This post was originally written as my Writer’s Letter, which is sent to subscribers each month. The response I had back was so heartening, I wanted to share the same letter with everyone, as this week’s long read. If you’d like to subscribe to my letters, you can sign up here.
Writing matters to me because I find it life-affirming. We may think a thought, write it down, explore where it goes. There is always something or some place or some feeling or someone to write towards.
I write my blog because it's my way of making sense of what is going on in my life or what I happen to be thinking about that day, no matter how trivial - whether that's going out for dinner or picking a bedtime story or trying to explain who Donald Trump is to my kids. I simply write about my day to day, figuring things out as I navigate daily life.
Writing looks back at me, an outstretched hand grasping mine to go run some place together, some place wild and bright and free; some place where I might find ideas hidden in the undergrowth and peel them like Christmas clementines, one sprightly little piece at a time.
I’ve been a writer for decades. Writing is the the only thing I ever wanted to do since I was a child. I have one book under my belt and another, hopefully, ahead. Yet I don’t claim to be at the top of my writing game. I don’t think such a thing exists. I see myself as a good writer - but brilliant? Breathtaking? No. Not yet, not in my head. But there is always room for betterment.
And so, some simple ways to become a better writer, below.
1 trust yourself
Those who talk of hustle and algorithms tell us to write for our audience. But when it comes to writing the sort of writing that sings of summer or sighs for a heart cracked, I find it helps to let all that go. It helps to think beyond mere content and what other people expect. It helps to trust yourself first; to write what you want to, what you need to, before worrying about what other people may think about what you write or the way in which you write it. After all, the beauty of writing is you choose what you say and how you say it. I guess what I’m saying is - write for yourself and don’t self-edit because of what you imagine someone else’s expectations to be.
2 Read like a writer
Pay attention to the words you surround yourself with. What works for you? What doesn’t? What are your likes and dislikes? What do you admire? Unpick, then piece together again (and more on reading like a writer).
3 Write like you
Write the way you speak; it’s the simplest way to start. Never mind what you assume a writer is supposed to sound like - those long fancy words and complicated sentences - for none of that is even true. All that matters is your voice; the one that lilts and sways, whispers and lingers. (Recording what you want to say and then writing it down is a natural place to start).
4 the details matter
I implore: check grammar! Remind yourself when it is it’s instead of its and there instead of their or they’re. These silly little things may be a slip of the finger, but they sure do sour if left like spilt milk.
5 think simple & sparse
I am a sucker for description; for the way it wraps around your tongue like honey. But too much of it and there’s no room for anything else. Too much, and it starts to pale (I have done this though; I do need to rein myself in). I remind myself I like descriptions to feel like fireworks; unexpected, rare and explosively wondrous when they appear. As with most things in life, less is always more.
6 SCRIBBLE longhand
A blinking cursor on a blank document does little for inspiration. Write the way it was intended we write. A hand, a pen, moving across a sheet of paper. I don’t know; whenever I am stuck, it somehow works for me. It somehow grounds me in my words, my pencil nib pressing a little stronger as my sentences begin to flow, as I figure out what it is I want to say and how. Give it a try. See where it takes you on the days you are stuck.
7 let someone in
Show someone something you’ve written. Let someone read the blog post you’ve been too scared to publish, or the memoir you’ve been longing to write or the article you were commissioned on spec. Simply show someone (and if you wanted to, you could show me). For one, it’s handy - fresh eyes spots the typos we somehow never see (see point 4 above!). And for another - it matters. It matters for you. It matters that whatever they think of what you wrote, you still put yourself out there, even if it is just this once. Although do it once, and you will want to do it again, and again!
Aspiring writers (and even published ones) procrastinate brilliantly. There’s always some reason or another not to start that story or commit to that article or blog post. My advice? Don’t aspire to write; just write. Easier said than done? Start over. Read all of this once more. Then: find an open page. Pick up that pen. Hell, talk aloud to yourself; hear your voice! Find what you want to say. Next: begin. Keep it simple. Keep it sparse. Throw in a firework or two. Write even if just for five minutes. Then, try for ten. Take cover. It will come together. It will come together.
Inspired? My writing course The Quiet Words: the craft of writing creatively starts on February 4th, 2019.
It’s an eight-week course that will move you to connect with yourself, your creativity and find the words to bring your writing alive off the page and linger long.
The Quiet Words is for you if…
... You've always wanted to write, but have never known how to start
... You’ve tried writing before but kept getting stuck
… You’ve never shown anyone anything that you’ve written and keep it secret
… You long to feel creative and feel like creativity is missing from your life
… You love reading and have always been inspired by words, fictional or otherwise
… You crave a safe, quiet space with like-minded souls in which to write
… You want permission to put your own creativity first
… You truly want to overhaul the chaos of daily life and reclaim time for yourself for your own wellbeing
… You are nervous about other people reading your writing, but also secretly would love to have someone tell you what they think of it
BY THE END OF THIS COURSE, YOU WILL...
... Have committed to and established a daily writing practice
... Learn how to declutter your mind to enable creativity to flow
... Have produced a piece of writing and received personal feedback for it
... Read books the way a writer would, watching closely for the details
... Know how to spot a good idea to write about, and know the importance of following through
... Understand how to craft memorable and moving descriptions
... Know how to edit your work to make it read effortlessly
... Learn how to connect with yourself in order to infuse your writing with a sense of true emotion that will bring your work alive, regardless of the context
... Be on the path to living the creative, enriched and fulfilling life you have longed for