Without a doubt, writing is the most important skill in my life. Better writing helped me to think and communicate better, which resulted in more happiness and career opportunities.
It’s the skill I apply the most. And it took me time and plenty of trial and error to learn. So in this article, I’ll share 15 brief tips you can instantly apply to your writing without studying the craft for years. These tips will help you to stand with your words.
1. Keep it brief
Short writing forces you to be clear. Because our thoughts are usually abstract and all over the place, our writing tends to be the same.
You can avoid that by always aiming to be as brief as possible.
2. Assume your reader doesn’t know what you’re talking about
People live busy lives. So we can’t expect they’ll know what we’re talking about. When you’re writing an email, report, message, article, and so forth; assume that your reader doesn’t have the same experience as you.
That keeps your writing fresh and accessible to everyone.
3. Write during your best hour of the day
Your mood reflects your writing. If you’re agitated, your writing will sound agitated. You might be good at putting on a game face, but your subconscious is something you don’t control.
That doesn’t mean you should only write when you’re in a good mood. Simply write during the time of the day you are usually in a better mood. I prefer first thing in the morning or late in the evening.
4. Tell personal stories
There are a lot of self-help books these days that follow the same formula: Tell a historical story, then draw lessons from it.
If you look at Amazon reviews of those types of books, the #1 criticism is the lack of personal perspective. While it’s cool to say, “no one cares about you,” the truth is that people actually do care about your personal stories.
The other day, a business partner emailed me about a project that was delayed because she got Covid and how long it took to recover. In response, I talked about my previous stomach problems, and how it took me a month to feel normal again.
Our stories connected us on a personal level. Personal stories help readers relate to your work more.
5. Avoid immediately hitting “publish” or “send”
It’s generally bad practice to immediately send or publish the moment you’re finished. You want to give your writing a fresh read before you do.
Maybe you were a bit too rash in your response. Maybe you forgot to attach a link or file. And so forth. Just give yourself a few minutes, do something else, and return to your writing later. Then you can reread and edit your work before sending it.
6. Avoid clichés like the plague
Let’s circle back, ping a message, include deliverables, create the bandwidth, and peel back the layers of the onion!
People can’t stand those terms because they make you sound like a robot.
7. Journal every day
Thoughts are abstract. Writing is specific. When you journal, you practice your ability to translate your thoughts into words.
Just like any other skill, it’s all about repetition. The more you do it with intention, the better you will get.
8. Be direct
Say what you want, mean, or feel. Avoid leaving things open to interpretation because that only annoys people.
We can often be more direct in our writing than in real life. When I teach these types of writing lessons in my video course, I don’t need to be this direct because I can use my voice, facial expressions, and examples to make my point.
But when we write, we only have our words. So make them count.
9. Write short paragraphs
Keep your paragraphs to 3/4 sentences max. It’s much easier to read a piece of text if the paragraphs are short.
10. Don’t ask for too much feedback on your writing
Sounds counterintuitive right? The problem with asking for feedback from different people (who are probably not even good writers) is that you end up confused.
It’s one of the biggest misconceptions about writing. You really don’t need feedback from people to be great. Too much feedback from the wrong people waters down your writing. If you want feedback, ask someone who knows what they’re talking about.
11. Use everyday words
Avoid using fancy words that people only use when they write. When was the last time you heard someone say “laconic”? It means using few words to say something, which actually makes it a great word. But no one uses that word when they talk.
As Hemingway said: “It is all very well for you to write simply and the simpler the better.”
12. Write with the door closed
Writing is mentally taxing work. It must be taken seriously and deserves your full attention. It’s impossible to write well and do something else at the same time.
So write with the door closed. When you’re done and your work is ready to go out into the world; open the door.
13. Just tell the truth
People often say, “I don’t know what to write!” Just write the truth.
Whether it’s an email reply or a book, be genuine and say what’s on your mind.
14. Fear NOTHING
We often use phrases like could, would, maybe, to hide behind them. But when you write, it’s not the time to figure things out. It’s time to speak with conviction.
Don’t be afraid of making mistakes, whether that’s in grammar or your judgment. Your writing should not be perfect.
“For Christ sake [sic] write and don’t worry about what the boys will say nor whether it will be a masterpiece nor what. I write one page of masterpiece to ninety one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.” That’s what Ernest Hemingway wrote in a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald.
It’s a fearless mindset. If people criticize your writing, so what? People who are so stuck up that they are “put off” by typos or grammar errors are not likable anyway. No need to please them.
15. Walk away if you’re stuck
Writing can either move smoothly like water or trudge like mud. When you feel like you’re trudging in mud and you can’t write a single sentence, just stop it altogether.
Good writing flows. When you sit down to write, the words should pour on the screen. If that doesn’t happen, it means you shouldn’t be writing that specific thing at that specific time.
Walk away. Write something else. Have a cup of tea.
Good writing is good thinking
The tips I shared in this article have little to do with language or grammar. Good writing comes from good thinking.
It’s about translating your thoughts into words. It’s also about having respect for your reader. You want to make it easy for others to read what you have to say.
This is not something that happens overnight. To become a good writer, we need to practice. But it’s worth it because writing is the most important skill I can think of.