I began actively writing in May 2017 and the experience so far has been beyond thrilling. I’ve seen so much growth in my writing over the past 3 months than over the past 3 years put together. I became a ‘Top Writer’ on Medium in about two months, even though I lost it after I went 4 weeks without posting any articles. In about a month of writing, my posts were getting up to 1.5K views. It all sounds nice right?
Yes, it does; but it has been a struggle.
A few days ago, I was seated in front of my laptop screen staring at the blinking cursor on the Microsoft Word document where I was working on a book draft. I had read through the paragraph I had just written and I murmured “Arinzé, you’re actually such a trashy writer.” Self-criticism led to self-doubt. Self-doubt led to indefinite pessimism.
I thought my writing was still very substandard because it was nowhere near the quality of the writing I see in the books I read. I closed my laptop and pulled out my ‘thinking journal’ and I began brainstorming on how to become a better writer. I had a long list of ideas, but after prioritizing and grouping them into buckets, I was left with five key actions that can help one become a better writer.
Create time for solitude
I recently had a conversation with a couple of classmates on the concept of solitude after reading this article.We came to a consensus that solitude is a voluntary disengagement from the rest of the world. Solitude does not necessarily mean sitting alone on a faraway beach and pondering the mysteries of life. Nah. It could be getting lost in a book, it could be immersing yourself in a piece of music, or locking yourself up in your room while you paint, it could be sitting on the toilet seat and engaging in deep thinking instead of fiddling with your phone.
In a world abuzz with instant connectivity, and surging social interaction, it’s pertinent to create time to retreat into yourself to pause, reflect, think, strategize, and create in order to keep a healthy mind. Great writers not only create time for solitude, but are comfortable in solitude. They aren’t constantly checking the time to see when their ‘alone time’ would be over. They just get lost in their own minds. That’s where the most creative ideas spring from.
Think twice as much as you write
Thinking and writing are so deeply interwoven that they cannot exist independent of each other.
“Great thinkers write down their thoughts; great writers think through their words.”
You can never produce quality pieces of writing if you don’t thoroughly think through what you’re going to write, why you are writing it in the first place, who you are writing for, how you are going to write it, and when (or how often) you are going to write. But this isn’t a rule of thumb either as I employ the strategy of writing to think (i.e. thinking and writing simultaneously).
Thinking through your writing allows you to synthesize your ideas and communicate effectively with your readers. Thinking and writing simultaneously strips you bare for your readers to engage with your soul, to notice your foibles, and to share in your rawest thoughts. To become a better writer, you would need to find that balance between writing and thinking — especially if you are a creative writer.
Become a better observer
Writing is an art which allows the writer to communicate and explain physical and nonphysical concepts. To be able to explain these concepts, you need to first observe them then develop a unique opinion about them. Observation takes two forms: observation of the ‘self’ and observation of the ‘other.’ Improving your creative writing requires a commitment to both forms of observation. To be able to communicate better through writing, one must have a sound knowledge of oneself to be able to convey one’s thoughts, opinions, and personality through words to the readers. This awareness of selfis only achieved through a disciplined observation of the self during moments of solitude.
On the other hand, observation of the other involves paying keen attention to things in our external environment: people, things, events, and so on. Observing, analysing, and synthesising. Effective observation of the self and the other will allow you to develop an informed opinion which will come through in your writing as you communicate with your readers.
Read like a writer
It is no secret that all writers are readers, but not all readers are writers. This is not to mystify writing or make it appear overly glossy, but to highlight how crucial a role reading is to writing. Reading not only broadens your vocabulary and intellectual horizons, it also exposes you to other styles of writing and some amazing content which you may want to explore. When most people read, they simply peruse through a book in search of the main message(s) the book attempts to communicate. They read to read. When writers read, they read to write. Writers don’t just read between the lines, we read between the words and letters. We examine the words in the piece we are reading in an attempt to understand why the writer chose those words or that style, then look for how to apply it into our own writing.
This does not mean that when we read, we don’t engage with the key message in the book. No. We even engage with it at a much deeper level because as we read we critique and compare not just the content, but also the diction, the punctuation, and the overall style of the book. Personally, after each book I read I write a book review (which I never publish) to connect the lessons from the book with previous things I had read. While writing this review, I also try to use new words I learnt from the book so that I can learn not just the meaning of the words, but also how to use them in context.
Let’s face it, nobody ever starts off being a great writer. Take me for example. I am not a great writer, but I’m working towards becoming one soon enough. Part of working towards becoming a great writer involves accepting the fact that along the way, you would write a lot of terrible stuff. You will write articles that may get no views or reads at all. But you will also write some really great stuff that may get over 200 shares as I did with this article.On becoming a better writer, you must learn to fail forward. Accept the certainty of failure ahead and prepare now on how you’ll deal with that because even if you’re not ready for it, it is definitely ready for you. Only those writers who are tough enough to fail and learn from their failures can become great at their craft. Are you one of them?
Writing is no easy business and nobody ever starts off as a great writer. It takes passion, grit, and practice for one to evolve into a great writer. On becoming a great writer:
- Create time for solitude to think, reflect, and observe.
- Write a lot, but think a lot more than you write. Think before and as you write.
- Become more intentional about observing your self and your surroundings.
- Read books like a writer. Read to write and write to read.
- Manage your expectations and prepare to deal with failure when it comes.