If you’re the student that got highest marks in writing and composition in school, you learned to please a very specific type of reader. A teacher, professor, or academic. That doesn’t necessarily mean your writing will please the average reader, much less the audience you are trying to reach with whatever writing you are creating now.
Bland, impersonal sentences, strung together with perfect grammar and syntax, don’t win any awards or sell any widgets in today’s writing marketplace.
Those who write with a purpose other than creating poems, novels and the like need to understand one thing: what you think is great is nothing compared to the need of the reader to find some benefit in your writing.
So, if your sales copy for widgets doesn’t answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” you’ve failed. If your report on some breaking news story doesn’t deliver a hook or bottom line, your reader will question the newsworthiness of your writing.
With that in mind, here are ten habits you might want to cultivate that will make you a better writer, if they become habits:
- If you’re a mediocre writer, hire it done. This is a serious consideration and requires painful self-reflection. If your “core competence” is somewhere other than crafting finely wrought sentences that others like to read, hire someone to get it done and do what you do best. You cannot make yourself a great writer if you do not have the talent. Use your talents to support great writers, instead.
- Start early. Get out of bed and start writing while your morning coffee is brewing. This forces your mind into gear and gives you a head start.
- Start before you’re ready. You just think you have nothing to write. Write something and then write something more. Writing is the beginning of thinking, not the other way around.
- Write the way you speak. Avoid big words, jargon and precious language. The most important thing you can do is make sure you are not misunderstood, not impress your reader with your intellect and grasp of erudite composition.
- Imagine your Ideal Reader and write to him or her. Focus on who will benefit from your writing and direct all your efforts towards reaching and holding that person’s attention.
- Get your title from your summing up sentence at the end. Unless you are given a specific title or subject for your work, you might have trouble crafting a headline. Write everything, sum it up in one sentence and put that at the top. You’re done!
- Force yourself to write finished copy. You may have developed the habit of writing drafts that are little more than disorganized ideas, in no particular order. Always write a final draft. Push yourself to organize your thinking and write as if your deadline is before you. Writing finished copy the first time is a powerful focus for the mind.
- Get regular physical exercise. Even though a writer may suppose that mental exercise is the most important mental preparation for writing, actual physical movement does more for clarity of thought and memory. Get up off your aspirations and move!
- Live your life. All good writers have life experience. There’s no glory or benefit to shutting yourself away from the world in the name of furthering your writing. The more you do in life that is unrelated to your writing work, the more chances you have of experiencing a transformative moment that improves you as a person and a writer.
- Beware the trap of Perfection. You may have heard a poem that begins, “Beware, my son, of good enough; it isn’t made of sterling stuff.” That’s true. It is also true that perfectionism kills more good ideas (and good writing) than you might believe, because you never actually start. Instead, consider the following as a new rule to apply. “There’s never enough time to do it perfectly the first time. There’s always time to revise and do over.”
No matter which of these you choose, they all have the most powerful force in the Universe behind them: Force of Habit. Take advantage of it.