Despite what many might think, good writing is not an easy task that simply involves sitting down, allowing your fingers go to work at the keys until, two or three hours later, you find yourself the proud creator of a 2,000-word article. Good writing takes work. It takes time, preparation, research and a ton of editing and re-writing to churn out something worthy of being read by someone other than yourself. Writing, like any other skill, can be developed and honed. Now you may already have a natural aptitude as a wordsmith, but as exemplified by professional athletes, natural skill can only take you so far.
The best athletes in the world are insanely talented, however, what truly sets them apart is their indomitable will to constantly improve, to always strive towards self-improvement. That requires practice, repetition and taking constructive criticism and using it to improve on your weaknesses. Writing is the same game. The more articles you write and the more you learn about writing itself, the better at it you will become; not only in the words you chose, but also in how you present them and how efficient you become at cranking out articles. So, below you will find some tips and advice on how to improve your writing and craft an article that your target audience will love.
Do Not Fear The Blank Page
If you are a writer, or fashion yourself one, you likely have solid opinions and a wealth of information that you want to share with the world. You have ideas that you want to be heard and should be heard. So, what do you do? Well, sit down and begin writing, of course! Unfortunately, the only problem is that it is not that simple. Odds are, you have sat down at your desk with every intention of writing a piece so seminal, so mind-numbingly, earth-shatteringly, awesome, that the tides of history would be forever changed.
However, as your fingers hovered expectantly above the keys, you found yourself frozen, all your genius expelling into nothingness, and you were left simply staring at the blank screen asking yourself: Where to begin? Where to end? How much do I want to include? What is important? At this point, blank page paralysis takes hold.
Michael Arndt, the Oscar Winning Writer of Little Miss Sunshine wrote this in regard to the onerous task of writing: “The number one metaphor I have in my mind for writing a screenplay is that…you’re trying to climb a mountain blindfolded. And the funny thing about that is, you think, ‘Okay, that’s hard because you’re climbing up a rock face, and you don’t know where you’re going, and you don’t know where the top is, you can’t see what’s below you…’ But actually, the hardest part about climbing a mountain blindfolded is just finding the mountain.” Although he was speaking specifically to screenwriting, the sentiment applies to writing in general.
The blank page is one of the hardest aspects of writing, whether you are a blogger, author or screenwriter, the paralysis that comes with it can be debilitating. So, what do you do? As Arndt mentions, one of the toughest aspect is simply finding the mountain you will eventually climb. Therefore, find your mountain.
Finding Your Mountain
Now, this might seem obvious, but regardless of whether or not you have the freedom to choose what you are writing about, it is vital that the information you present either excites or informs your audience. In some cases, you can and should convey both things. Regardless, you need to approach you article with a few questions in mind:
- “What is interesting about this subject?
- “What has already been said about this topic?
- “What am I trying to say about it?”
- “What can I teach my audience that they might not already know?”
If you are picking the topic, pick something that you yourself are interested about. That may seem obvious, but our writing is often a reflection of our own thoughts and feelings. If you think a subject is dull, odds are, that sentiment will be conveyed, in how you present it, or the words you use. Writing about things that interest you is all well and good, but if your goal is to teach or help others, then simply writing about a subject you enjoy will not cut it. You must write to your audience and continuously do so in such a manner that it reaches them.
Naturally, some topics are more interesting or eye catching than others. However, whether you are reporting on a health crisis in Somalia or are simply writing a short bit on tips for improving Search Engine Optimization, you need to give your audience a reason to care in order to set yourself apart. Think of your audience like fish swimming in the seas of their daily milieu; they are busy, their time is limited and their interest even more so. Because of that, they must be coaxed and cajoled into taking the time to read what you spent the time writing.
They do not owe you their time. You must take it from them, you must seize their attention. Like an angler, you have to draw in the fish first, tantalize it and gain its interest before you can hook it. It is also vital that you know your target audience. What might be fascinating to entomologists will likely not have the same appeal to teenage girls. So, know who you are writing for and cater that to them. Then, whatever it is you want to write about, be it traveling, food, or political news, make sure that you are trying to present something in a new manner or from a different angle. A topic can be completely overdone, however, if it is approached with an unusual focus or tactic, it can be viewed in altogether new or interesting light.
Do Your Do Diligence
If you want to climb Mount Whitney, it is not as simple as showing up and setting out for the top. You not only need the proper gear, you also must train and prepare, and you have to know the route you will take to reach the pinnacle. The same goes with writing. Before you begin writing, make sure to do your homework first. Before you ever set pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, you should know the ins and outs of your subject. You should know what others have said about it or what they did not say about it. You do not want to tell a story or teach a lesson that someone else has already told. Your goal should not be to parrot or mimic, but ‘To go where no man has boldly gone before.’ You should want to climb your mountain taking a route that someone has not used before. Ask yourself:
- Who are the experts in this field?
- What do they have to say about this?
- Who are their contrarians?
- What do they have to say about this?
Conducting thorough research whereby you arm yourself with reliable sources, quotes and arguments prepares you for the actual writing.
The Bare Bones
Phillip of Macedon is attributed to have coined the phrase and military philosophy of, “Divide et impera,” Divide and conquer. As mentioned above, the blank page can lead to inaction. Therefore, outlining and structuring content into sections, thereby creating the skeleton of your argument, can be enormously helpful way to avoid blank page paralysis.
By sectioning out your article, you take away much of the unknown and narrow down what it is you want to say to your audience. Once you have broken a topic into partitions it becomes infinitely easier to focus on one section at a time and tailor it to your readers. You can even detail ideas within each section or subsection. As you go through, that skeleton will soon transform into a fully-fleshed, living, breathing, entity.
Write, Edit, And Rewrite
Author Shannon Hale writes, “I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” This is an extremely important point for all writers; you are never done after the first draft. The first draft simply gets the core of your message out on paper and allows you (and others) the ability to judge what is good, what is bad, what should stay and what should go. You might finish and realize that you need to tackle it form a completely different angle, that you did not get your point across, or that it does not really suit your target audience.
Patricia Fuller writes, “Writing without revising is the literary equivalent of waltzing gaily out of the house in your underwear.” First drafts are supposed to be messy and ugly because they are one of many significant steps in the process. When carving a statue out of marble, the sculptor first chips away much of the excess marble before he truly begins honing in the details. If you want to write an article that your audience will love, you may have to write it three, four or five times, if not more, to really get it where it needs to be.
Although it may seem painful, it is worth it; with each cut, note, edit and re-write, you are improving and perfecting your craft. Eventually, if you are following these steps, you will be able to take off your blindfold and find yourself at the pinnacle of the mountain.