6 min read

10 Small Steps to Become a Better Writer

Thoughts on writing discipline.
10 Small Steps to Become a Better Writer

Writing is hard. For me it’s always been a space for me to learn just how bad I am at thinking clearly (and communicating clearly). Writing at length is, basically, a commitment to maintain clarity of thought for an extended period of time. Seemingly easy, but in today’s distracted world, try it.

Are there people who enjoy writing? What about all those great authors? Can you be one? This is less a persuasive piece on trying to get someone to be Gouverneur Morris or Stephen King than it is to be yourself.

If I look back far enough, I think I’ve always been a writer. Well, at least a storyteller. In grade school I was a “serial daydreamer.” Writing in my thoughts and imagining myself as the star of some show. Later spending considerable time in academia, many of us learned formalized structures for storytelling and most of those are centered around writing. I’ll circle back to the notion of structures later, if only briefly.

Writing is just a form of storytelling.

But for many people writing just plain sucks…

·        Most of us think writing sucks because we don’t believe the work is worth the time. “Can’t I just go to, or schedule a meeting instead?” Or talk to that colleague when I make it back to the office? Or comment on a post online?

·        Many of us think we have nothing to say that would make an impact. Insecurity is a real thing. “What could I possibly have to say on this subject that hasn’t been said before by someone far more knowledgeable than me?

·        It’s difficult to do. There’s this old joke among writers that goes something like this: “Any time I sit down to write, my house gets clean.” Ask people to do something difficult or ask them to step into a space for which they feel unprepared or poorly equipped, and they’ll quickly prioritize something else. 

Pro tip: Structure is the secret to writing. For quick work, keep a portfolio of templates to help with your writing projects

We’re human. We’ll follow the path of least resistance. We’ll talk to someone instead of writing because it’s easy. And then we’ll respond to 25 emails a day because it makes us feel like we’re writing. How many emails can you tie directly to a revenue increase? Or completed objective?

What can we write that hasn’t been said before? The Roman playwright Terence is famous for making a statement out of this sentiment. If it was true 2,200 years ago, it’s probably true today- but guess what? Nobody’s reading Terence today. However, they could be reading you.

On that last point, writing is difficult because it requires undivided attention. I’ll give you my thoughts on why: For many, it’s a long and complex process that requires us to be brave, creative, and fight our inner perfectionist. It requires planning and organizing thoughts that you could counter and critique all day long.

So, what do we do? Why write? For those who choose to get in the “writing arena,” how can we get better at it?

Writing is best viewed as a long-term relationship with many short-term goals along the way.

What most folks don’t want to hear (or read) is that writing is just a few short commitments per day, stretched out over a longer period. I know what you’re thinking. “I already have a million commitments a day!” I get it. I have a real job, too. I can’t just sit and write on one project for hours at a time. But I can set a timer for 25 minutes and chip away at product for a week and polish before a deadline.

It may have been said before, but it wasn’t said by YOU. Bottom line here is this: if you’re a working professional in any industry, your teammates, colleagues, and peers are always looking for a fresh take. I challenge you to find new ways to say old things. Many of us have been asked at the end of a meeting if they have anything more for the discussion at hand. For a whole range of reasons, many of us don’t. Try thinking about something you would have had to offer in that space that no one would have even thought about (or been willing to say), but you know your company needs. Here’s what you do: create a draft email and save it for later.

Finally, like many things, writing is only difficult the first time. To help overcome that feeling of a “first time” experience every time you write, collect templates for all the various forms of communication you’d like to try. I know it seems overly simple and quite the reduction, but these shortcuts help by providing structure. The structures will help us with the vulnerability required to be brave in the writing space. And we’ll need that to fight off our inner perfectionist.

So, what do we do now? How do we put this into practice?

Start with one good decision.

John C. Maxwell likes to tell people that success is a sequence of good decisions. I’m going to step out and call a sequence of good decisions turned into a practice a discipline.

Start with a thought. Pick one that hasn’t been heard or said recently but offers you some sense of relevancy or value.

Robert McKee, of my favorite screenwriters (business storyteller for Microsoft, Nike, and Hewlett-Packard, also famous for Spencer for Hire and Kojak) once said, “Most of life’s actions are within our reach, but decisions take willpower.”

(Editor’s Note: Reader, please understand that I am laughably straight-faced when dating myself here.)

The first good decision requires a second.

So here it is, 10 small steps to get better at writing.

Looking back after three decades of deliberate writing, these are the things I’ve found to help with writing as a discipline.

Taking many lumps and losses along the writing path, I choose to share them here in hopes to encourage others to find their own way to making their own commitment to themselves to be a better writer.

10 Steps to get better at writing

1. Do it, in some form every day.

2. Stretch the idea and find something new.

3. Schedule it.

4. Keep your commitments in your schedule. Especially those your make to yourself.

5. Give yourself some feedback and share it with others

6. Develop a good reading diet.

7. Use the online writing tools and the software you already have for help.

8. Edit later.

9. Outline any complex thoughts.

10. Commit to being yourself in “the writing space.”

Pro Tip: Improving your writing will increase your empathy (and connection) for your readers.

If you can’t already tell, this piece is a relatively quick strategy for becoming a better writer. It isn't the only way, but it is a way. In a bit of a share-to-persuade style. The art of persuasive writing lies in one's ability to identify and rectify the weaknesses that often plague the writing work. Over time, developing a deep understanding of what undermines the quality of your writing, you can work toward improvement and ultimately become better at something difficult.

To develop discipline in writing, establishing a clear strategy is vital. Implementing the following tips mentioned in this article will undoubtedly strengthen your discipline in writing over time. Cultivating discipline in writing requires a thoughtful strategy. By implementing consistent writing habits, setting goals, creating a conducive environment, overcoming self-doubt, seeking accountability, and practicing self-care, you can enhance your writing discipline in the long run. Stay committed, trust the process, and watch your writing skills flourish.