My friend asked me today how I write. She’s thought about it herself, picks up the rhetorical pen, but can’t go through with it. She asked me to write about writing.
The short of it is, you just write. It’s really that simple.
How, you say? Here’s what works for me.
Have a place where you keep lists of the things you want to write about—typically it’s best to write about what you know—with any subsequent notes. I tend to bounce back and forth between Medium drafts and IA Writer. Some are just titles; some are just rough notes. Right now I have about 15 ideas pending. I might eventually write only a few of them. But I have a pipeline of content there whenever I’m ready.
Be willing to work in chunks. That might mean adding notes to an idea on the go, or it might mean setting aside time to write that shitty first draft, one story at a time. I usually have 2–3 stories in progress, which means anything from a rough bullet point list to a freely and terribly written narrative, so that I have options to pick up at any point.
Actually writing can be the hardest part. So start by writing badly, just for you. Write what you’re trying to say. For me, it helps to remember that no one will read it until I’m ready, so I literally ask myself what I’m trying to say and write that in my own words. I ask myself why this thing I’m trying to write is important, and I write that. I ask who’s written on this before and what did they mean, and I write that.
Very few stories are ever well written on their first few goes. Step back and be critical of what you wrote. After I’ve written my thoughts, I collect them and I organize them. I ask myself if it makes sense to me. I ask other people if it makes sense to them? I ask myself if it’s clear and concise. I ask others if it’s clear and concise. I ask myself if it could be said in a better way. I ask others if it could be said in a better way. And then I iterate.
Editing is the most humbling and difficult piece of the process. Actively seek feedback; it will serve you well. Check with people who excel at writing and find people who know your subject well. For me, I take almost every piece of feedback I get and incorporate it. I slash paragraphs and I reword. I add words, sentences, and paragraphs and I remove others.
Once you’ve edited and iterated to a place where you know the story is good—and if you need reminding: your first draft is not it—push the publish button. Where you publish and when you publish can affect readership and circulation, but ultimately, no one will read your writing unless you put it out there to the world. I still get excited when I see something go live and obsessively follow traffic, and that’s part of the joy of writing.
Writing is a lot like designing; if you follow a solid process, it can yield some pretty high quality output. With the right mindset: patience, perseverance, and humility, anyone can share their perspective and knowledge with the world. Even you.