I was a certified bad writer. I even had documentation to prove it.
Literally, legal documentation was ordered to confirm how terrible my skills were, I suppose, just in case anyone challenged this truth. My parents, or the school, or somebody paid thousands of dollars to have me tested, and then I became a certified bad writer. The document confirming my terrible skills was an individualized learning plan.
Ironically, I would have admitted I sucked at writing for a lot cheaper, but nobody asked me! Whatever. We pay people to tell us what we already know every day, so no shame there.
To paint the picture further, I went from kindergarten through twelfth grade with about 1700 people, give or take. If there was a list of writers from best to worst, I would have been dead last. This does not bode well with college acceptance committees.
Therefore, all of my friends went away to college, and I went local to become a hermit. During the first two years of college, I did three things: I read, I wrote, and I exercised.
My life was disproportionately focused on improving my skill set.
Being bad at math, too, I did not understand how to increase my skills. I thought more practice would add up to improve my overall skill (1+1+1+1=4), but I was wrong. Overall skill, in fact, is exponential (1+2+4+8+16=31).
The growth of skill tends to be exponential on the front end and incremental on the back. This is not to say I’m so grand a writer, but it is to say that by applying the skills below, you can be. Some are great performers, some are great teachers, and few are both. I don’t know if either apply to me, but what I do know is that each technique below increased my writing skill dramatically (Meaning when others read my writing, they don’t immediately question if English is my primary language, anymore).
1. Become a murderer
Kill that filtering voice inside your head. Unfilter and unleash the creator within you. Edit after.
2. Grab your reader’s attention
In any story, start with the most intense part- the arc. Start there no matter where it lays on the storyline: beginning, middle, or end.
P.S. This tip works amazingly for verbal storytelling, as well (“Did I tell you about the time I got hit by a car?”)
3. Shorter is better
The Flesch-Kincaid Score, developed by The Navy in 1975, calculates the readability level of writing.
Simply put, there are two parts to the Flesch-Kincaid readability test: The Flesch reading-ease (determines how easy something is to read) and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level (determines the years of education one must have in order to understand a text).
Scoring a 5.1, means that your written text is at a 5th grade level.
Now the question remains, do you want to write at a low-grade readability level or a high-grade readability level? Think about your audience. To give you an idea from the article by Contently, here’s a few scores:
· Affordable Care Act — 13th grade level
· Academic paper about reading — 11.5 grade level
· JK Rowling — 5.5 grade level
· Stephen King — 6.1 grade level
4. David Theory
August, 1504: A crowd marvels at Michelangelo’s masterpiece, David.
“It must have been difficult to sculpt such a masterpiece. How did you do it?” a brave boy asks.
“It is easy. You just chip away everything that doesn’t look like David,” Michelangelo replied.
You cannot edit a blank page. The key to writing is to allow yourself to write terribly. Write. Write. Write. Then, write some more. After writing all you can, begin the editing phase, removing large chunks of your work, just as Michelangelo did with a slab of marble.
5. Write with your speaking voice
You have communicated this way all your life. Write the way you talk to avoid sounding stiff and robotic.
6. Add value with every sentence
Self-explanatory; cut the clutter. Move the story forward with every line. Ways to increase value are facts, anecdotes, humor, dialogue, etc.
When I do not feel like writing, it is a sign I need to. The fastest way I know how to enter a groove is to write in the same place, at the same time, every day.
The key to achieving a great flow is consistency.
8. Read every day
I listen to podcasts a few times per week. A commonly asked question is, “What are you reading?”
Not once have I heard a guest draw a blank. These people always have an answer because they are always reading. However, this cannot be said for the overall population.
According to Statistics Brain, thirty-three percent of high school graduates never read another book after high school. Forty-two percent of college graduates never read another book after college.
Mind-blowing. A book is one of the greatest investments out there. The breakdown for a book in the top 10% (a New York Times Bestseller, etc.): It takes 10,000 hours to become a master of a craft, so let’s say on average, it takes an author a fifth of that- 500 hours- to compile experiences and information for a book. These 500 hours condense into a 250-page book, which costs $15. Umm… What? Sign me up! Actually, you sign up- sign up for my monthly book recommendations, here.
9. Nonfiction or Fiction?
I read nonfiction to build my knowledge-base, and I read fiction to increase my creativity and writing ability. It’s not enough to just read books; they must be GREAT books!
10. Always take notes
Inspiration sparks opportunity. If you are out and an idea hits you, capture it.
Richard Branson, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway and Beethoven all carries a notebook everywhere. See the others here.
11. Stand tall!
If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. A missed opportunity is gone forever. Seize your opportunities.
12. Rinse & Repeat
Sixty years ago, writers would spend four years writing a book, publishing it, then waiting for a response. This was painful, especially if the responses were negative. It killed writers (quite literally).
Today, you can write an article in half an hour, edit for another half an hour, then “publish” and have thousands of views in less than a week. Response time: Immediate.
13. Reap what you sow
I am afraid to share my ideas, stories and feelings; it feels safe to hold them in. However when I lack emotional connection while writing, I produce dull content.
You reap what you sow. If I intend for the reader to be moved, I must wield that emotion through my words, even if it’s scary.
14. Expert flaw
“I am not an expert on X. A is much more knowledgeable on X. I shouldn’t even touch X.”
Comparison suffocates the life out of creativity.
15. Information anxiety (understand your reader)
Before we lived in the information age, information was bought low and sold high. Now information is everywhere, and now we have entered the creative age.
In Geoffrey Numberg’s review of “The Information” he said, “That’s the sense of information that enables people to claim that a copy of the daily New York Times contains more information than the average 17th-century Englishman encountered in a lifetime,”
The degree of difficulty to gain readership is becoming more and more apparent because information is so easily accessed, but here’s a tip to keep your reader entertained.
Eye-tracking studies have discovered readers follow text in an F-shaped pattern. Therefore, using subtitles to define topics inside of your stories is critical. Hence, this article has subtitles down the left side,all of which are to get your attention!
16. **SPOILER ALERT** Begin at the end. Know your desired outcome
Whenever I pick up a great book, I flip to the back and read the conclusion. I do this to highjack the writer’s mindset and understand the desired outcome. People say, “That ruins books!”
Okay, maybe they’re right, but it also teaches me how to guide my reader through a story, via a real, first person experience.
In general, what I have found is the writer has a desired intent throughout the entire book. The writer understands the ending before writing the beginning, so it seems.
A closing note: It’s important for me to say that all of these qualities don’t matter if one factor is missing. That factor is a deep seated passion to want to be better.