5 Experience-Tested Tips for Writers

Jul 20, 2021 | Better Writing

I’ve been writing professionally for over half a century. I’ve written articles, books and booklets, blog posts, columns, direct response copy, and web copy. Today, I coach people whose day job isn’t writing as they write their book.

I learned a lot from my own experience and from my clients. Here five tips that helped my clients over the last 20 years.

If It’s in Your Head, It’s Not Written

It’s natural to think that when everything is clear in your head, you’ve got a piece of writing worked out. It’s natural, but it’s wrong. Until you wrestle with putting the words down, structuring them into sentences, and ordering the sentences into paragraphs, you haven’t written anything. All you’ve done is think about it.

If you want to write a great book, you must get things out of your head and onto a page or into a file.

All First Drafts Are Crap, and…

Ernest Hemingway and many others were right. All first drafts are crap. The good news is that your book will never be worse than it is the moment that you finish that draft. More good news: now you’ve got something to work on.

If you want to write a great book, you need to couple the advice about first drafts with another piece of sage writing advice: “All great writing is rewriting.” Don’t diddle and dawdle trying to get the first draft to look good. Get it down so that you can start rewriting.

Get to rewriting as soon as possible.

Always Know What’s Next

Uninterrupted blocks of writing time are sacred. Don’t muck them up thinking about what you’re going to write. Know what’s next.

Ernest Hemingway, Mark Bowden, and many other writers know that one secret to productivity is stopping when you still know what’s next. Don’t stop a writing session until you know where you’ll start in the next session.

A lot of work that goes into writing a book isn’t writing. You need to know what’s next in that arena, too. Know what you’re going to do between writing sessions. Know who you’re going to interview, what you’re going to research, what facts you want to run down.

One of the secrets to productivity is always knowing what’s next so you don’t lose time thinking about it when it’s time to work.

Give Your Brain Time to Surprise You

Your brain is a marvelous mass of billions of connections that help you write great stuff. But your brain needs time when you’re not working on your writing to do some work on your behalf.

There’s a part of the brain that psychologists call the default mode network (DMN). When your brain is doing something other than writing, your default mode network is still chipping away at your writing problems.

It’s your default mode network that gives you great ideas. If you want those great ideas to come popping out of your brain, give your brain a break. Take breaks during your writing. Take breaks during your day. Take walks.

Your brain can give you lots of creative ideas to solve your writing problems, but you’ve got to give it time to work.

Capture Your Insights

Those great ideas you get will flit away like butterflies on the wind if you don’t capture them. Every successful writer I’ve ever known or read about had some way to grab those ideas when they show up. I use a small digital recorder to capture ideas. Other people use index cards or a notebook. One of my mentors, Don Deffner, used scraps of paper. It doesn’t matter what you use.

When you get a great idea, capture it. That’s the only way you’ll be able to use it later.


If it’s in your head, it’s not written.

All first drafts are crap. All great writing is rewriting. Get to rewriting as quickly as possible.

Always know what’s next.

Give your brain time to surprise you.

Capture your insights.

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