If I had a dollar for every time someone told me they thought writing was "difficult" or "complicated," I would be... Well, moderately richer than I am right now. Now, I know writing comes more naturally to some people than it does to others - different strokes for different folks.
That, I truly do understand, because for writing has always come naturally. Math on the other hand makes me want to tear out my hair - if I left algebra class not on the verge of tears it was a good day (no joke, it was terrible).
This being said, I still maintain that one of the biggest problems for a lot of people is that they tend to over-think and over-complicate the process. You aren't trying to win the next Nobel Prize for Literature, so relax!
Writing, at it's core is a very simple process. Rather than viewing it as some
incredibly convoluted, technical process, try instead to see it in it's simplest form:
communication via the written word.
Below are the most useful tips and strategies from my own writing process. First, I go into general suggestions that will help your writing at all levels and in all forms. Second, I detail the process that takes me from my first draft, to the final product. Though my intention is to help you improve your own writing, I try not to get too technical.
As I said, I think writing is over-complicated, which many people can find intimidating and discouraging. In other words, I want to de-mystify the process and make it clear that anyone, anywhere can be at least a decent writer if you approach it with the right perspective. The bottom line? If you can speak coherently, you can write coherently. #realtalk
1. Read more. This might seem a bit backwards, but it's the number one tip for a reason. Why would you read more, if you're trying to write better? You do it because reading is hands down one of the best (and easiest) ways to expand your vocabulary, get exposure to new writing styles, and improve your grasp of sentence structure, syntax, and another author's strategy for selling what they're saying. All of that, and you don't even have to step into a classroom - passive learning at it's best.
2. Practice often. Don't worry, this doesn't mean you have to write essays every week, or hold to some strict regimen. You don't need to get crazy with it! Even something as simple as keeping a journal will help improve your skills. Writing is just like anything else, the more you do it, the better you get. Bringing me to my next point...
3. Keep a journal. For a long time I thought that keeping a diary or journal meant sitting down every day and recording every single thought and event. Now, I know that not only is that just not sustainable, it's effing boring! No one is that interesting! I have kept various journals since the eighth grade, but truthfully up until this last year and a half, most of my them didn't even include anything that was personal to me. The journal I had for the four years of college, makes zero direct mention of my personal life; rather, it is filled with quotes, poetry, drawings, and song lyrics. I literally never used to word 'I.' As with reading, interacting with the written word on really any level will help you to hone your writing skills. Keeping a journal does not mean recording every single minute of your life, it simply means you have a place to record your thoughts in whatever form they present themselves to you.
4. Don't wait to record something. If you have a great thought, idea, or phrase, write it down immediately!! Seriously though. In a few hours you will have either forgotten it completely, or forgotten the exact form and structure that made it so great. Believe me, I've done it before and it's incredibly frustrating. If you don't have pen and paper, use your phone! I've written entire blog pieces on the 'Notepad' in my phone, because inspiration struck me and I didn't have a pen and paper. Get it while it's hot, or you might end up losing something great.
Now that the general is out of the way, let's look at the more nitty-gritty side. The following is the step by step guide of my own writing process, but don't worry there is nothing technical or crazy going on. Like I said earlier, over-complicating is one of the biggest issues I think people have with writing.
Sidenote: You will notice that I don't include any sort of "pre-writing" activity, a step which is often pushed in school. I don't do that, and I never did. On standardized tests, I used to write my essay and then go back and fill in the "pre-write" area. Unless I am writing something very technical with a complicated content structure, I skip the step entirely; however, that is just my personal preference. Many people do like to brainstorm their ideas beforehand, so if that seems like something you would find helpful, please don't hesitate! Great pre-writing activities include an idea web, a outline, or just bullet list. Try none, try one, or try them all! As I said, it's a personal preference, so just find what works for you.
The First Draft
4. Say what you're going to say. Say it. Then say it again. A teacher gave me that advice in fourth grade, and I maintain that especially with technical pieces it is the best writing advice I have ever received. To this day, if I am having trouble getting started, or finishing something off - those words always pop into my head. In school they use words like introduction, body, and conclusion... and that is all good and well, but what those terms really boil down to is: Say what you're going to say (introduction), Say it (body), and Say it again (conclusion). Obviously, don't copy and paste the exact same words, but I find that simplifying the process into those terms can really be quite helpful.
Notice, in the beginning of this post I told you what I was going to talk about, now I'm talking about it, and at the end I will recap what I just talked about. Just watch.
5. Write like you would speak. If you're in jam, just try and think about how you would explain what you are trying to say verbally. Consider what you would say if you were talking to your friend. Now write that down. Don't worry about fancy words, comma placement, or really anything else. Write down what you would say out loud, and then leave it be. It might not be epic prose, or the next nomination for Best of 2015, but at the very least it will be coherent... which is more than half the battle!
6. Keep going... even if you think it sucks. In my opinion, the hardest part of the writing process is getting everything I want to say onto the page. You have no idea how many times I've been churning something out and stopped to think: Wow, this is total crap! But, crap or not, just keep going. Half the time when I go back to edit it's not nearly as bad as I thought. The other half of the time it actually is... Again, this should not be cause for stress, it only means you need to spend more time on editing and revision. It doesn't need to be perfect the first time, so don't freak out when it doesn't sound perfect right away.
The Second Draft
7. Walk away. While this step isn't 100% necessary, I find it to be very helpful. Once I finish a draft of something, I immediately switch my attention to something else. I do this because I find that once I go back to my piece, I have a fresh mindset and I can edit and revise much more effectively. I am better at catching pure grammatical and punctuation mistakes, which is obviously important, but the mental breather also makes me better at creating a better overall flow and adding real polish to the language.
8. BUT do come back to edit and revise!!! I don't know why people think it is acceptable step to skip, but it's not! I'm serious! Don't do it! I edit and revise everything I have ever published ever - no exceptions. Why? Because the first draft of pretty much anything is trash... and there is nothing wrong with that! That's why it's called the first draft. For blogging and more informal writing, one or two edits/revisions should be enough, but for formal writing going for a third or fourth certainly won't hurt.
9. Read your writing out loud. Though it doesn't sound like much, this tip is actually a pretty big deal in my personal writing process. I don't do it as much with informal writing such as blogging, but I never turned in an essay for school without reading out loud as I edited. Why? Because your mind is a tricky minx and will mentally correct mistakes that haven't actually been corrected. Your mind knows what it meant to say, so when reading silently it will fill in the gaps and allow you to read what you meant to say, rather than what was actually said. This tip is especially helpful for catching missing words, spelling mistakes, and again creating better overall sentence flow. I can understand why you might not believe me, but give it a try and you might be surprised to find how many mistakes you missed with a silent reading.
The Third Draft
10. Repeat steps one through three from the second draft. Writing is a process, and I cannot stress enough that repetition of the editing and revision steps is the difference between a piece that is good, and a piece that is great.
The Bottom Line
11. If you're a math person and you want percentages, this is how I think about the whole process. The first draft is usually 60% there: the words are on the paper, they more or less make sense, and you as the writer have passed the largest and most difficult hurdle.
The second draft comes in around 80%: most grammar and punctuation mistakes have been caught, the overall flow of the paper is much better, and a reader will take what you're saying much more seriously.
The third draft is about 95%: grammar and punctuation mistakes are few and far between, the organization is clear, your points concise, and the language has been finessed to a level at which the writing simply flows forward. By the third draft the piece should not only be coherent, it should be pleasant to read, easy to follow, and give the impression of polish and precision.
If you liked this piece, please let me know! I'm considering putting together more articles that are centered about the writing process, how to write appropriately for different situations, and more nuanced tips and tricks to make your writing shine. Also, if you have a specific question, please feel free to ask! You can shoot me an email, or find me on Facebook.
Extra also, I am currently looking to expand my repertoire of guest posters, so if you are interested please do shoot me an email at email@example.com with your idea. The topic range is pretty broad, but if you're new than just know that I tend to write predominantly about travel, relationships, self-improvement, and life as a millennial - so maybe shoot for something that falls under those umbrella categories. Hope to hear from you soon!!
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