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13 simple writing tips

I love reading, I love books, and my friends say I have an overactive imagination. So it may not be terribly surprising that back in my teens one of my dreams was to one day become an author. A world famous author of course. Writing good old fashioned books. Which would be published with my name on them and which people would line up in book stores to buy. New books with that new book smell. I'd sign them and impress the ladies with my wit and prose.

But alas, one day I finally realized I enjoyed programming a lot more than I enjoyed writing. The Nobel prize for literature would have to wait until I got that programming bug out of my system.

But I still write a lot. It's an important part of what I do. E-mails, documentation, blog posts, pseudo-philosophical musing on the meaning of life, etc.

And occasionally, instead of thinking about what I want to write, I end up thinking about writing. And thinking about thinking about writing. Over the years this has led to various private insights on how to write better. I'm not sure whether they're universal, but they work for me and they just might work for you too.

Tips on writing technique

  1. First decide what you want to say, then how you want to say it.

    Your brain has bottlenecks, don't overload them or your mind will jam.

    The less you try to do in one step the better. This goes for writing as much as it goes for programming, or pretty much any other mental task.

    How do you put this into practice? My favorite way is brainstorming. Usually this is easier with paper and pen. You just jot down random related ideas in no particular order. If you run out of good ideas, I find sometimes walking rhythmically in circles or back and forth can help. Yeah that sounds weird but try it before you knock it. If you live someplace peaceful and quiet taking a long walk outside with your notebook can help.

  2. Order doesn't matter, it can always be changed.

  3. Write as many versions as you need to get it right: start writing, copy and paste a paragraph, modify, copy and paste again, until eventually you feel it says just what you want.

Tips on attitude

  1. Starting is the hardest

  2. Expecting it to be easy: Writing is easy - "you just stare at the monitor while waiting for blood to condense on your forehead"

  3. Improving something is easier than making it perfect on the first try

  4. You can only do so many things at the same time - break big problems into little problems (otherwise you get stuck). Having trouble explaining too many ideas in one paragraph? Stop. Scale down what you are trying to accomplish. Use two paragraphs.

  5. Take one step at a time. Easy does it.

  6. Focus on the next step. Don't think about how much left you have to finish. That can be overwhelming.

  7. Relax self criticism and doubt

  8. Have confidence that the path will reveal itself when you get there.

  9. Enjoy the struggle.

  10. Don't think you can write? That's OK. Reality is not what is seems. Perception is not reality. The map is not the road. There is no spoon.

    In other words, it's ok if you think you can't write well, because you don't really know crap. You just think you do, and you're probably wrong. If you doubt your doubt and try really hard, over and over, you just might surprise yourself. Just do it.


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