Aren’t you tired of the same old writing tips?
You know, tips like:
- Write every day without fail.
- Find your best time of day to write.
- Avoid distractions like Facebook and email.
- Use a timer to work in short bursts, followed by a break.
Yes, they’re tried and tested. But chances are, you’ve either taken all of these on board already — or you’ve given them a go and found they simply don’t work for you.
And that’s why you need to try something different — a new approach to jolt your writer’s brain out of its rut and send it reeling in promising new directions.
So here are ten writing tips I bet you won’t have heard before. (If I’m wrong, tell me in the comments!)
They cover every stage of the writing process, from coming up with ideas to proofreading the finished product to staying motivated for the long haul.
Ready to be surprised?
Tip #1: Keep an Obsessively Detailed Log Book
Use a notebook or text document to record details about your writing sessions.
You might include:
- The day, date, and time of day (e.g., Thursday, April 21)
- How long you wrote — or the start and end times of your writing session
- What you achieved (e.g., “wrote 500 words” or “finished blog post draft” or “planned out six blog posts”)
- How you felt before, during, and after the session (e.g., “reluctant to get started but got into flow quickly and felt great for having written”)
- Any lessons learned or things to remember for the future (e.g., “really struggled to focus after a long day at the office — try writing before work instead”)
This may sound like a lot of extra work. In practice, it should take about three minutes. Your log book is a crucial tool for becoming a more effective, self-aware writer: think of it as “analytics” for your writing life.
After keeping a log for a couple of weeks, look out for patterns. Perhaps you always seem to get more written during morning sessions than afternoon ones, or you often find yourself feeling like doing anything instead of starting … only to enjoy yourself once you get going.
Tip #2: Just Open the Damn Document (Then Keep Going)
If you’re working on a biggish piece of content, like a long blog post, a special report or even an ebook, it can be tough to summon up the motivation to get going — or to pick it back up after some time away.
So here’s a nifty little trick. Tell yourself “I’ll just open the damn document.”
That really is easy, and almost effortless. Find the document, open it up. Takes a few seconds.
Then tell yourself, “Now that the document’s open, I’ll just write one sentence.”
One sentence. It’s like one push-up: so easy you’d feel pathetic if you wimped out.
Then, “I’ll just finish this one paragraph.”
… and so on.
After a couple of minutes, your initial (and natural) reluctance to get started will have vanished, and you’ll be writing. Chances are, you’ll get a heck of a lot more done than if you tried telling yourself up front, “I have to write for an hour.”
And if you do give in after that one paragraph? Heck, you still did brilliantly — after all, you’d only initially committed to opening the document.
Tip #3: Use Fire to Spark Your Imagination
While I’m a big fan of timers, I’ll admit that there’s nothing especially relaxing about having one ticking away (even virtually and silently) while you’re writing.
One of my blog’s readers mentioned a key part of his writing ritual that I’ve shamelessly stolen: lighting a candle when you’re writing.
Fire has all sorts of resonances for writers: how often have you heard people talking about “sparking” an idea or “kindling” inspiration? (It’s no accident, of course, that Amazon called its e-reader the Kindle.)
A flame also offers a focus point: you might have used it in this way if you’re into meditation. As a writer, you can use the flame as a gentle reminder of your intention to spend time working on something meaningful to you.
(If your rental contract/small child/excitable pet rules out candles? Try fairy lights.)
Tip #4: Throw Linear Writing Out the Window
One key sticking place for many bloggers is between the initial plan for a post and the first draft. (Once you’ve got a first draft down, however rough, you’ve at least got something to work with.)
If you find yourself struggling and sweating over the first draft, approach it differently. Instead of trying to write grammatical prose that flows all the way from the first line to final call to action, jump in wherever you like.
For instance, your plan might be a list of subheadings with a few notes-to-self about what you want to include in each section. Since you’ve got the structure down already, there’s no need to work from beginning to end when you write.
Instead of beginning with the introduction (which is always tough to get right), you can start straight in with your first point. Or, if you prefer, your fifth.
As long as you edit afterward to make sure your post flows, there’s nothing wrong with this scatter-gun approach to drafting. It can get you past any initial reluctance to write, and you may well find it’s actually more efficient to write your introduction or the tougher sections once you’ve got the rest of the post done.
Tip #5: Break Familiar Patterns by Switching Media
If your thoughts just aren’t flowing as you draft, how about writing in a different medium?
You might never have considered this, but there’s no reason why you can’t draft your blog posts in old-fashioned ink on old-fashioned paper. You may find that the composition process feels quite different when you’re writing letters instead of tapping keys — and you may also find yourself focusing or thinking in a subtly different way.
If pen and paper don’t work for you, how about drafting a blog post or newsletter on your phone? Yes, you won’t be able to type as fast … but that might shake up your writing style. You may also feel closer to your readers’ experience of your posts (a good number of them will be reading on phones or tablets).
Another option is dictation: speak your blog posts instead of typing them. If you want to write in a more conversational manner, this can be a great way to bring your speech patterns into your blog posts.
Dictation can also speed you up significantly (though you’ll need to allow extra editing time). A fairly fast writer might take an hour to write 1,000 words; dictation might get you that far in just ten minutes.
Tip #6: “Tie Your Hands” with an Artificial Restriction
If you feel stuck in a rut with your blog posts, an artificial restriction is a great way to force yourself to pay close attention to your word choices. For instance:
- Don’t use any words that contain the letter E.
- Start the first sentence of your post with the letter A, the second sentence with B, and so on. If you get as far as Z, begin again — or work backward.
- Only write sentences of eight words or less.
- Don’t use adjectives or adverbs.
- Include a number of “prompt words” at some point within your post.
If you find that doing this during the first draft slows you down too much, then you could use a restriction while editing instead.
You needn’t keep the restriction in place for your final draft, but sticking to it during the development process will take your writing in some interesting directions.
Tip #7: When Brainstorming, Use “Maybe”
There’s plenty of great advice out there about creating plans for your content — whether that’s a blog post or a full ebook. I’m sure you’ve read your share of blog posts dealing with index cards, mind maps, linear outlines…
… and you might feel like you’re missing something. If you’re like me, you sometimes sit down to make a mind map and seize up. You just don’t know where to begin.
Instead of trying to throw definite ideas at the page, deliberately loosen up. Instead of making decisions, play around with possibilities.
The best way to do this is to add one simple little word: maybe.
Maybe collate reader comments into a post, with a quick introduction and summing-up…
Maybe write a blog post that includes dialogue (like a short story)…
Maybe include a Q&A section in my weekly newsletter…
Maybe write a series of posts on…
Adding in “maybe” can free you up to scribble down things that you’re feeling unsure about. Seeing them on the page (or screen), though, can often spark off a new train of thought … or you might just realize that the idea was a pretty good one after all.
Tip #8: Challenge Yourself to Write in Weird Places
Hopefully, you’ve got a decent place to write: somewhere you can be comfortable and relatively undisturbed. It might be a spare bedroom, a desk out in the shed, or a corner table at your favorite coffee shop. When you’re there, you (usually!) feel like writing.
But … you can’t always be at your desk. So even if you don’t have to write in odd places, potentially at odd times, challenge yourself to do so. You may find that the tension of writing somewhere new provokes new thoughts. Try:
- In the car (as a passenger, or when waiting to pick someone up)
- On a park bench — writing outside can be weirdly freeing
- In a blanket fort or secret den — it doesn’t matter how old you are! As a teen, I had a writing nook in the eaves of our attic, and it was a great place for brainstorming.
- Any time you’re waiting around: at the dentist’s, at your kid’s football match, in a school hall waiting for a play or recital to begin, in the kitchen while keeping an eye on dinner…
(I’d love to hear about the weirdest place you’ve written. Drop a comment below to share!)
Tip #9: “Top and Tail” Your Writing
This is one of those tips that sounds so simple, you might well doubt it actually works.
All I can say is, … try it.
Next time you draft anything, cut the first and last paragraph … and see if your piece is stronger without them.
Often it will be. If the piece doesn’t work without them, try cutting the first and last sentence instead.
(If you’re working on a long post, or if you know you have a tendency to over-write, try cutting the first and last paragraph or sentence of each section as well.)
Why does this work? When you’re drafting or starting a blog post, it’s tempting, to begin with a bit of virtual throat-clearing: a warm-up paragraph that doesn’t really say much. Often, your real hook comes in the second paragraph.
Similarly, when you finish a post, you might be tempted to round everything off neatly. Sometimes stopping a little sooner makes for a more powerful ending (and potentially more room for readers to add their take in the comments).
Tip #10: Stop Seeking Approval — Focus on One Good Enemy
When I was a very young and fledgling writer, I came across the article One Good Enemy by Holly Lisle. It’s stuck with me for over fifteen years. I’d recommend reading it — it’s a powerful piece of writing — but if you want the gist, here it is:
Instead of wishing you had a supportive friend or mentor to cheer you along, maybe what you really need is someone whom you want to prove wrong.
One good enemy who’s told you “you can’t do it” (or, in Holly’s case, “you can’t make it without me”).
That “enemy” might be, for you, someone who left a horrible comment on your blog. It might be your big brother, who’s always outshone you in everything. It might be a day-job colleague or even your boss, rolling their eyes at your dreams of making it in blogging.
Perhaps aiming for “I told you so” isn’t the nicest of motivations … but if it works for you, then use it.
Take the Road Less Traveled and See Your Writing Soar
There’s a ton of great writing advice out there.
And none of it will do you a bit of good unless you actually do something with it.
To grow as a writer (and to grow your blog), you don’t need to put in a super-human effort.
But you do need to write. And you need to tweak your writing habits so they work well for you.
Today, pick just one of the unusual tips above to try out.
Who knows where it could lead?
Guest post written by Ali Luke
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