Trigger warning: I’m about to list some terms that might give you nightmares. Do you remember these?
- Sentence diagrams
- Split infinitives
- Absolute modifiers
Just talking about them might cause you to flash back to middle school. You’re sitting in a sweaty classroom, listening to the chalk squeak as your teacher writes the definition for each term on a dusty chalkboard.
You, in the meantime, are mentally calculating how many minutes are left before lunchtime.
Here’s the thing about learning to write: It’s not about the terms above. Yes, you need to be aware of them. But if you think learning to write well is about mastering grammar, you’re missing the point.
Learning to write goes beyond masterful handling of the parts of speech. They’re just the paper that wraps the gift.
Today, we’re going to cover what writing well really looks like and why it might be the hardest and best skill you’ll ever master. It’s the gift that keeps on giving: read on to learn why.
Well-written ideas are easier to circulate
You’re reading Copyblogger. And you probably read paper books, ebooks, news sites, long posts on social media, and more.
When we want our ideas to spread, we start by making them look good in writing.
With the surge in popularity of podcasting and the widespread use of visual platforms like Instagram, Pinterest, and even YouTube, you might wonder if the written word matters as much as it used to.
But most podcasts and videos start out as words in one form or another. They begin life as a written outline, a thoroughly-planned script, or notes on an index card.
When you’re a proficient writer, those first-draft-quality notes will do a better job getting your ideas out of your head and into a new format.
Jerod Morris, co-host of both The Showrunner and The Digital Entrepreneur podcasts, starts 75 percent of his episodes with some type of written outline. Written outlines help you plan, pace, and express your information.
And any medium will benefit when you write well.
That headline you want to add to your Pinterest image? That quote for the image you plan to post on Instagram?
When you know how to write well, you can count on finding the perfect words more easily and expressing them in a way that’s compelling and gets noticed.
Your ideas stand a better chance of spreading when they’re well-written.
Writing builds discipline (and not just for writing)
Here’s the worst-kept secret about becoming a better writer: To get good at it, you have to write — more than you think and on a regular basis. And you’ll need to keep it up for longer than you may expect.
You may find that in order to keep your writing chops in the best possible shape, you need to write almost every single day.
Our own Sonia Simone, for example, has written something every day for thirty years, with the exception of a short stint in the hospital while she recovered from major surgery. (We’ll let that one slide.)
There aren’t too many things in life that promise the kind of return that writing on most days will give you. (More on that below.)
And the discipline you’ll build from steadily working to improve your writing will build your character.
You may even find yourself looking around for more to write about once you’re in the habit of writing most days.
Clearer thoughts are born from your writing structure
The process of writing clearly usually involves starting with some sort of basic outline.
But since “outline” is another one of those scary words from English class, I want to offer you the phrase I use to describe the initial stage of writing — building the backbone.
Building the backbone refers to the process of working out the basics of the idea you want to express by deciding on a topic, then hashing out the underlying structure of how you’ll present your information. It forces you to bring your ideas into focus and clarify them so they are strong enough to support the concepts you’ll hang on them.
There’s nothing like figuring out your supporting arguments to help you clarify your ideas.
This process can spill over into many other areas of your life.
- You will write better (and clearer) emails.
- You will find it easier to structure presentations or speeches.
- You will win more arguments (maybe!).
Structuring your thoughts before you share them in writing will get you into the habit of structuring your thoughts before you share them anywhere else as well. It will help you clarify your message and put it into a form that’s easier to understand.
How can you become a better writer?
Start with the posts below. They’ll cover the basics and help you establish a strong writing habit that you can use to structure and share your ideas.
- A Simple Plan for Writing One Powerful Piece of Online Content per Week
- The 7 Things Writers Need to Make a Living
- Solve Your Blank-Page Problem with This Visual, 3-Step Content Creation System
- 10 Ways to Build Authority as an Online Writer
- How to Make Your Writing Real
- 4 Simple Steps to Writing a Blog Post that Floods Your Inbox with Inquiries
- The Traffic Light Revision Technique for Meticulously Editing Your Own Writing
You can also download and print out this poster (3.3 MB) to help motivate you to write on a regular basis.
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