As a writer, I am always looking for ways to improve and perfect my craft. I love seeking advice on many topics and this area of skill is certainly no exception. But I tend to find consistent advice that just does not seem to jive with my technique. I try it out for a period of time and am usually less than satisfied with the results.
After many different attempts, I certainly have not stopped looking for more advice. After all, constantly seeking information is the best way towards improvement. However, I have come to realize that the “best” techniques are not always for everyone, especially in artistic fields.
For that reason, I thought that maybe my techniques would be helpful to others and so I wanted to share some of them. I urge you to not think of these tips as “advice” but rather “un-advice.” Many points will go against what the experts teach, but they have served me well and they may serve you too.
I Write the Title First
99% of the time, when it comes to books, articles or papers, I come up with the title before I have any other knowledge of what I will write. This, in standard teaching, is a huge no-no. I recall being taught that it would limit my writing and I would struggle staying focused through to the end. But in my experience this has not been the case.
Sometimes I don’t know where the title comes from. It often just pops into my head as a complete thought. Once the title is rattling around in my mind, the body comes freely and smoothly as though it were writing itself. I could probably count on my fingers the number of times I have changed a title after completing a work.
Arguably, one could say I have horrible titles. Of this, I am not sure. But they have served me well thus far and the technique is the basis and launching point of all my writing. So give it a try. Just once or twice, think of a title before you even have a concept. See what happens!
I Don’t Jot Down Ideas
This one is huge in the writing world: always have a notebook handy to jot down any thoughts or writing ideas. This act butchered more good ideas for me that I outright refuse to do it. If I cannot sit down and write the entire piece, then I don’t write down anything at all. I even try to think about the topic as little as possible.
To me, writing is processing. It is fueled by emotion, even the most technical pieces. If I jot down a thought or two or dwell on the topic too long before getting to the computer, the emotion diminishes and the piece is empty. It goes from passionate expression to just words.
Even if I only write down a word or two in a handy notebook to remind myself of the topic, I feel as though I have spoiled some part of it and it turns me off from writing the piece altogether.
For me, nothing gets written down or even spoken about until I can write the complete piece. I rarely lose ideas or forget them and I feel the ones that do slip away may not have been worth writing anyway.
If you are the forgetful type and you tend to not write based on emotion, then this technique would be clearly irrelevant to you. But if you like to light your pieces with passionate fire, then try tossing out those handy notebooks and just holding the ideas somewhere in your head. If nothing else, it would be a fun experiment to see which pieces actually make it to publish.
I Don’t Write Every Day
Some of my favorite writers have preached the concept that one should write everyday. It makes sense at first glance. Like anything, the more you do it, the better you get. The idea of carving out a time to write every single day is sure to hone and enhance your skills, right?
Not in my case. I have tried this countless times. I have spent weeks struggling to write anything I could muster every single day. The product? Some absolutely horrible writing. Writing that I cringe to reread and wish to shred before anyone can glimpse it.
But failures lead to success, right? Again, not in my case. All that energy I spent writing just to write had my focus aimed solely at the act of writing instead of content. My brain was not free to read, ponder, and create. There is so much more to writing than actually writing and by forcing the act every day, the physical act of pouring over a keyboard trumped every other aspect, causing my writing to suffer.
As one of my favorites, Phil Cooke, once said:
“Typists type. Writers stare out windows.”
If you want to become a better writer, try taking a break. Don’t force the inspiration. Don’t pour over the computer. Just sit. Think. Read. Take a walk. If you have the time to write everyday and it feels right, go for it! But try not forcing the process and see what happens.
I Don’t Wait to Edit
A lot of the pros push the concept of just sitting down and writing, waiting until you are finished getting your thoughts out before you go back and edit. I do the exact opposite of this. I edit each sentence as I write it. I ensure that spelling and punctuation are correct even if I have to stop and research it. I make sure that all resources and citations are complete at the very moment I quote them. I even stop in mid-sentence to check font types, HTML and other visual concepts.
When I reach the end of a piece, all I need to do is go back and reread it once before I publish it. There have been times when I revisited and edited a piece after it had been published but I pride myself on this as opposed to viewing it as a process flaw. A piece, of course, is never complete.
I Don’t Write in My Own Voice
I believe I have a writing “voice.” A tone of which is clearly mine. I have had some read an anonymous article and know it was mine in an instant.
But this writing voice is no where near my conversational voice. I have tried to write the way I speak (and I do believe I speak fluently and articulately) and it turned out as uneducated gibberish on the paper. I have even tried to flip it and attempt to dictate my writing in my writing voice. When I replayed the recording, I thought I sounded like I’d never written a day in my life.
Maybe I am a poor writer. Maybe I am a poor speaker. Or maybe the two just are not interchangeable in my world. But whatever the situation, I do not write the way I speak.
Every writer should find their own writing voice. That which makes each piece so uniquely them. But I recommend veering outside of your standard speaking or conversational voice and playing with different techniques. Maybe your true voice is hiding somewhere in there just waiting to be found.