Four Ideas for Writing More, and Better


Hemingway on writing
In On Writing. A Memoir of the Craft Stephen King says “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut.” 

We may not want to become full time writers, however more and more of our work product relies on the ability to write well.

I have a secret reserve of good writers I turn to for inspiration. When I get stuck and what used to come easy and flow right out of me and onto the screen takes hours of effort to squeeze into something that makes sense, I use one of several strategies to get unstuck.

Four ideas for writing more, and better

1 — read better, and more

A dip in creativity is a leading indicator that we are not reading enough of the right things — books, preferably in paper format and in a quiet place with no distractions. Fiction writing is preferable.

Technical and business reading does not provide the same type of experience. The best writers are and continue to be great storytellers, as I outlined in what fiction writing can help you learn about interaction.

2 — put pen to paper

We do most of our writing using a keyboard, and while that is convenient, it deprives us of the sensory experience of actually putting skin in the game. We build a certain distance between our thoughts and our expression when we mediate the process via a keyboard and screen. The sensory input and output are not the same.

The New York Times on what is lost as writing fades#:

[…] psychologists and neuroscientists say it is far too soon to declare handwriting a relic of the past. New evidence suggests that the links between handwriting and broader educational development run deep.

Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.

It turns out that being able to decipher messiness and variance in our own output greatly enhances our ability to connect information and learn.

We retain information better when we hand write on a pad. On a spectrum from most to least remembered, we retain more of what we create physically when we add manual ability.

3 — write more frequently without worrying about quality

Wanting to achieve perfection is the enemy of done. We fall into that trap when we place more pressure on ourselves to deliver something we consider finished. It is counter intuitive, yet the more we polish, the less frequently we tend to write.

When we work iteratively, starting with completing a first draft we end up with a better final product.

4 — write about the very thing that bothers you

The best way to get over a challenge is to work through it; writing about being stuck eventually leads to some form of understanding or at least awareness of what is going on/what bothers or blocks you.

It works.

Keeping good company with inspiration

Since resistance to the convenience of new tools is futile, especially due to having only so much time in a day, I manage my reading habits carefully by selecting sites and blogs that deliver beyond information and news.

My go-to resources for inspiration have one thing in common: they are good storytellers and pros who share the trials and tribulations of their trade themselves.

Steven Pressfield talks about working on chaos# — a condition or state in which many of us seem to live anymore — and starting from anywhere#. Some of his thoughts:

  • working in the cracks
  • only think big
  • refuse to work in sequence (I also found not reading in sequence useful)
  • chaos can be healthy (by upsetting our normal course, it opens a new way)
  • chaos is what we have (and yes, some weeks we can deal with it better than others)
  • showing up is sometimes more important that having it all figured out

Ann Handley has a magnificent way with stories, and recently wrote about 14 stages of writing a book or finishing a big project# that sounds a lot like what it feels when working on an important client deliverable or presentation.

You see the end of it, feel happy and sapped at the same time. The best ways to describe this part are the two steps on the list under:

  • bargaining — when you trade with yourself to stay motivated
  • consciousness — when you do realize you still need to sell the project/talk, etc.

Twyla Tharp is my third source of inspiration. In 7 ways to make writing your creative habit, I highlighted how creativity is the product of discipline — and we can all work on building capacity for that.

First, you need to learn how to prepare to be creative, says Tharp. It’s about much more than quality of presentation, it’s about being able to bridge between what you see in your mind and what you present to the world — skill is how you build that bridge.

Stephen King says:

“Good description is a learned skill, one of the prime reasons why you cannot succeed unless you read a lot and write a lot. It’s not just a question of how-to, you see; it’s also a question of how much to. Reading will help you answer how much, and only reams of writing will help you with the how. You can learn only by doing.”

And:

The scariest moment is always just before you start.