How to Become a Better Writer: The Ultimate Guide
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There’s no shortage of advice on how to become a better writer online.
How do you know which pieces of advice to trust and which ones to ignore?
How do you know if you have the talent it takes to be successful?
Is there a way to see the future and know exactly which steps to take?
But that’s the best part of the process. If you knew exactly how to be successful beforehand, the process wouldn’t be any fun. You think you want the easiest possible path, but you won’t appreciate writing until you struggle to get better at it.
Why trust me? While I’m not an infallible expert at the craft, I’ve had a little bit of success in my writing career. From publishing three books to becoming one of the top writers on Medium, to building an audience of millions per year, I’ve collected useful strategies on how to become a better writer.
Let’s take a look at some of my favorites.
The Two-Sided Debate on How to Become a Better Writer
There are two camps in the debate on the process you should use to learn how to become a better writer. One side says that you should focus on perfecting your craft before you go public with your work.
Ernest Hemingway was known for his masochistic level of editing — sometimes revising the endings of his books dozens of times. Robert Greene, the author of The 48 Laws of Power and other classic works, will spend years writing a single book and will research hundreds of different books in the process. Some aim to become the next Great American author and write a classic with their first work like J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye.
Others debate that quantity leads to quality. The more you write and publish, the better you are at iterating in real-time by using the feedback from your published work to create better pieces in the future. Some take a similar approach to books like James Altucher who wrote a runaway bestseller, Choose Yourself, after previously writing 16 books that failed.
I prefer the prolific approach for a few reasons:
- The speed of today’s publishing world – Readers have an increasing number of options for what to read. Being prolific helps you stay on your target audience’s radar and keeps your work from being too dated in a fast-paced world.
- Your psychology – Perfectionism can pay off in a big way, but it can also devastate you if your work isn’t as successful as you thought it’d be and cause you to quit.
- Momentum and consistency – With the prolific approach, you set quotas to reach that can keep you motivated. Most aspiring writers lack consistency, which keeps them from building a career. If you have momentum and consistency first, true craftsmanship and timeless work can come from a result of it.
Tim Ferris said that a viral piece of content can change your life forever, which it can. Being prolific gives you more opportunities, bets so to speak, to make that happen.
Follow the Map to Traverse the Terrain
Most aspiring writers fail because while they practice, they don’t take the time to try to understand what works. You can write, and write, and write, but if you’re not paying attention to the results you’re getting, your practice can ultimately lead nowhere.
So what do you do? Become a student of writing success.
Many famous copywriters suggest writing down popular sales letters word for word. Why? Doing this helps you understand the persuasive elements of those letters by putting yourself in the shoes of the writer. When you read work that resonates with you, ask yourself why it resonates.
The process of finding writing heroes and modeling yourself after them helps you build the frameworks you can use to be successful in your own career.
Learn to ‘Steal Like An Artist’. Find many mentors and writing heroes to learn from. Combine their skills, knowledge, and insights with your own unique life experiences and writing voice. All a sudden you have original work.
Understand the concept of “standing on the shoulders of giants.” Your predecessors worked hard at their craft, not just for their own sake, but to pay that knowledge forward to future generations.
Why waste unnecessary time trying to figure out what works when someone has already done it for you?
The Only True Shortcut to Writing Success
Speaking of what works. If you want a real shortcut for learning how to become a successful writer, study directly underneath a successful writer.
This is t how I improved my own writing skills. Early in my writing career, I was lucky enough to find a writing mentor in an editor from Thought Catalog I worked with for about a year. He pointed out areas of improvement that I wouldn’t have been able to see on my own.
When I wanted to learn how to write viral articles and get published on top-tier websites, I took a course by blogging expert that showed me how to do just that. I was stuck in the process of trying to write and publish my first book, so I bought a course that walked me through the process step by step. Both courses combined cost $1,200. Without doing the exact math, I can tell you I’ve gained at least a 100x return on those investments and I’m not exaggerating.
Maybe there are charlatans in the online writing coaching game, but I’ve yet to encounter them. Each time I’ve invested money into my writing education, I became a better writer and made more money writing.
What does that mean for you?
If you like my approach and style to writing, consider taking my online course on becoming a successful Medium writer. I never planned on putting together a course, but people kept asking me for writing advice over and over again. If you want to know everything I know, five years’ worth of knowledge, all the information is right there — structured in a way to help you avoid wasted time from trial and error.
That’s the key benefit of online programs and mentoring. Technically, all the information on how to be a successful writer is freely available online. If using it works for you, then do it. But if you’re tired of figuring out exactly what to do and when to do it, put your faith in someone who has walked the path.
Find the Right Tools to Build Your Writing Career
When you’re building skills on your path to learning how to become a better writer, you want to focus on building a “tool belt” of different little writing frameworks you collect over time. Once you have this set of tools, you can “build” in many different ways.
When I first wanted to learn headlines, I’d write dozens of them at a time. When it came to a new skill to add in each individual piece I wrote, I’d focus on mastering one skill at a time.
If I wanted to write great intros, I’d made sure the intro of each new article was amazing and I wouldn’t beat myself up about writing the entire post perfectly. When I learned about power words, words, and phrases that evoke emotions and persuade, I’d go overboard on adding these words, maybe even to the point I oversaturated my posts with them. I’d find a balance over time and all of my posts had the foundational pillar of great introductions.
Once you truly ‘hammer in’ a certain technique, it becomes second nature, which frees up mental space to try a new one. Eventually, you have this intuitive set of skills you can use in everything you write.
These days, I just go. I don’t need to create elaborate outlines or think about exactly what to write in every single sentence of my articles. I weave the persuasive techniques in seamlessly.
Once you have this tool belt available to you, you can focus on honing your voice over time. As your writing becomes more refined, you rely less on the rote use of techniques.
This is why I suggest learning traditional blogging frameworks first then experimenting more later. With the frameworks handy, you get quick wins from the positive attention you get from steadily improving articles. This gives you the confidence to branch out and create a style unique to you.
The Secret to “Finding Your Voice”
Where does your ‘voice’ come from?
How is it that we all have access to the same 26 letters, yet we come up with totally different ways of combining them?
Your voice is a combination of a few sources.
One, you’ll learn that certain techniques really speak to the way you want to write. For me, using direct and terse language just felt right.
Two, writing more often helps you shape your thought process and worldview. Writing forces you to articulate your beliefs. Sometimes you’ll try to form an argument with your writing, find holes in it, and change your mind because of the holes you found. In the end, you build a unique style due to a unique belief system.
Three, the confidence that comes from building writing skills helps you show more of your personality. You see the type of writing that works in your field — you’ll like some of it and want to differentiate yourself from the rest of it.
I mainly write about self-improvement. Over time I noticed I didn’t like the watered down, fluffy, and overly positive form of self-help. This lead to the more blunt, straightforward, brash, and politically incorrect style I like to use now. I’m a wise-ass by nature and injecting sarcastic humor, shit-talking, made writing more fun and helped me connect with like-minded people who appreciate that style.
The moral of the story – Audiences will start to love your writing because they love you. Every topic under the sun has already been covered. The only way to stand out is to use the only unfair advantage you have.
Nobody else can beat you at being you.
Friend, Please Understand This
I wish I could let you look at your future writing. If you could see how scary good you could be if you just practiced, you’d be more motivated to write.
Throughout your career, you’ll look back at your old writing and cringe. If you don’t, you’re doing it wrong. This speaks to a problem people have in life, period. They have commitment consistency bias, meaning they have a hard time changing their mind and forming new beliefs.
Your writing is nothing more than a timestamp of what you believe at the moment. Don’t be scared to write boldly about something you believe in at the time, only to change your mind later. Don’t be afraid to look a little foolish in the short-term to achieve mastery in the long-term.
View the early works of your heroes and compare it to their current work to see the difference.
Embrace shitty writing. Refine your raw talent.
I see so many intermediate writers and I love that time-frame in one’s career. I can see they’re so close to hitting that crescendo. They’re almost there.
And the goal is to always chase that new crescendo. I hope to look at this article a year from now and cringe.
Aim at perfection, fall short, do it again, fall a bit less short, and do it again. Do this your entire life and you’re a real writer.