How to Become an Exceptional Writer

How to Become an Exceptional Writer

Reader Comments (115)

  1. Thanks for the Reminders. I have printed them out and re-study them.

    “Become an anti-scholar” has also another dimension for me: writing in a practical way and in simple practical words that people can easily understand. We have to much knowledge and often too little application and testing of knowledge.

  2. Sage advice, especially about knowledge. With our country becoming increasingly polarized, it’s refreshing to read about someone who advocates drawing from many sources and then synthesizing. Thanks

    • Your welcome. I’m a pretty skeptical guy of just about everyone’s POV (including mine), but it’s helped me make better decisions when I understand a position from both sides of the table. By the way, you might enjoy the book The Righteous Mind by Haidt.

        • John, if you want to play Grammar-Nazi on Demian, then YOUR sentence should have read:

          Demian, I’m a douche – you should have used the spelling, ‘you’re’ instead of ‘your’ in your opening sentence.

          “Those who live in glass houses…”

  3. Very sage advice. I wonder though about the inherent fear that comes with writing. How do you harness that feeling to create better content, novels, poetry or short stories? Perhaps this applies more to creative writing but I believe many writers struggle with that feeling that their work is never complete. What strategies are there to combat this feeling?

    • Kat, one of the best strategies that worked for me was being in a good critique group. (I wrote this reply after my comment below, and I realize that I failed to mention a critique group. It’s hard to find a good one.) Input from others helped me tremendously. I agree that many writers struggle with deciding when their work is complete. It’s often a judgment best made by others.

      • Jim –
        How right you are! As a content writer I have no problems saying ‘this is done.’ Blogs, website content and so on follow a type of formula and typically have guidelines. What I personally struggle with is my creative writing. Would LOVE to get in touch with a good critique group – any suggestions?

        • I’m sure there are some online groups. (I tried a Google search on “Creative Writing Critique Groups,” and found some options there. The first listing at Squidoo has a review of online groups. Worth a look.) I prefer a face-to-face group. If that’s your preference, then try asking at your local library if any groups meet there. You could also try local bookstores, colleges. If none exist, which would surprise me, then you could post a note on a bulletin board in one of those places to see if you get any takers. I think a small group is best (4-5 people). Bear in mind that not all critique groups are created equal. If you find yourself in one that is full of highly critical people who can only offer negative comments with no suggestions for how to fix things, then get out. You’ll get very discouraged and won’t grow at all in that environment. Helpful critique is what you want. I’m sure you already know this. Good luck to you. Drop me a line and let me know how it goes. (

    • Regarding “the feeling that your work is never complete” I’d say learn to live with it. You will ALWAYS feel like your work is not complete–even the best writers (Hemingway or Ogilvy) struggled with this. The poet Auden said “A poem is never finished–just abandoned.” You have to know when it is good enough to stop.

  4. This is a keeper, Demian. You asked how we found our voice. Here’s my tale:

    After writing pages and pages of junk, I finally confessed I didn’t know how to write. I couldn’t go back to school, so I read books. Some of the best advice I received was “read great writers.” So I went to the library and started reading. Frankly, I couldn’t figure out how some of them became great. So I pulled books at random from the shelf and read until I could hear “music” in my head as my eyes followed the words. “This is a great writer,” I thought. Little did I know that I’d stumbled on someone whose “voice” was similar to the one I hadn’t discovered yet.

    I read everything by that writer. Then I tried to mimic him/her in my own writing. I did this with all the writers I found who “sounded” great to me. This led to what many call overwriting. So I took some self-taught lessons in editing. (Two of the best books I read were Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown, and Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale.)

    Then it was cut, cut, cut. You’ve probably heard the old saw that a great movie is not made by all the film that was shot, but by what was left on the editing room floor. The same is true for anything written. After several rounds of editing, what I had left on the page sounded genuine. I didn’t get sick to my stomach when I came back to read it several days later.

    After the self-editing sessions, I sent my manuscript to a hired gun and let her put a red pen to it. I was pleasantly surprised by the low number of changes she recommended. At that point, I felt I’d arrived at finding my voice, a melody that pleased me. And if the comments I’ve received on my novel are true, it’s a melody that pleases others, too.

    Many thanks for a great article and an inspiring story.

      • Yes, I, too, loved your story, Jim.

        I’d love to know which writers you were most inspired by, or drawn to.

        I think the best advice I’ve received lately has been, “Kill your censor and write 1,000 words more, and when you’re done, remove every extra word that you don’t need to tell your story” because one of my biggest flaws was being overly wordy. I thought of the authors that I loved the most, and had “fake it until you make it” in the back of my mind.

  5. This may be one of the best posts ever. Maybe one of the best pieces on writing that I’ve seen in awhile. Or, maybe in the moment of reading it, I turned a corner and it clicked. I am a writer. I am not wasting time. I am not escaping from my life. I am not ignoring other work. I am a writer. I learned long ago that it is not necessary to be the best artist on the block to do what I need and want to do. As a dancer I could see that my talents were unique but didn’t compare to other professionals. So instead, I created a system for people like me, people seeking the eloquence of movement without the baggage. It’s called InterPlay and now its in five countries. Meanwhile, I write. I blog, email, and write articles. I started monetizing my writing by writing a monthly article for subscribers. I didn’t get all the right systems in place first. I started writing. I send my writing to a group of 26 people at the moment. They pay me 15.00 a month. I bought Premise in March. I just hired someone to help me move forward with that. So, thank you. Thank you for the encouragement, the reminder, and helping me to unlock this little truth. I am a writer typos and all.

  6. “curmudgeon” … way to practice what you preach! Also the guitar segue was a brilliant emotional hook. You had me feeling nostalgic for…. I don’t know what… but I certainly kept reading!

  7. This is one more exceptional article. It’s informative and in-depth; however, it’s inspiring and motivational. So often, I feel as though a blogger (writer) is trying to sell me something. I didn’t get that feeling here. I am challenged to go out and make a difference and follow my dream. Sure, I’ve been following it all along, but I have (as my dusty site shows), drifted just left of my center. I’m getting back on track and will write with wreckless abandon and damn the torpedoes. Or, something pretty close to that. Thanks, Demian.

  8. This was very interesting article, and I actually read it from start to finish. Also I’m going to start implementing some of the advice immediately.

    I did have a small issue with the section on special talent though. Talent is overrated. Anyone can become great if they put in consistent and focused effort.

    • Talent is definitely overrated, KB, but I got to disagree that I could never be a great battlefield commander because I just do not have a lot of the tangibles necessary, namely passion for the work.

  9. Great article…and one that share some real insight into what is required to become a writer who MUST share their message…I lurch forward and then drop backwards. Somehow I need to devote time to do what you have suggested; just read, write and share.
    This is my month to consistently/daily write in my journal. As I am also a photo/video professional, I am really wanting to combine the two mediums…and see what develops.
    Thanks for your dedication to the craft.

    • Discipline, Mark, that’s the key. It’s hard to do the hard work when you don’t want to. But you do what you don’t want to do to achieve what you do want (recognition, etc).

  10. I got this post in my email box this morning, and I can truly say that my world has been rocked. I’ve been on the fence on a few issues, and now, more than ever, I feel that I have been given some very strong advice, encouragement, and a true challenge. This post will be read, and re-read several time in the coming days, weeks, and months! Thank you.

  11. Great way to start a Monday! I especially loved the Joan Didion quote because I was just wrestling with something like it over the weekend. It’s giving me the impetus to keep plugging.

  12. Absolutely bloody brilliant how-to! You are a master wordsmith Demian beyond all doubt! This is one of the most succinct authentic crafting pieces ever! Curmudgeon? Not!!! Love the fight analogy, how you get into the ring each morning and manhandle words. These are such vivid images that I can hear the crowd roaring, Rocky theme ascendant, and your head bloodied yet unbowed, thesarus and dictionary aloft in each hand, arms raised in victory salute to syllables everywhere. You celebrate word rage and incite the rest of us to jump in, jump on and conquer words which swirl, thrill and entrance all writers to this dance that bedevils and blesses which we call writing. Thanks so very very much for sharing – can’t wait to read your next blog!

      • Add “lick yourself” as an extra bonus writer to writer – keyboard a keyboard – mano y mano.

        I celebrate and salute you sir. Your gift of clarity and knock-out keyboarding worth so much more than simple gift of “word rage”.

        How do you feel about “phoneme pusher”, or maybe “gerund grinder” or “grammar grifter”?

        Let me know – what a blast to read your work – am definitely working to get you cloned….until then, happy wording……!

        Thanks for the compliment of stealing mine own syllabic slants… very much obliged, good sir….

  13. Boy, I needed this today. Yesterday, I said to myself, my job is to write. It’s 12 noon and I haven’t written a word.
    I have been IN STUCK…thanks for your helpful post.

  14. You know you’ve read a great article when it at once confirms what you believe and have been trying to accomplish while exposing with bright hot light what you have also failed to do.
    The section on knowledge was my favorite. The section on technique was reassuring. The section on strategy was challenging. And the section on flair was inspiring.

    Thanks for a great article.

  15. Brilliant article. And a little overwhelming. I got a lot from it, as I’m “fighting to win” in writing.

    You have strategy, technique, knowledge and flair. One thing that makes me spend nights writing and which I haven’t really seen in the article is: Passion. Passion to write something other people will love.

  16. I Love all this advice!
    Ultimately, you have to believe in the project enough to WANT to write the thing, and you have to care about the final product enough to force it into existence in as polished a form as you’d want to read it!

  17. I found this post genuinely helpful, thank you. A lot of writing advice is the same old trotted out tripe, but this one has some great advice. The ‘source of your compliments’ is interesting…especially when what you’re being complimented on doesn’t square with your own perception of your strengths.

  18. Demian, first thing outta the gate, excellent article.

    Now the picky stuff (cuz I love, “It May Get Loud”)… as for Jack and his son, it’s actually Jack and younger Jack (himself) – he’s teaching himself how to play guitar (a play on words).

    And second (arguably) the best scene is when the three guitar heroes are chatting and Jimmy Page calmly slips on his Les Paul and breaks into the opening riff of Whole Lotta Love. You watch Jack and the Edge instantly transform into teenage fans sitting at the feet of their hero. When asked later about the scene during a press conference, the Edge replied, “when I saw the scene for the first time, all I could think of was – ‘stop smiling, you idiot, stop smiling!'”

    Which is interesting in itself because lends to your article: Like a guitarist, when deciding what type of writer you want to be, you can either be the hero – or the icon… or you can be Jimmy Page.

  19. There is only one way to be an exceptional blogger , find what it is about you that makes you exceptional and funnel that through your blog. You must leverage your unique special talents in every blog post you make and be certain that your blogging goals are derived from your talents.

  20. I like the concept of information feeding the beast. Every movie I watch, every errand I run, every website I read gives me more ideas for blog posts. I find my voice by taking all of those experiences and writing about them, endlessly.

    I also majored in English as an undergrad. I don’t think it is absolutely critical to get an English degree to be a writer. The skills I learned for how to organize a paper and how to describe objects and experiences for my essays carry over nicely to writing my blog posts. 🙂

  21. Pit Bull on paper has a great ring to it and a confidence that inspires. I also like to womanhandle words, writing and rewriting to find out what I want to say. I found this article to be highly relevant and conducive to continue on.

  22. What a great post Demian! I love the passion you got in writing. Writing is indeed a fight; you got to have the passion and the drive that keeps you going. I am a reader, a fanatic I would say; I have this obsession with writing. Normally, I don’t want to really write, but if I go to bed without writing some article down, I feel like I really let myself down. I enjoy solitude, and when I find myself alone, I actually do write. Sometimes I feel like I have this crazy obsession with writing; how about reading? Don’t even go there… I am an addict! I even love word games and I like to solve them. I normally avoid getting into that ring but whenever I am in it, I usually find myself ready to play with the words and I really enjoy the game. Do you think there is this writing person in me? Should I explore?

  23. Nice blog post Demian. This is exactly what I needed. i like the way you portray the picture of Jack White as a guitarist in the writing field. I love the commitment. I like the passion and I have to confess; this is about the finest writing I have read in days. Thanks for putting it up.

  24. Thanks so much for a great piece of advice. Ive been writing in my head all my life, and on paper and blogs for the last two years. Ive always been pathetically insecure about my writing as I never studied English literature and have to admit I dont read much……… but I write, A LOT!

    Finally something really dramatic happened that changed my life and the perspective on the validation of writing, finally finding the courage to share the story.

    Ive just completed the first chapter of my book and it feels great!
    Will be coming back here for more! Thank you!

    • Lyndsay, you don’t need a formal education to be a writer. So many great writers didn’t have a formal education. College education is the max, but you don’t even need that. Just read like a mad woman. 🙂

  25. You are a great writer Demian! Love the story above Jack White; he’s a superior mentor actually! At the start of blog, you sound so unique and interesting indeed since your write up is attention-grabbing at a high degree and I loved your come up much. Thanks a lot for such encouraging and inspiring tips of becoming an exception writer, that'[s what every blogger dream of, no doubt. Thank you for saving me such a beautiful and helpful ideas!

    • Glad I could help, Rickie. And I’m pretty fond of the opening, too. Came together nicely. I actually sat on that opening for quite some time before I could use it.

  26. Wow.

    Sorry, I know “Wow” isn’t terribly eloquent, but I found it necessary to begin with that because, well, it’s very summartive of what I was thinking the entire time I was reading this. (Is summarative even a real word? I think I’m going to pretend it is…I digress).

    After years of believing I was a writer and then gaining a decent following on Myspace as a “blogger” I decided I was not a writer and that if i wanted to be one, I needed to find my center, and compete against it. My weakness was fiction so I vied for a weekly posting spot on a team of writers for a literary site that focused on short, (mostly fictional) essays. I didn’t suck at it. I needed to learn a lot, hone more than a little bit, but it taught me to get out of my comfort zone and to push myself into a new niche. Now being published in the second issue of a new “bookzine”, freelancing as a guest writer and copy editor, the skills I’ve learned have helped me immeasurably for my own personal blog.

    This post is the goods. I plan to spam my writery friends with it momentarily.

  27. I like how you mention the various ways writers work on their skills. So often we think of them in too academic of a setting, but writing happens out in the world.

    This post is so thorough, I believe you when you say you wrote 220 articles for a client in nine months. Did you find that it came easier and faster as you went along?

    • Yup, you get faster because the learning curve drops, you accumulate mountains of data and your mind just starts making connections. The hard part at that point is not repeating yourself. 🙂

  28. Powerful stuff, Demian, as always. Love the technique section and the tips to start copying the stuff we want to memorize. To be an exceptional writer, we have to live it and don’t let anyone tell us that we’re not – it will eventually happen, even if it hasn’t yet. Thanks for the info…off to study how to write.

  29. Thank you for contributing your guest article on this fabulous blog: I really enjoyed reading your article.

    I agree: in my case, I found out rather early in life that I was not inclined toward engineering. Gadgets and machines did not interest me, but I gravitated toward literature.

    I especially valued writers with a great sense of humour like Mark Twain, V.S. Naipaul, Woody Allen, Steve Martin, P.G. Wodehouse and any writer who could make me laugh.

    I have spent many solitary hours reading in the library and do not regret that decision. I think creative types need their own space and it is best to enjoy solitary confinement. Silence means peace of mind and you have the time to read and write all you want. And you do not have to argue with people you would rather avoid anyway.

    Thus, writers are solitary souls and want to be far away from the maddening crowds. We need to be left alone in order to find our own, unique voice. We need to be away from the noise and distractions and polluting influence of those who do not understand us nor support us; those who are bitter and cynical; those who try to cut us down to size.

    It is better for a writer to have a fixed agenda daily, say, 500 words. After a while, that can be extended to one thousand words. Stephen King has lived his life according to a plan. If it works for him, it can work for you too or anybody else.


    • I see it too, it was good the other day so I suspect it was hacked. (This is why we’ve written 10,000 posts on site security, damned hackers never slow down.) I’d give it a few days to get it resolved.

      Update: I let them know on Twitter and they’re working on getting it resolved.

  30. Hey there,
    I just wanted to say thanks for such a fantastic post – as I re-shape my own working practice, this has been really insightful and I will definitely be putting lots of these (that I’m not doing already) into practice!

    Can’t wait to read more from you!

  31. I am by no means anything of a writer…I write for my job, I am a juvenile blogger…but I still believe I have mountains to climb before I really call myself a write – so apologies if this question is ridiculous.

    What do you mean by this, specifically Cat Marnell?:

    Milk your dysfunctions — Regret. Bitterness. Pain. These are the usual responses to awful experiences. But have you ever thought of being grateful for these experiences? That because of what you have suffered you are now perfectly suited to help other people cope and fight through those same situations? Flannery O’Connor said that if you survive the first two decades of your life then you’ll have a lifetime of writing material. However, you can go too far in this regard. Exhibit A: Cat Marnell.

    I’ve read all her posts and it did cross my mind many times,”How does this girl have a job?! I work at writing every day and this girl brings in the most views for the xojane website!” But as I read her inconsistency in writing every week (or whenever she decided to submit something for the site)…her flaws and her honesty brought the most comments.

    Is it wrong to be so honest in our writing? Do we still need to ‘curb’ the heart on our sleeve for our audiences?
    I feel at my most comfortable being ME….

    thank you!

    • By all means be yourself. What Cat Marnell is doing is living a dangerously loose life so she’ll have material. She likes being an addict exhibitionist because it gets those clicks/comments. Is it worth it? No, because she is losing her edge (not to mention her jobs) and coming awfully close to losing her life.

  32. Loved this post Jeremy. It’s really enjoying to read actually.

    I agree with you. Sometimes, i feel that over the time, my writing is becoming so boring to read, even for me. Reading other blogs or news sites can be really helpful to increase our vocabs. I also agree when you said that we have to memorize everything that we read from those blogs because that’s the best way to really keep it in our brain for our recalls everytime we write new contents.

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