“I hate to write!” While that phrase is music to my ears, because it ensures my income will persist, it also saddens me. Far too many people dislike writing, largely because they’re intimidated by the process of knitting words into sentences and sentences into paragraphs.
Nearly everyone needs to write from time to time, and the ability to assemble words in a coherent way can impact your success. Whether you have to write reports, proposals, memos, or even emails, being able to express yourself effectively can improve your standing and career prospects while reducing the potential for mistakes and misunderstandings.
Why do so many people dislike writing? Most developed that attitude in school, as they struggled to meet the expectations of teachers and professors and were forced to conform to the complex, unfriendly academic style rarely used in the outside world. They become apprehensive and convinced they’re incapable of writing well.
If I’ve just described you, relax. You don’t need to be intimidated. I’m confident you have the ability to be a better writer than you imagine. The key is to remember and follow seven simple steps:
- Start with the end in mind. Too many people start writing without a real goal. Before you commit a single word to paper or screen, ask yourself what you want to convey. In just one sentence, what do you want the reader to know? If you can’t answer that question, you won’t be able to create a coherent message. Once you can distill that objective into a single sentence, you’re ready to start writing.
- Don’t shoot for perfection. There’s a common misconception that when professional writers touch their keyboards, brilliance flows forth, creating immediate works of art. Actually, I write terrible first drafts. I don’t set out to create brilliance. My goal is to convey a message. The beauty comes later in the process. If you start off expecting your first sentence to read like great literature, you’re going to be disappointed, and most people react to disappointment by concluding they’re not up to the task. Nonsense.
- Throw ideas out there. The purpose of your first draft is to get rough thoughts and ideas on the screen. My first drafts are confusing collections of thoughts, half-sentences, and half-baked ideas. Anyone reading one of my first drafts would be astounded that I earn a living by writing.
- Organize. Now that all your thoughts and half-baked ideas are in on the screen in front of you, start moving them around. Arrange them in some kind of logical order. Discard any that don’t seem to fit and look for gaps between others.
- Start writing. If you’ve followed my directions, you now have a fairly organized framework of thoughts, fragments, ideas, and words. Now’s the time to knit them all together. Turn your half-thoughts into complete sentences. Link them with transitions. Don’t be afraid to rearrange sentences and paragraphs if you see a more logical way to do that. Swap out carelessly chosen words for others that are more precise or fit better in their surroundings.
- Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Professional writers will tell you the magic doesn’t happen during the first draft. They do their most meaningful work when rewriting that draft. For me, the initial draft is just a rough framework. As I rewrite and revise and edit and pare and polish, I sculpt that framework into something that conveys exactly what I want to say in the way I want to say it. That’s no exaggeration. If I spend six hours writing something, it’s a good bet that no more than an hour or two went into composing the first draft. The rest of the time went into improving and enhancing it.
- Walk away and return. Convinced you’re done? Think you’ve written it to the best of your ability and can’t improve upon what you’ve said? That’s great. Now put it aside and walk away from it. Don’t look at it again for several hours — even better, don’t glance at it until the next morning. When you read it again, you’ll spot opportunities for improvement. You’ll see sentences that aren’t quite as melodic as they could be. So take the time to edit it one more time. Then step back and admire it — because if you’ve proceeded exactly as prescribed here, you’ve created some of your best writing ever. See? You really can write well.