Writing. The thought of it brings back bad memories for many, a chore that just needs to get out of the way in the form of the latest report or memo, before the next task can be completed. It can evoke flashbacks to school papers; late nights spent trying to reach the word limit in the most coherent way possible.
But while many of us may write, not all of us have truly gotten the hang of writing – or enjoy doing it. Psychology Today reports that one of the biggest regrets towards the end of life is never having gotten the chance to write more frequently. For Stanford neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi, this was definitely the case. 37 years old and diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, he finally found out why writing was so important: “Words might not cure, but they can calm and connect people – and even heal.”
With that in mind, the following are five steps to becoming a better writer – no matter what you may be working on.
1. Start before you think you’re ready.
Not surprisingly, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to get our writing exactly right. It holds us back from finishing drafts, and keeps us nervously sitting in front of the computer, waiting to type. According to Steven Pressfield, though, “The longer we noodle around ‘getting ready,’ the more time and opportunity we’ll have to sabotage ourselves. Resistance loves it when we hesitate, when we over-prepare. The answer is to simply plunge in.” The best way to do this is by employing the 2-Minute Rule: just write one sentence, and you’ll often find yourself writing for an hour.
2. Start with a story.
Stories are what resonate with people – not facts, not theory. It’s how we wire information into our brains. Studies show that stories are why some presidential candidates become memorable – and why others simply fade from our memory. Even when writing an email to a colleague you’ve been trying to get in touch with for months, inserting an engaging anecdote can ensure a more interested reader – and a higher chance of response.
3. Be willing to write badly. Really badly.
Here’s a pro tip: What you think is bad writing, never really is. Sure, it might not be your best, but writing and getting those words out is a step further forward than nothing at all. Get the words out, even if you’re beating yourself up the entire time. You won’t be hurt if you write – you’ll just be writing. Amidst the writing, let your fear of writing float away – and the good stuff will follow. Ultimately, if you spend your entire life waiting for the right moment to write, that moment will never happen – something that Paul Kalanithi realized the hard way.
4. If you’re still not convinced, just throw some words out onto the page.
Doodle with words. Write out your feelings about the meeting earlier in the day, or how your friend made you feel the other day. Form words with no meaning, and suddenly, the flow will just find you. Rather than placing pressure on yourself to get things exactly right, this exercise takes the pressure off of you and onto the paper itself.
5. Writing perfectly won’t happen overnight.
Running a marathon doesn’t happen without the countless hours and buckets of sweat you put in attempting to ensure you can run the miles without collapsing. The same principle goes towards writing. Skills take time, and writing is just a muscle you need to flex. On top of that, understanding that writing isn’t meant to be easy will ensure that you put less pressure on yourself. The more you work at it, though, the better you’ll get.
Ultimately, being able to write will ensure that you get in front of the pack – whether that’s in the workplace, among friends, or in your industry. While many might think that writing is only for supposedly creative people, the reality is that writing is applicable for us all. By owning your voice – and subsequently, owning your story – you’ll move forward in the work that you do. Who knows? You just might be the next big novelist.