Have you ever felt drawn to something without knowing why?
A ‘pull’ towards something – an object, activity, person – that you couldn’t explain?
And when you followed that “hunch”, you discovered something brilliant?
That’s how my story begins with Roy Peter Clark’s “WRITING TOOLS: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer”. On a rainy October afternoon, I passed a bookstore and felt this little tug to go inside. I followed the hunch, entered the store, and felt drawn to a specific aisle. Within minutes I was holding the book and flipping through it, then walking to the till to purchase it.
Now, not even halfway through the book, it’s completely flipped my writing style on its head. I’ve always felt like my “calling” was to be a writer – way back to the days of submitting short stories to contests at my local library, age 10 (yes, I was a huge nerd). But until reading this book I’d never really invested much into learning about writing or improving my skills.
This book, along with Elizabeth Gilbert’s BIG MAGIC, have given me SO much more confidence in my writing, along with the kick-in-the-butt I needed to start a daily writing practice. I’ve been writing my little buns off, and I honestly feel like I’m getting better each day.
How do you feel about your writing skills? Do you worry your message is getting lost in the shuffle? Do you struggle to get your point across? Are you having trouble finding your “voice”?
1. Run out and buy WRITING TOOLS and BIG MAGIC. Trust me on this one!
2. Read on, because I’ve compiled my best tips to help you write with purpose, passion, and the poise of a professional…
9 Tips to Write With Purpose
TIP #1. There are no “Rules”, only “tools”
When you read tips for improving your writing (including the ones below!), remember: These are ideas and suggestions, not hard-and-fast rules. They are “tools”, and you can choose to use ’em or lose ’em. It’s UP TO YOU. It’s YOUR writing.
This is Roy Peter Clark’s first lesson, and it really struck a chord with me. Sometimes – especially with blogging – it is SO okay to chuck grammar and punctuation “rules” out the window. Your goal is to convey your message in a way that makes sense to your readers and has flow, purpose, and cohesion. You’re not writing an english essay!
If you want to use exclamation marks, do it!!! If you want to use #hashtags, go for it. There’s no one stopping you. In fact, adding those little bits of flavor and “you-ness” will make your blog stand out from all the others out there.
TIP #2. Read, Consume, Learn
If you want to improve your writing, READ. Read often. Read everything you can.
It doesn’t even have to be something within your niche. Expand your horizons. If you write a health blog, try reading a pop culture magazine. If you write a beauty blog, check out an astrology book.
If you feel a tug in your gut toward a certain topic or book, follow that tug. You’ll learn something new that you wouldn’t have known otherwise, and 9 times out of 10 it will be exactly what you needed at that point in time!
TIP #3. Write, write, write
Becoming a writer is simple: Start writing. This point was made in both Clarke and Gilbert’s books, and amidst its beautiful simplicity, it’s also slightly terrifying…
What if no one likes my writing? What if I try and fail? What if it’s bloody terrible?
I know those thoughts. Trust me, I really do. But that’s all they are – thoughts. Thoughts based in FEAR. These thoughts are your ego talking – the very “human” part of you that holds you back from anything scary, intimidating, or potentially embarrassing.
You need to push past these thoughts and START. WRITING.
Just like reading, write whenever, wherever, and whatever you can. Write blog posts. Write journal entries. Write short stories, poems, grocery lists, chapters for a novel, emails, #allthethings.
In BIG MAGIC, Gilbert shared her mindset towards daily writing and I fell in love with it. Here’s what she said: Approach your writing knowing you’re NOT going to publish everything you write. In fact, you don’t have to share a single word with another soul if you don’t want to. You’re simply practicing.
When a gem comes along, you might share it. Or you might not. It’s your choice! Start writing for the sake of writing, and forget the outcome. If you’re ready to embark on a journey of daily writing, you’ll love this post from Trunked Creative on blogging every day for 100 days.
TIP #4. Embrace your voice and your quirks.
In my mind, the best part about blogging is the connection. Within minutes of sharing a new blog post, you can be chatting with your readers about it, getting their feedback and opinions, answering questions, and learning new things from THEM about the topic.
But some blog posts invite more two-way conversation than others, right?
Writing warmly, sincerely, and genuinely will take you SO far as a blogger. Again: It’s not always about RULES. Now, I’m not saying you should write l1ke dis w/ tunZ of ###. That’s not what I mean.
Instead, embrace your voice and inject your personality into your writing. Write like you talk. Ask questions to keep your readers engaged and to encourage a two-way conversation.
Struggling to get your “voice” on paper? Try recording yourself talk about a certain topic for 3-5 minutes, then listen back to the recording and pull out the gems. Write them down exactly as you said them (but edit out the UMMs and UHHs, of course!), then flesh things out, add more detail, and format the post in a way that makes sense. There’s your new blog post!
TIP #5. Write what you love + enjoy
The best blog posts are ones that come from the heart and from a place of passion. Your readers can ALWAYS tell when a blog post is forced, and if the topic isn’t something you’re truly interested in.
Feeling like you HAVE to write about a certain topic or feature a specific product is the fastest way to kill your inspiration and creativity. I like to keep a running list of blog post ideas in a Google doc, and when it’s time to write a new post, I look through the list and choose the topic I’m most excited about. That guarantees I’m always motivated to write, finish, and perfect the post.
In summary, never feel like you HAVE to write something. You don’t have to follow blogging “trends”. You only have to do what feels right for you.
TIP #6. Write first, edit later
Write drunk; edit sober
When writing, you have only one goal: To get your thoughts down on paper. In whatever shape, form, and order they come in. Give yourself permission to write uninterrupted for as long as it takes to get your ideas out of your brain and onto the paper. Only once you’ve said everything you need to say should you pull out the red pen and start revising.
I prefer writing and editing my blog posts on separate days altogether. This helps me stay focused on the task at hand for as long as possible, without forcing my brain to switch between different modes all the time. I now schedule an entire content creation “retreat” day into my agenda each week. That’s right, I devote an entire 8-hour work day to creating. No filtering, no editing, no revising. Just writing.
My “flow” is a MILLION times better this way, and I’ll never go back to multi-tasking again!
TIP #7. Trim the fat
This tool from Roy Peter Clark has undoubtedly been the most profound and impactful on my writing. I have the tendency to throw extra words into my writing like confetti, in an attempt to improve the flow. This only leads to indirect-ness and tons of fluff (no-no’s!)
As per Roy Peter Clark, every paragraph should serve the larger purpose – getting your message across. Every sentence should add something valuable. Every. word. counts.
You’ve heard the expression, “Don’t use ten words when one will do”, right? This is what I’m talking about! Now, don’t worry about unnecessary or “extra” words when you’re writing, but when it’s time to edit – TRIM THAT FAT, GIRL!
Here are a few cuts to make, as per Roy Peter Clark:
• Cut any passage that does not support your focus.
• Cut the weakest quotations, anecdotes, and scenes to give greater power to the stronger.
– WRITING TOOLS, pg. 51
And specifically, what to target:
• Adverbs that intensify rather than modify: just, certainly, entirely, extremely, exactly
• Prepositional statements that repeat the obvious: in the story, in the article, in the movie
• Abstract nouns that hide active verbs: consideration becomes considers; judgment becomes judges; observation becomes observes
• Restatements: sultry, humid afternoon
– WRITING TOOLS, pg. 52
Each of the above cuts has its own chapter in Clark’s book, so dive in there if you’d like more details on how to apply these tips!
TIP #8. Focus on serving your readers
Just like every sentence and paragraph should support the main message of your post, every post should support your overall purpose for your blog. If you haven’t already, take a few minutes to get clear on:
• WHO you’re writing for
• WHY you’re writing for them
• WHAT your big purpose is
Once you’re crystal clear on that, choose to only share content that supports your goals and purpose. If you write something amazing that doesn’t fit in with your mission and ideal reader, submit it as a guest post to another site where it does fit. Or leave it be. It’s up to you!
TIP #9. Use The 5 Question Method
I go through the 5Q Method every single time I’m about to start writing a new blog post. I ask myself the 5 questions, write down my answers, and BOOM – there’s my outline. From there, writing the actual post is a breeze!
Not only will the 5Q Method speed up your content creation process, it also ensures that your content…
• Answers readers’ questions
• Engages readers from the get-go
• Makes sense and flows nicely
• Drives home your main points
• Provides extra value to WOW your audience
Want to try out the 5Q Method for your next blog post? You’ll be hooked from the start!
Here’s the post with all the details. Click on the image below to download the workbook:
When all is said and done. . .
Have fun with your writing! These tips are meant to get your wheels turning and ink flowing; they are NOT hard-and-fast rules. They are tools. Take what serves you and leave what doesn’t.
Here are the nine tips again:
• Read and consume constantly
• Write daily
• Embrace your voice
• Write what you love
• Write first, edit later
• Trim the fat
• Be intentional with each piece
• Serve your readers
• Use the 5Q Method to engage and WOW readers