The Incredibly Simple Secret To Being A Better Writer

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From Elementary school all the way through University, English was always my worst subject. (I did get mostly perfect marks, but that’s only because school is a joke.)

I hated grammar (I still don’t know it, which is glaringly obvious), I disliked reading boring stories about boring topics, and I absolutely despised being told I had to write my own stories or essays in the same boring way.

I’m not lying when I say I fell asleep in class at least 4 out of 5 days/week. (My books had the drool puddles to prove it, haha, gross!)

And yet, I loved writing.

When I was 14 we had an English poetry assignment without any rules. We had to write a poetry book and the poems could take on any meter, any style, any topic. I was in my element.

After I turned in the assignment, my teacher Mrs. P (tangent: everybody had a crush on Mrs P; she was married to my math teacher; they were both pretty young) asked me if I wrote a lot on my own time. Embarrassed, I said no. (I was shy, didn’t want attention.)

Then she said something that has stuck with me ever since:

“It’s very good. Very honest.”

I get a lot of questions about how to start writing or how to start blogging. Usually my advice is to do what I did: spend 30 days before you launch your blog writing at least 1,000 words/day. Get into the flow of writing. Don’t worry about it being perfect, or even good. Just write.

But I always forget about that other important element of writing. (Thanks Mrs. P!)

Stephen King says to be a great writer you have to do two things:

1) Read a lot.

2) Write a lot.

Stephen King is a far better writer than I am, but I’ll bet he’d agree with adding the third element: write honestly, from the heart.

If you listened to the interview I did with Kelly, you know I don’t write 1,000 words/day anymore. Some days I only write a few hundred. Some days I write a few thousand. The number isn’t important to me. What’s important is that I write consistently and write what feels right. ;)

I don’t consider myself a particular good writer. So why do you read? Why are a few thousand other people reading this site every day? Because it’s honest.

So there it is, take it for what it’s worth from someone who doesn’t know a preposition from a (shit, I can’t even think of anything else to put here), if you write consistently and honestly a lot of people will connect with your writing. It doesn’t have to perfect. It doesn’t have to be great. But it must be honest.

If you follow that you might even make a full time living from your writing. ;)



53 COMMENTS

  1. Good magic my friend,

    honesty is the glue that holds your writing together.
    I have really put out my heart with all the stuff I write, and it feels liberating. Most peeps are still not honest with their voice, and lose out because of that.

    • Thanks Mars. I think, maybe, honesty is something that is not natural in public writing. We’re too scared of what others might think. Hopefully more people take heed and speak from the heart.

    • This is no doubt true. However, I think the focus should not be on amount of practice but rather how fun practice can be made.

      How much can we enjoy the process of learning what we want to learn?

      Suddenly, practicing and learning stops being such a struggle and becomes a side-effect of excitement and passion.

      -Nicky

  2. This could not be more true. When I start writing and feel like I’m producing crap, I usually realize it’s because my brain is sub-consciously putting on a front.

    Once I strip things down to how I actually feel, how I would talk about the topic in conversation, it becomes so much more interesting and useful.

    This is a huge problem with school – it trains us to be constantly warping our thoughts into whatever would please the teacher. I am fucking amazing at this but it is suicide when trying to actually express one’s self through writing.

    Another thought is that an oft-forgot component of writing is the editing. People may think (at least, I did) that if they’re writing what comes to mind, the end result won’t be crisp and refined.

    So the last piece of the puzzle for me would be ‘Edit playfully’.

    -Nicky

    • Thanks Nicky! “how I would talk about the topic in conversation” <– that is exactly my goal with my writing. For it to read very similarly to how I speak.

      Right on as far as editing as well. Although instead of editing playfully I edit liberally. :) (hence the somewhat short articles)

  3. Hi Karol, interesting post, thanks

    I agree that it takes practice, honesty and a lot of input (= reading) to become a decent writer. Do the proper homework and then just write..

    The fact that we might be wrong or can’t be a super-expert in everything, might hold people back from posting regularly. When we just get to work, not being too focused on the language and details we might produce a lot more and become better. No success without failure.

    Do you actually write on paper or directly on the computer? I am not sure if that is better to outline one’s ideas (?)
    I write about web design, more procedural stuff, not sure if I could do that with pen and paper.

    Cheers
    Bob

    • Hey Bob, I almost never use paper. I write in WordPress, Google Docs, Open Office, and sometimes just a plain text editor. All depending on what I’m working on. :)

      • Hi Karol, thanks for your reply. I did a lengthy blog post myself today and text editor + final editing in WP works great. Keep on coming your interesting posts! Bob

  4. You know, I think this is what kills a lot of great blogs. People miss a day of writing because they’re trying to contrive their content – then one day turns to two, two to three, and so on. And they never get back to it. I wonder if it would happen as often if there were more honesty in writing.

    This is an excellent wake-up call; thanks, Karol! For what it’s worth, your grammar is loads better than at least 90% of what I read online, and that includes writers from big names like ABC, CBS, etc…

    • “I wonder if it would happen as often if there were more honesty in writing.” <– good question. :)

      Thanks RE: my grammar as well! :)

  5. I was in the same boat when I was in school. There is a big difference between a best writing author and a best selling one, it’s usually not their writing chops.

    I found that the more real I am, the better my writing is and the more it connects with people.

  6. 16 days ago I vowed to write every day. To become better writer (or writer at all). So far it’s great, and with each day writing becomes easier.

    Another case of serendipity ;)

    Cheers

  7. Reading a lot is critical to good writing, though not just how much you read, but also the depth and range of work you read. If you simply read comic books the whole time you will not improve as a writer. Sometimes you need to branch out to some heavier stuff to expand you abilities.

  8. I’m sure he does agree with the necessity for honesty. He doesn’t say it in the same way that you do, but in his book “On Writing” (which is about how to write novels) he hammers home the point that you must ensure your depictions of your characters is honest (i.e. if your character is the type who would swear and be racist, then you need to make him/her swear and be racist). As unpleasant as that might be, honesty is what makes a character or an article real.

    • Hey Jason, you’ll see I linked to On Writing in this article, which is where I got Stephen King’s advice for becoming a better writer. But you’re dead on, I forgot about character honesty!

  9. Your advice on writting for 30 days is gold. I took it and now that I´m getting the flow, I´m also concentrating more on the honest part of it, of talking from the heart. Thanks a lot!

  10. Honesty is definitely the best approach. Take a look at all the popular blogs around. Most of them are very transparent and are very honest in their writings. These may be the reasons of why they are successful in the first place.

    Cheers,
    Vincent

  11. Hey Karol – I was looking at your travel list ideas and I think they are excellent! I want to encourage you to post the packing list geared toward women – there are basically none out there! Please do! Great site… Vanessa

  12. I have recently joined and I hope to stay in that top 2%. lol I have to say I love your writing and I love the language. Some times I feel as if bloggers are not real and it is a blog…why not be real. We are trying to take our family of 4 on an adventure of a lifetime and I am attempting to blog about it. Not to start a business but to help other families that might want to do the same thing and to document what we are doing. I always feel like my blog entries are these run-on sentences and tangent topics that run into my thought process. I wonder….do you write how you talk? Is there a limit to topics you can talk about in a blog. I am a newbie-newbie so please forgive my questions. I want to make a blog that families could reference some day if they wanted to live/work abroad with their family. Love your writing and honesty. It is also how we roll.

    Thx Paz

    • Thanks Paz!

      There are no rules, yet there are. If you want other people to read your writing run-on sentences suck. You don’t talk in run-on sentences. Most of us talk in very short sentences. I write how I talk, with editing to make it more readable and with less shits and fucks.

      Also, remember that most web readers scan, they don’t read. So keeping it short (and with good headings) helps. (There are exceptions to this rule, but there always are.)

      As for what you can write about: I have an article on this topic next week actually. :)

      • Thanks, I can’t wait for next week. :) I totally relate with you on the I love to write but hated English class. I think it is because all of my classes were not relevant…read this, say that, it must look like this! Blah, blah, blah, blah Nothing was ever controversial or interesting. Not that I like controversy…but I run into controversial topics every day and want to write…blog…fb about them. Totally weird. I have always kept a diary and wrote about my experiences and love doing that. I actually NEED to do that…it is like a sanity check for me. I have to admit I still like a notebook and pen. It is a comfort zone thing. I hope to move more towards the computer and writing about things that matter to me and other people. Btw…this is the only time I have ever commented 2x on any blog! So you have me hooked! Good job!! Kuddos keep it rollin!
        Paz
        p.s. love the e-book series too!

  13. You know that is what I was just thinking. I don’t know if you ever heard of the blog pluginid by glen. I think the best thing about that blog was that you got to go into his life, it was interesting, and the thing was he was honest. but I don’t see any other you can write unless you pretend to be cooler than you are.

  14. Occasionally, notice what your mind is constructing as you are reading. Language is not just conveying meaning in the sense of information, but it’s also conveying organization in its structure.

  15. I’m a newbie in the blogging world and while I have tons of experience writing honestly, I’ve never really published anything I’ve written until about 2 weeks ago. My biggest censor is myself and fear of my readers (which right now is just my closest friends, who I shouldn’t be fearful of). But, I’ve noticed that on the days I stick my neck out and don’t allow my inner critic to run free, I get the most hits and comments (which isn’t why i’m doing the blog, but I digress). Thanks for the reminder!.

    • Very cool! Most people have to practice to get good at writing. Like music, or other creative endeavors, not many people are “born with it.”

  16. Heard a comment once (not sure by who),” I only write when I’m inspired. It just so happens I’m inspired at 6:00am every morning.” How true. It can be tough fighting through a j-o-b and then making the time and energy to live your dream. It is so worth it. Thanks for rocking it again, Karol.

  17. Trying not to comment on every older post I read, but I couldn’t resist this one! I sucked at English in school too…it was the only class I got bad enough grades in that my parents had to “sit me down and have a little talk” ;) I’ve always found it ironic that I ended up being a champion speller and grammar & punctuation guru later in life…but I got that way because I never stop reading and writing. I don’t know the difference between a preposition and participle (there you go!), but you can ask me anything about grammar and I’ll have an answer. One of my superpowers, I guess :)

    I loved your writing from the beginning because of your honesty. I can’t stand anything fake, and you are one of the most un-fake people I’ve ever run across. You’re earning my loyalty because you are so genuine and unique. I like your writing style, too…it’s loose and spontaneous and not anything like mine, but very appealing. Just keep being your rockin’ self…as I know you will, no matter what!

    • Thanks Laurie. I feel like I’m decent with grammar and punctuation, but it’s intuitive. (Reading a lot helps!) I just don’t know what’s what. :)

      Thanks again!

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