As the pen scratches the page, or your fingers tap on the keyboard, are you approaching zen? It’s something that you often feel when you’re writing, but how often do you improve?
Writing a steady amount of articles is most likely your target.
What shuts it down like a floodgate is when you’re about to publish your work. Instead of asking, is this the best article I’ve ever written, you wonder if it will be lost in a sea of forgotten content.
The ongoing conversation about quality versus quantity goes through your mind — you don’t want to build a junk portfolio for the sake of volume, but you also want to produce results with your work.
This month, let’s find a new way to enter zen: let’s make our goal improved writing instead of improved visibility.
By creating an article structure, your focus will shift from pure output to building a system that you can refine — you’ll develop a repeatable structure to evaluate your progress.
But first, take a moment to understand why writing more does not improve your skill.
Writers Don’t Know How to Improve Their Abilities
As writers, we struggle with improving our work. Whether it’s a simple blog post our in-depth article, we think that writing more will strengthen our skills, but practice doesn’t make us better. We’re just consistent at producing at the same level.
If you want to become a better writer, your job is to engage in what Anders Ericsson calls deliberate practice. (You’ve probably already heard of him if you read books on productivity, performance, and self-improvement).
To start, we have to know what our weak areas are, then improve them systematically. This requires outside feedback, which we cannot give ourselves.
The problem is that the feedback we receive by comments, claps, and visibility metrics does not improve us. We have to go deeper into the areas that are not our strengths if we want to stop hovering around the status quo of our abilities.
Geoff Colvin, in his book Talent is Overrated says, “The great performers isolate remarkably specific aspects of what they do and focus on just those things until they are improved; then it’s on to the next aspect.”
Become aware of our underperforming areas and then taking specific actions to strengthen those areas is how we get better.
The way we practice — writing as much as we can — does little to strengthen our weaknesses. At best, it reinforces what we already do well, which makes us lazy and predictable.
Turn your view from the window to the fireplace — Commit to improving by adopting a systematic structure to your article writing.
We know the basics but often fail to implement them. Use these three simple rules as a starting point. Feel free to modify or create your own. The point is to develop a set of rules, use them systemically, and refine as you go.
Make process your priority.
Bring Your Writing to Life by Evoking the Senses
We were taught in English class to engage the senses, but how often do we connect our ideas to the senses?
The moon was a smidge above the horizon. The white-yellow glow at 5 a.m. seemed to say goodbye to the previous month. Its aura extended through the vacuum of space, reaching my sleepy eyes. A new moon. A new month. A new relationship. I thought as I walked next to my partner in silence.
Although the ideas we present are good in and of themselves, we don’t evoke enough senses to bring them to life.
Make a point to hit at least three instances per article — Make your words jump off the page and into the mind of your reader.
When we utilize more of the senses, it’s easier to create associations. Associations also create memories. More human means more memorable.
The point is to be on the lookout for opportunities to connect your ideas to the senses. It’s your opportunity to make your writing a visceral experience, like a knife cutting across a peach.
Let’s not make it complicated by saying how many senses — just three times per article at a minimum.
It will make your work stickier.
Use a Quote and a Source to Build Credibility
We have great ideas. Why not back them up with a figure who supports our view? We can also include research that builds a bridge between top-level thinkers and our writing.
One building block of credibility that we don’t use enough is integrating supportive material into our work. Maybe it’s because we want to be original — that we are so cool and intelligent — that we are the source of our ideas.
It’s not our ideas that make us unique — it’s how we synthesize them. Our voice, tone, experiences, perspective is what gives us our edge. It’s what we learned from integrating everything that we’ve done and experienced. No one has the same path or view as you.
This should relieve some pressure — the way we format our work, create sentences, pacing, timing, the jokes we use, the references we make — this is a sorcerer’s potion that we give to the world, and putting it together our way is what makes it unique.
Now let’s add relevant sources as the spices. These finishing touches are what make the meal delicious. It’s extra zing in the pot that keeps guests wanting to come back for the next meal.
When we think of adding sources to our work, the drudgery of writing an academic paper might come up — hunched over a laptop, hours before the deadline re-reading sentences about a boring subject.
That’s not the case here. Our writing will benefit from a little extra work to find a source and/or quote from an authority figure. The goal is to write amazing shit and back it up with more amazing shit.
Amplify your message with the work that others have already done — one quote and one source.
It’s there if you take the time to look.
Paint a Picture with Descriptive Examples
Remember when you avoided editing an article for three months? Instead, you binge-watched Game of Thrones to distract you from the fact that you’re scared that nothing will happen when you hit publish.
The week before you let your army of connections read it — you emailed it to your mom, your friends, your uncle, old boss, showed it to your dog, made some tweaks based on the feedback, then sent it, one last time, to your mom. It was raining, and you didn’t get an email response until the end of the day. Now my publishing schedule is off, you told yourself.
But what you remember about your work was that it got boring. You failed to uncover the ash of your thoughts with the gold of context.
Build your context around a story — With your next article, you’re going to remember to invest in illustrative examples. Examples are how the reader can see the hero in your words.
We’re always looking for a hero — we want something or someone to root for.
As a writer, you have to make that hero apparent. The hero can be the lesson — using imagery with descriptive examples makes things easier to understand and appreciate.
You want a punch in the fact that your reader will enjoy.
This is about grounding your work in reality. Your goal is to create connection, relevance, and provide value. This combination gives your writing a chance to make a lasting impact.
When you do this, you take your ideas and throw them into the fire of the world. Reality is where we battle our demons, face disappointments, become friends, and help others see who they are.
Let the wisdom shine through each example. The truth is there for you to uncover. All you have to do is pick up the shovel and dig deeper.
Show the connection of a life-changing idea by how it changed life.
Why You Should Write Systematically
If you want to improve your writing skills, then writing for writing’s sake will not cut it. If you’re going to improve like an Olympian, you need to train the same way.
Greatness is a result of process — by using a systematic approach to writing, you can:
- See where you are falling short
- What examples don’t land
- What sources add or overpower your words
- How often you humanize your work
Stretch your abilities by making better connections, images, themes, and perspectives. By doing this, you can run a test like a scientist — controlling the variables over time.
You’re free to create your own rules, but don’t get too crazy. You want to make things simple and streamlined.
Let’s send this boat down the river with a gentle push and watch as she drifts along the coast. Let’s grab a beer at the next port of call and chat about our adventures.
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