If you haven’t picked up the pen in a while, it’s frustrating getting the writing juices flowing.
Recently, I haven’t made the time or set the mood for writing as much as I’d prefer.
But, I’ve spent my last few weeks reading books on writing, and I’ve trimmed several hundred pages of advice into 5 lean points that will invigorate any flat-lined drives to write.
Whether it’s a short story, blog post, or term paper; we all need some warm-up exercises that will spark our creative bulbs. If we create an environment that helps us write better, we can type more attractive cover letters, subscribe more readers to our websites, produce more engaging product ads, and more.
Set the writing mood
Why do you want to write?
A few thousand years ago, hairier versions of ourselves decided to bottle up thoughts into words and symbols. Flash forward a few hundred years and our archaic “idea art” transformed into stories, compositions, and started dressing up in calligraphy and typography. Each form of expression was different, but we all had something to say.
When we’re writing, we’re communicating. Since communication is a two-way street, we want something in return for our message: a subscription, a product purchase, or praise. The written word serves a purpose, and is a means to an end. Our writing will fail if we lack a reason behind it.
So, ask yourself “why do I want to write?”.
Maybe you’re trying to build a portfolio, author a novel you’ve put off for 5 years, or simply inspire a reader. Dig deep. List out every reason for communicating with the world. You’ll probably jot down more reasons than vegetables on your grocery list. Then cross out every one until you file the list down to the ones you can’t live without.
After you spell out your reasons to write: pick an audience. We intend to vent our problems to a therapist. We intend to order food at a drive-thru. Asking the fast-food worker how to reconcile your relationship problems over his dinky headset would end with an empty heart and empty stomach. Whether you package your message in a blog post, email, or flyer; you must address the package to the right person.
It’s crucial to set a goal and define an audience. Otherwise, you’ll go on a philosophical ramble in a “How To”, when you should have ended 6 paragraphs ago, and the little Ethiopian boy who accidentally clicked your link with his first computer couldn’t care less.
Go crazy with ideas
Don’t lose your marbles. Calm down. Stop scaring the children and put that lampshade back where it belongs.
I meant you should ideate without a filter. With your “who” and “why” in mind, scribble down “whats” that will push you passed the goal line.
Disable your personal editor. Flip the switch and spill out the creative, frivolous, and insane. Splatter every idea on the board before you pine for gold. Amid your mental regurgitation, you’ll find a sparkling topic to write about, hopefully many.
This activity will be difficult for everyone because you’re so used to thinking no one will want to hear your ideas, you’ll always choke on stage in front of a crowd, or every word that comes out of your mouth will sound stupid.
Crank up your humility and polish your Scout badge for courage. It’s key you give yourself permission to think up terrible ideas and write poor first drafts.
Steal other people’s writing
Pablo Picasso was credited for saying:
Good artists borrow. Great artists steal.
Others have said similar things. And, despite objection from our moral compasses, we’ve all followed the rule since our first breath.
When we were born, our brains started absorbing all environmental data and only kept the useful stuff as memorable. Enter socialization, where we began to adopt or reject information to form opinions, and none of it belonged to us. But, we claimed our views originated in our own noggins, even though they’re really recycled.
Sorry, you’re no snowflake. You’re the sum of genetics and what you take from your surroundings. If you mull this over, isn’t it spectacular? It means creativity isn’t in your blood, but a learned skill available to everyone.
So, what attributes would you swipe and from whom? Pick a book by the author you admire most and retype an excerpt from their writing. Steal the shoes right off them.
What makes this sentence sound so engaging? Why does this paragraph flow? Or you may stumble upon the reason a great writer chose one active verb, knowing an alternative would have weakened the sentence. That will sound insane until you understand why “great” writing isn’t a unicorn, but a witty horse who discovered a way to stand out.
Make friends with familiar words
Readers will like you if you speak their language. If your writing reminds them of home, you will win friends.
We scout for the best pick when screening for friends. But the first draft picks will only buy in if we sport the popular trends. To learn the common vernacular, follow Gary Provost’s advice:
Be nosy. Listen to conversations on the bus, in the elevator. Screen out the words sometimes and listen only to the music. Tune in to teenagers; conversations, and you’ll pick up the latest slang … Find out what people are talking about, what they care about.
However, familiar language should be used in moderation. Slang confuses people, and clichés put them to sleep. But, we are attracted to what we see and hear every day, so don’t swerve away from simple sentences and force wordy vocabulary. For example:
In preparing a reference list of professional businessman whose opinions I admire, you are the primary acquaintance who triggers that impression. It is my objective to more wholly utilize my management expertise and business acumen than has heretofore been the case.
This person’s straining to sound impressive with wordiness and a jumble of specified verbiage. The message probably didn’t hit you during the first read. They meant to say:
You’re one of my professional contacts whom I admire. I’d appreciate your insight on the job market because I’m searching for a management position.
Two years ago, I published a post with a slew of wordy sentences. The hoity-toity delivery diluted the ideas I tried to express. The writing didn’t work because I neglected my readers’ lingo and cared more about tons of syllables.
Find a happy place for writing
When writing, give yourself permission to take time alone. Block the noise around you and find a literary sanctuary. A personal office or mountain cave will do, but find what works for you.
Silence and a clear mind sharpen our focus and keep us calm.
Focus and calm go together and produce quality output. The pulse rates of top performing surgeons, business tycoons, even serial killers, plummet when they zero in on their work, according to Dr. Kevin Dutton.
When people claim they “work better under pressure”, do not take them literally, as if they were born to tame lions. External stress pressures them just like you and me, but they’re able to respond by narrowing their awareness. Honing in on our task allows for slower breaths and better work. Distractions and scrambled thoughts only provoke anxiety.
If the bulb over your head beams bright enough from these warm-ups, you’re ready to dim the lights. Then turn on your word processor, strip the cap off your pen, and caress your paper with key strokes: set the mood for your writing.