Enemies of Great Writing

Jan 9, 2024 | Better Writing

Writing a book takes time, energy, focus, and sacrifice. You must also defeat or subdue the enemies of great writing. Here are five of them, along with ways to subdue them.


Distractions are the devil. They pull you away from the focus you need to do great work.

You are the only one who knows what distracts you most. Figure that out. Figure out what you must do to defeat your particular distractions. If you’re distracted by people wandering into your writing space, find a door you can close and lock. If you’re distracted by noise, invest in noise-canceling headphones. If your phone is the culprit, turn it off and put it in another room. Post dictation


I knew an intelligent woman who went through an entire two-year Masters program and never submitted a paper on time. She took an incomplete in every single class. She always thought she could improve her papers if she took a little more time. If distraction is the devil, then perfection is its evil sidekick. If you’re writing a book, the only work that matters is the book you finish and publish.

An accountability partner can be a great help here. Find a friend you will listen to and who will tell you the truth with love. Hire someone to be your accountability partner. Remember the words of Steve Jobs, “great artists ship.”

One-and-Done Thinking

One-and-done thinking is the polar opposite of perfectionism. Experienced writers often convey the cruel truth to novice writers: “All first drafts are crap.” Your first draft is the worst draft.

All great writing is iterative. That means reviewing and revising. It means several drafts. It means getting the feedback from potential readers. It means working on your writing until you hit your deadline or you can’t make it any better.

Rugged Individualism

Don’t try to figure it all out yourself. That’s the path to frustration and the slow production of shoddy work. Instead, take the advice of Jack Canfield, “Success leaves clues.”

Study the work of today’s great business writers. Learn from the likes of Adam Grant, Amy Edmondson, Bob Sutton, and Sally Helgeson. Draw lessons from how they structure their chapters, support their arguments, and make the reading easy.


Do not attempt to tell your readers the history of clock making when what they want and need is to know the time. Instead of thinking about a comprehensive book where you share just about everything you know, think about a lean book.

Tell your reader everything they need to know to solve a problem or answer a question. Then stop.

Like many other worthwhile things, great writing is hard. You will produce better writing faster if you can subdue the enemies of great writing.

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