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How to write better (maybe)

How to write better (maybe)

You’re on a blog. Have you noticed?

The issue with a blog is that you need to write on it, and if you suck, nobody will read it.

Yeah, life’s hard.

This means that this project is based on my ability to write. Sure, there are other activities I could spend my time on, but their relevance depends on how well I can communicate. When the medium is a blog or a newsletter, communicating = writing.

Therefore, as I already mentioned here and here, I decided to learn to write better, and I started looking for how to do it. In this post, I’ll explain what I understood and my plan to improve.

Principles

Wandering on the magical interweb, you’ll find loads of resources on how to write better. There’s no lack of information. If anything, there’s too much of it.

The challenge is not falling into the vortex of passive consumption. It’s easy to take courses or read books and articles. The difficult part is sitting down to put learnings into practice.

So, after spending some time devouring information, I noticed repeated themes and decided to focus on those. Here they are, distilled into 4 principles.

Shitty draft and rewriting

Your first draft has to suck.

Think about the topic and write everything that comes to mind. No filters. Stream of consciousness. Nobody is watching.

The sentences will be incoherent, ungrammatical, disjointed, confused. The writing will make no sense. You talk about one thing, then about another thing, then go back to the first one, and then again to the second one. It’s incomprehensible.

It’s called “shitty draft” for a reason.

The goal of this stage is not to write the final text. This is not the time to pause for choosing the most correct form or the most suitable words. This is the time to put ideas on paper.

When you don’t have anything to write anymore, the first draft is complete. Good job.

Now it’s the time for rewriting. You don’t have to worry about the what anymore, only about the how.

So rewrite. And rewrite. And rewrite until you’re satisfied.

Simplicity

Readers haven’t opened your blog or newsletter because they’re masochists. Well, maybe some are. But most of them are not. They look for information and ideas. They want to know what you have to say and what you can do for them.

Write simply. It’s not a linguistic contortionism contest. Would a thirteen-year-old understand what you wrote?

Don’t use abstruse words. Exactly, just like “abstruse.” Choose the most appropriate word, but not a more elaborate one just to show off. Nobody cares about your virtuosity.

Pay attention to the length of your sentences. Prefer short sentences. I’m serious. Short sentences. This one is tough, I know. And, while you’re at it, try to limit yourself to one idea per sentence. It takes more energy to understand long sentences containing multiple concepts.

Avoid passive voice. Don’t say, “this post was written by me.” Say, “I wrote this post.” Our stupid little brains understand it better.

Write like you talk. Reread and ask yourself: “do I write like this?” If the answer is “no,” rewrite.

The simpler your language, the more it’ll welcome readers. And remember that no one will read what you write with the same attention you put into it.

Conciseness

Don’t add what is not needed and remove everything you can.

Every sentence has to add something to your argument. Delete sentences that only repeat an idea you already expressed.

Do the same when choosing your words. Delete as much as you can delete without affecting the meaning. Sometimes we believe certain words are more important than they are.

Also, pay enough attention to adverbs. They usually weigh down the sentences and probably aren’t really as needed as you think.

Wait, let’s try taking some off.

Pay attention to adverbs. They weigh down the sentences and aren’t needed as much as you think.

Better, isn’t it?

Be concise. Time is precious, don’t waste your readers'.

Opening (and closing)

First impression matters. Readers decide from the first few lines whether to continue reading or not. Your post could be filled with revolutionary ideas, but what’s their use if nobody reads them?

Many say that the opening is the most critical part: it’s your chance to impress. The better the impression, the more the reader will be willing to forgive imperfections here and there.

So, give the opening the time it needs. How can you make it more intriguing? Capture the readers. Gotta catch ‘em all! This doesn’t mean you have to trick them. You want to stimulate a curiosity that you are going to satisfy with the text.

Closings can be relevant, too, depending on your goals.

You can close with a summary of your writing and, if appropriate, with a call to action. In fact, readers who made it to the end likely want to know more. What may they want to do at this point?


Shitty draft and rewriting, simplicity, conciseness, opening (and closing). In these 4 points, I tried to summarize what seemed fundamental, at least from the perspective of a novice like me.

If you want to learn more, you can start from the resources you can find at the end of this post. They are some of the best I have found (and from which I have stolen with both hands 👀).

My plan

My plan is trivial: deliberate practice following these principles. Here are how I am implementing it.

#1 Writing every day

First and foremost: consistency. This is the basis of my practice.

I could go for many different goals and techniques, but they wouldn’t be helpful without consistency. I can’t expect to improve without regular practice.

So, I aim to write at least 100 words every day. It’s a tiny goal (thus a sustainable one). I usually write posts, newsletters, and notes for my Zettelkasten.

#2 Applying the principles to what I write

This is the deliberate part of the practice. When I write a post or newsletter, I have to apply the principles I described above.

As a reminder, I updated my “new post” template and added a section with what I should do:

  1. Write shitty draft
  2. Rewrite
    • Write like you speak
    • Write an outline to define core ideas and connections
    • Delete what you can
    • Rewrite the opening and closing
  3. Edit
    • Remove unnecessary words

Following these suggestions is anything but natural to me. It requires a lot of my attention, and I am sure I break them all the time.

Writing the shitty draft is the easiest for me to follow. This doesn’t mean I have already learned. I often find myself editing when I should just write. But I am more aware of it than I am of the other ones, so It’s more likely that I notice.

#3 Using Twitter as a “forced conciseness” tool

I have been off social media for a while, and I’m not planning to get back on soon, but I sort of went back to Twitter.

Twitter is a great gym to train the ability to summarize, given that a Tweet can be 280 characters max. The challenge is distilling the thought I want to communicate in a space this small. The tricky part is making sure (almost) anyone can understand the Tweet without the room to build a context around it.

Why on Twitter and not in private?

With this excuse, I can promote my content and scrape together some new proselytes for my cult. 👹

In any case, it has to be only a tool for publishing, not consuming. I’ll stay away from the demonic time-sucking feed.

In conclusion

As with many other skills, learning to write well isn’t easy. Approaching the topic, I found a myriad of tips on what to do and how to do it.

From this cauldron, I took what seemed essential and summarized it in 4 principles. After that, I outlined the deliberate practice plan I intend to follow.

What else to say?

Good luck to me, hoping my progress will be visible on this blog and the newsletter.

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