Trigger warning: I’m about to list some terms that might give you nightmares. Do you remember these?
- Sentence diagrams
- Split infinitives
- Absolute modifiers
Just talking about them might cause you to flash back to middle school. You’re sitting in a sweaty classroom, listening to the chalk squeak as your teacher writes the definition for each term on a dusty chalkboard.
You, in the meantime, are mentally calculating how many minutes are left before lunchtime.
Here’s the thing about learning to write: It’s not about the terms above. Yes, you need to be aware of them. But if you think learning to write well is about mastering grammar, you’re missing the point.
Learning to write goes beyond masterful handling of the parts of speech. They’re just the paper that wraps the gift.
Today, we’re going to cover what writing well really looks like and why it might be the hardest and best skill you’ll ever master. It’s the gift that keeps on giving: read on to learn why.
Well-written ideas are easier to circulate
You’re reading Copyblogger. And you probably read paper books, ebooks, news sites, long posts on social media, and more.
When we want our ideas to spread, we start by making them look good in writing.
With the surge in popularity of podcasting and the widespread use of visual platforms like Instagram, Pinterest, and even YouTube, you might wonder if the written word matters as much as it used to.
But most podcasts and videos start out as words in one form or another. They begin life as a written outline, a thoroughly-planned script, or notes on an index card.
When you’re a proficient writer, those first-draft-quality notes will do a better job getting your ideas out of your head and into a new format.
Jerod Morris, co-host of both The Showrunner and The Digital Entrepreneur podcasts, starts 75 percent of his episodes with some type of written outline. Written outlines help you plan, pace, and express your information.
And any medium will benefit when you write well.
That headline you want to add to your Pinterest image? That quote for the image you plan to post on Instagram?
When you know how to write well, you can count on finding the perfect words more easily and expressing them in a way that’s compelling and gets noticed.
Want to learn how to combine your powerful words and stunning images? Register for my free visual content marketing workshop.
Editor’s note: Copyblogger is an affiliate for Pamela’s workshop.
Writing builds discipline (and not just for writing)
Here’s the worst-kept secret about becoming a better writer: To get good at it, you have to write — more than you think and on a regular basis. And you’ll need to keep it up for longer than you may expect.
You may find that in order to keep your writing chops in the best possible shape, you need to write almost every single day.
Our own Sonia Simone, for example, has written something every day for thirty years, with the exception of a short stint in the hospital while she recovered from major surgery. (We’ll let that one slide.)
There aren’t too many things in life that promise the kind of return that writing on most days will give you. (More on that below.)
And the discipline you’ll build from steadily working to improve your writing will build your character.
You may even find yourself looking around for more to write about once you’re in the habit of writing most days.
Clearer thoughts are born from your writing structure
The process of writing clearly usually involves starting with some sort of basic outline.
But since “outline” is another one of those scary words from English class, I want to offer you the phrase I use to describe the initial stage of writing — building the backbone.
Building the backbone refers to the process of working out the basics of the idea you want to express by deciding on a topic, then hashing out the underlying structure of how you’ll present your information. It forces you to bring your ideas into focus and clarify them so they are strong enough to support the concepts you’ll hang on them.
There’s nothing like figuring out your supporting arguments to help you clarify your ideas.
This process can spill over into many other areas of your life.
- You will write better (and clearer) emails.
- You will find it easier to structure presentations or speeches.
- You will win more arguments (maybe!).
Structuring your thoughts before you share them in writing will get you into the habit of structuring your thoughts before you share them anywhere else as well. It will help you clarify your message and put it into a form that’s easier to understand.
How can you become a better writer?
Start with the posts below. They’ll cover the basics and help you establish a strong writing habit that you can use to structure and share your ideas.
- A Simple Plan for Writing One Powerful Piece of Online Content per Week
- The 7 Things Writers Need to Make a Living
- Solve Your Blank-Page Problem with This Visual, 3-Step Content Creation System
- 10 Ways to Build Authority as an Online Writer
- How to Make Your Writing Real
- 4 Simple Steps to Writing a Blog Post that Floods Your Inbox with Inquiries
- The Traffic Light Revision Technique for Meticulously Editing Your Own Writing
You can also download and print out this poster (3.3 MB) to help motivate you to write on a regular basis.
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Reader Comments (19)
Blake Smith says
I enjoyed reading your post. The part about writing as a discipline that can build character is especially intriguing.
As you say, however, writing is a difficult skill to learn. Learning to write by writing is a truism I have heard time and again. The hardest part for me is developing the habit of writing. Your post motivates me to keep working.
And William Zinsser, the author of “On Writing Well,” would concur that writing is indeed hard. Here is his advice on becoming a better writer:
“Writing is learned by imitation. If anyone asked me how I learned to write, I’d say I learned by reading the men and women who were doing the kind of writing I wanted to do and trying to figure out how they did it.”
Words to write by, wouldn’t you agree?
Andrew B. says
Blake, I think you’re exactly right.
As the great David Carr of the New York Times said, “In order to have a chance of making great work, you have to consume remarkable work.”
To that end, I don’t think you can become a better writer just by writing and writing and writing. You have to know–at least a little–what you’re chasing.
Pamela Wilson says
Blake and Andrew, I agree. Reading well-written work feeds your aspirations. It gives you something to aim for!
We have a post coming up next week that will talk about this topic, so stay tuned. 🙂
Laura Shumaker says
I have been writing (in earnest) for ten years. I started to write because I had stories that I needed to tell. “How do I get started?” I asked my father, who writes as well. He told me to just write as if I was telling a story to a good friend that I ran into on the street. After I wrote my first story, I joined a writing group. I was anxious to learn, so took criticism well (as well as praise). I took a variety of classes, wrote every day, submitted work for publication, got rejected, accepted, rejected, accepted and learned from both. The key to being I good writer, I think, is that you need to have the desire to write (for whatever reason). Diligence, patience and the ability to laugh at oneself help as well.
I love William Zissner’s “On Writing Well”. Another favorite is “Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers’ Guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University”.
Pamela Wilson says
It’s funny that two commenters have mentioned On Writing Well. I love that book! It makes the writing process seem less about some mysterious talent you must be born with and more about a lot of hard, consistent work. And that’s something we can all do.
Thanks for sharing your story, Laura. 🙂
As a freelancer or blogger, you obviously need to have a good command of writing. Here’s the thing, you don’t have to be an expert. The idea of writing and writing again is a great way to build skills, though. Whenever a freelancer gets the chance, they should be writing. Thank you for such a great article!
Robert Andrew says
Really good article.
I really am concentrating the last couple of years on sending out one email a day. And making it the very best I can make it. Not necessarily focusing away from promotion but keeping a tap dance balancing act of sorts….having useful Content that my Readers can use while offering more extensive Programs/Courses they can benefit from ( with a fee).
I think you point out something very important : To get proficient at Writing will entail practicing at it more than you think you should 🙂
Rohan Bhardwaj says
Writing daily is a challenge and fun activity. Miss it for one day and you feel you can’t go on the track again.
Have the systems to write each day – a committment or something and it all comes naturally…
Good writing comes with time and grasping the goods along the way. It is a process and we need to go through compulsorily.
Each day adds something, the point being we need to keep on learning and applying the new methods, learnings and inspiration.
It is a cocktail party which we make. It has great content, short content, poor words, failed message and authority articles.
We tend to become a profilic writer…each day we come a step closer.
Awesome post Pamela. Loved it.
Have a great weekend ahead…
Nissan R. says
You’re right, “Gerund” does sound pretty scary! Thanks for the post. I believe that it can never hurt to make things sound more doable and less intimidating.
Stijn Vogels says
During my studies at university, I came across this inspiration quote from Lord Action.
“Learn as much by writing as by reading.”
This still holds true for me today, as a way of sharing what I have learned.
Alex Vasquez says
I love this! This is a pretty technical article, but I love it. I just wrote something on becoming a better writer and what my journey has been. https://digisavvy.com/2016/05/how-to-write-better/
I don’t know that blogging daily is a thing everyone needs to do, but writing something daily is a worthwhile endeavor.
Lois Maina says
I love what am reading. It is very encouraging. Reading and writing are sisters to me. Lois
Tim Ludy says
Great article Pamela!
I definitely agree with the fact that practicing a clear writing structure can help organize your thoughts in all areas of life. I review a lot of freelance writing applications and I can usually tell just by the cover letter if the writing samples they attached will be any good. Even the ability to write a well-organized email or craft a compelling argument are clear indications that someone will have an organized writing structure.
Don’t worry, I won’t count this comment as my writing for the day!
Pamela Wilson says
I’ve noticed the same thing, Tim. Polished writing spills over into everything else … in a good way!
Deepak Kundu says
Most of us just read – newspapers, blogs, magazines, emails ….. We write so little as compared to how much we read. I have just started a new blog and writing on a topic helps me to organize my thoughts on the topic in a better and logical way.
Hi Pamela ,
Learning to write well only seems difficult but its not if we focus on what we really want. I was reading your one blog that was also about writing abd got this thought “Discover that one quality that defines you — and work it to the bone. ” I liked very much. Thanks 🙂
Tauqir Hussain says
Good inputs Pamela,
Good writing is all about discipline. I always tried to write casually before and end up missing deadlines. This was a regular feature until I planned to design my schedule to write my article in a time frame. Now I am able to achieve my target with efficiency and accuracy.
Naven Pillai says
Nice post, Pamela.
When it comes to writing, it’s about how much effort you put into improving yourself. Discipline and consistency plays vital role in improving your writing skills. It is also important to be organized with not only writing but in every task you do.
Thanks again for the great post, Pamela.
It is such an encouraging article! For a struggling writer, it is always challenging to write regularly but, it is the only essential key to improve writing skills.
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