicle, or something similar.
Of course, don’t let linear structures ruin your writing game. Sometimes, if you think of a great conclusion while you’re in your midsection, it just pays to just stop whatever you’re writing and draft that banging concluding statement that just randomly popped out of your head. Seize the moment.
4. Develop a writing habit
I can’t stress this enough. To continually write, you need to form a writing habit! James Clear wrote an awesome book about forming habits, aptly titled Atomic Habits, but before that, he was a blogger.
On this article, he advocates for creating a schedule for tasks you want to turn into habits, and there’s really no two ways around it. As someone who is quite hyperactive, I cannot stress enough the importance of taking the time to sit down for at least 25 minutes a day to just write.
You’ll be surprised by how this simple act of writing every day will not only improve your writing skills but make you more patient about the whole writing process.
5. Quantity over quality
As my dear friend Anne-Laure Le Cunff says on her article on building a writing habit, it is important that you kill your inner critic and just focus on producing good-quality words that convey the essential message across.
Just focus on producing and (maybe) getting feedback on your writing. Killing my inner-critic is also something that I am still in the process of learning, but it is important if you want to create a habit out of absolutely nothing and especially writing.
In any case, sometimes, when you’re having doubts about you’re own writing, it pays to think in a high-level state and to stop worrying about those small things. In the long-run, your production trumps over the small errors you had in the process.
It’s fine to make mistakes and stumble, but make sure you put your validated learnings into a feedback loop that makes your writing stronger next time.
5. Align your expertise and interests
The writing process involves a hefty amount of research, so it’s a battle half-done if you already know what you’re writing about. In any case, writing about what you already know also allows you to flex your expertise in a certain area, whatever niche you are part of, and it builds your authority on the subject.
But even then what I’d argue even further is to also write about what you’re interested about and try to align this with your expertise. As a reader, I often find multidisciplinary topics to be the most engaging because they combine different patterns of thought in ways that I didn’t previously think about.
We need more of these shifts in thinking paradigms.
6. Think of writing as an exploration of your thoughts
Compared to other creative outlets, you can relay your ideas in relatively a very fast way. This means that you can discover ideas not only through thorough research, but through the patterns of thought that emerge from your own writing.
Sometimes, the very act of typing is done out of impulsion, a mechanical act where half-formed thoughts in your brain get transmitted into the page.
Similar to visual thinkers who prefer to see the things they’re working in front of them, some people can strand ideas together better when they’re presented in writing, or when they are in the process of writing and combining these thoughts together.
7. Make yourself accountable. Create a blog, write newsletters, and set a schedule.
Make sure that you start writing and never stop. Create a content calendar, and try to stick to pushing articles for certain days. Write your weekly newsletters, even if no one’s reading.
It’s almost always a grueling process, but you’ll thank yourself when you realize that you have a trove of resources that you can reuse for some other purpose. At the start, don’t worry about amassing a readership, if your main goal is to just start writing.
These are processes that you’re trying to implement until they become second-nature to you. If writing is a muscle, then blogging is that gym that you begrudgingly pay a monthly fee for. It’s an analogy that crumbles down when you decide to get a free WordPress blog, but having your custom domain name is so much cooler.
8. Participate in writing networks and communities, and submit to publications
Here, blogger Tom Critchlow advocates for blog chains as a method of communication between bloggers and their audiences. It’s a practice that’s been prevalent, as long as blogging platforms like Tumblr and LiveJournal have existed.
It’s also a win-win situation. It lets bloggers grow audiences, who will then find new blogs to read, and it subverts social media’s domination over our lives.
I’m really keen for blogchains to be back, as someone who partook in this tradition when I was younger. There are also blogrolls like this one where bloggers and their friends link the blogs that they like, and I think it’s good praxis.
When you’re new to blogging you might not have the privilege of being part of these communities, and to that, I suggest that you join blogging platforms like Basile Samel’s 200 Words a Day, or even the oft-criticized Medium.
There are also blogging communities on LinkedIn and Twitter. Hey, whatever works for you to start writing, take advantage of those channels.
And the more content you have, the more materials you have to submit to magazines like Maker Mag ;). It’s only for the good of everyone.
Hope you liked my tips, and remember that writing is a journey, not a destination.
It is important that you set a long-term vision for yourself, in terms of what you want to achieve in terms of writing. I know that writing at first can be daunting and thirty minutes of pure writing may make your head throb and hurt.
But if you carry on steadily, writing is really something that can benefit you in other areas of your life and side projects.
Start a blog! Now!