The Best (Unconventional) Writing Advice I’ve Ever Read
I’ve come a long way since I first started writing. I’ve published almost 100 articles since then, and whenever I reread some of my earlier pieces, I’m astounded at how much the quality of my work has improved.
Most of this improvement has come from sitting down and writing. But the internet is full of writing advice, and you mustn’t underestimate the importance of taking a break from writing and reading for a change.
But not all writing advice was created equal, and you’ll find that many articles tend to just put a fresh coat of paint on the same old tired pieces of advice. You know the sort of advice I mean:
- ‘To be a writer, you must write’
- ‘You must write every day’
- ‘Write what you know’
Truly groundbreaking stuff.
The advice I’m sharing goes against much of what you might describe as ‘conventional.’ So, if you’re tired of reading rehashed advice on becoming a successful writer, why not give these suggestions a try. It might just change the way you write forever.
1) Think of a first draft as your raw, unedited thoughts
When I first started writing, I had no clue what I was doing. I didn’t write the first draft, edit it, write a second draft, etc. I just wrote articles, editing as I went. And you know what I found?
It took me forever to finish a piece.
If this approach works for you, great. I know that Tom Kuegler favours this method in his writing, and I’m sure many other successful writers do as well.
But most of the writers I know have found greater success by separating the writing and editing processes. When you’re in the flow of writing, nothing will drag you out of it faster than stopping every two seconds to consider word choice, correct a typo, or address one of Grammarly’s damnable red underlines of doom. Side tip — turn off Grammarly while you’re writing, you’ll thank me later.
Matt Lillywhite suggests that you think of your first draft as nothing more than your raw, unedited thoughts that you’ve thrown onto a page. They don’t need to be coherent. Hell, they don’t even need to be written in sentences. If something comes to mind and it happens to be in bullet-points, so be it. Don’t worry about spelling or grammatical errors, the only thing that matters is getting the elements of your article onto the page.
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Once you’ve done that, take a break. Go for a walk, read a book, bake some cookies. Do something else for a while. I find editing much easier once I’ve come back to it with fresh eyes and a clear mind.
Now, rewrite every sentence.
Editing is where the magic happens. Rewriting every sentence allows you to transform your thoughts into music, words that flow, sentences and paragraphs that fit together like pieces of a puzzle, that are pleasing to the reader. Experiment with sentence and paragraph length, different word choices. When you’re done, read your piece aloud. When you read aloud, you’re able to catch mistakes that might otherwise go unnoticed by simply reading in your head.
2) Write for a single reader
We’d all love to have an article go viral. With millions of readers on this platform alone and billions around the world, we should all write to appeal to the masses, right?
Darius Foroux doesn’t think so, and he knows a thing or two about viral posts. He believes that when you try to make something that serves everyone, it usually ends up serving no one.
Instead, he advises that you pick a single person to write to, and focus on getting your message across to them.
Imagine you’re writing an article on getting out of debt. Write the article to your ideal reader. Your ideal reader can be whoever you want, but I imagine mine as a guy named Dave. Dave’s got a good job but likes a lavish lifestyle, and he routinely maxes out his credit cards. Now he’s trying to get a mortgage but can’t because he’s struggling to get out of debt.
Imagine Dave is reading your finished article — would it be easy to understand? Would he finish reading the article with clear and actionable takeaways? Once you know who you’re writing for, you can figure out what should and shouldn’t be included in your story.
Find your Dave, and write to him. Because even though he may be only one person, there are millions more Daves who would love to read what you have to say.
3) Embrace vulnerability
Tim Denning argues that if you truly want to write something that will resonate with your readers, you have to open yourself up to being vulnerable.
You have to write something which makes you afraid to hit publish.
Be Afraid to Hit Publish — If You Want to Reach Millions of People
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Writing should provide the reader with value. It should be for the reader, yet the internet is awash with content that was written purely to stroke the ego of the writer rather than to help readers solve a problem.
But readers are smart. They know your intentions within a few seconds of clicking on your headline. They don’t just want value, they want to know that the writer at the other end of the keyboard is an actual human being — someone who has dealt with their own share of struggles.
A few years ago, I became addicted to social media. It had taken over my life, and I only realised how bad it was when it started to have an impact on my children. I would routinely brush them off as they asked to play with me, simply because I was ‘too busy’ scrolling through social media.
I wrote about my struggles because I knew I wasn’t alone. I knew countless other parents who routinely spend too much time looking at a device and not enough time with their children. I knew that the struggle I went through and the lessons I learned could help others.
I almost didn’t hit publish.
I didn’t want to feel like my ability as a parent was under scrutiny. I was afraid to open myself up to that kind of judgement, particularly from the people I know personally who read my work.
I was afraid of the words I’d written. But I published them anyway. After a while, they didn’t seem so scary anymore.
I’m glad I took that leap. I have had numerous people tell me how much it helped them to reevaluate their own social media use. I almost didn’t publish that story, but by opening myself up to vulnerability, I showed my audience that I’m human — and in doing so, my writing was helpful to others.
And isn’t that the point?
Jon Peters is a freelance writer, who lives with his wife and two children in sunny Cornwall, UK. When not writing, you can usually find him with his nose in a book, or playing Hide and Seek with kids. If you enjoyed this article, you can read more of my work by clicking here.