I didn’t know whether to puke or sit down and have a good cry or both. I was going through some old boxes, and I found manuscripts for a couple of the first articles I wrote over 50 years ago. Gosh, they were bad!
It took a couple of minutes to realize that those articles illustrated something very good. They showed me how far I’d come. That is the long game of writing, improving over time, getting better over time, and making sure the next piece you write is at least a little better than the last one.
Most of my clients are what I call “semi-pro writers.” Writing isn’t their day job. But their writing is important, and they want to get better. They want to play the long game of writing. If that’s you, here are some thoughts about how to keep getting better over the long haul.
You will have good writing days and bad writing days. To win the long game, you must constantly improve so the highs and the lows are both higher than they used to be. Your goal is to consistently turn out high-quality prose.
Consistency is the key. You will keep getting better if you consistently improve how you write and how you prepare to write.
Make your writing sessions consistent, so there’s no need to reinvent your process every time you plan to write. Develop a starting ritual that prepares you to write effectively. Develop a finishing ritual that wraps up your work and prepares you for a running start in the next session.
Figure out what makes a great place to write for you. Maya Angelou rented hotel rooms where she did her writing. William Faulkner wrote in a small shed with a door that locked. He had the only key. Today, my writing space is my office. It wasn’t always so. For a couple of years, I wrote in a friend’s garage, sweltering in summer and sitting close to the wood stove in winter.
When you use the same space consistently, simply entering the space cues your brain that it may be time to write. Try to develop a space where it’s easy to eliminate both interruptions and distractions. If possible, have a separate space to leave your phone while you write.
Your writing space should also contain your writing tools. In addition to a computer or pen and paper, those tools might include a whiteboard or flip chart. Perhaps you’ll have a stand-up desk.
Take Care of Yourself
There are plenty of stories about writers who overcame severe physical issues to write great works. Think of Ulysses Grant, writing his Personal Memoirs while dying of throat cancer. Sure, you can probably write great stuff despite massive physical challenges. But why would you want to do that if you don’t have to?
Get enough sleep. Enough good sleep is the key to productivity and resilience. Be wary of advice to cut your sleep to be more productive.
Eat right. You know what this means. It doesn’t require extensive explanation. Stop eating crap. Start eating good stuff. Exercise to build strength and flexibility.
Take care of your relationships. Friends and loved ones will bring you joy and support you through tough times.
Get Better at Developing Ideas
Ideas are grist for your writing mill. Develop routine ways to capture your ideas, evaluate your ideas, and turn them into writing. Your brain is a wonderful thing. Help it help you.
Pay attention to when you get good ideas. Learn to generate good ideas when you need them. Hone your ability to develop your ideas and turn them into writing.
Seek Ways to Improve
Seek out ways to improve. Start by observing what works for other people. Study other writers. Study writing. Study the science of creativity and communication.
When you see a good idea, try it out to see if it works for you. When you want to learn, doing beats planning.
Tweak the idea, if necessary. Try things in small, temporary ways. Track your results. Keep the good stuff and move on from the less effective stuff.
Feedback is an Accelerant
So far, I’ve written about process things. They’re important. But the most important thing you can do to keep getting better is to get as much good feedback as you can. Good feedback is the accelerant that will help you achieve more, faster.
Keep sharp and improving.
Consistency is important.
Create a great place to write.
Take care of yourself.
Sharpen your ability to develop ideas and turn them into writing.
Seek ways to improve.
Try your ideas to learn if they work.
When you want to learn, doing beats planning.
Feedback is an accelerant.