Think Traffic is now The Sparkline. Welcome to our new home! Get the full scoop »

10 Fast Ways to Become a Better Writer (Even When You’re Burning the Midnight Oil and Can’t Afford an Editor Just Yet)

In the world of online and email communication, writing powerful copy makes all the difference.

Writing doesn’t just communicate ideas; it generates them. If you’re bad at writing and don’t like to do it, you’ll miss out on most of the ideas writing would have generated. -Paul Graham

The sun’s been down for hours and you are alone with a warm drink next to your laptop. You’re burning the midnight oil again in the back room, building your online business, and you know you need to put another post up on your blog, but you’re just not sure what, exactly, to write about.

The struggle of building your business and hustling on the side is that you don’t always have the time and luxury to write whenever you want, and while the idea of editors, proofreading, and revising your essays sounds great-you need to write something and write it now.

For people working a full-time job during the day, juggling families, and responding to other demands, having ample time to fill notebooks, draft, and re-write sounds like a pipe dream.

How can you quickly improve your writing? What tools are there beyond grammar and spellchecker to make sure you’re doing your best work?

Sometimes we need tactical, specific, and immediately useful tips to make our writing better. Most writing tips, for me, always seem to feel good – and then I struggle with the actual writing and re-writing. How do you transform the writing tips of Stephen King, Stephen Pressfield, Seth Godin, and Ray Bradbury (amazing storytellers, all) into actionable outcomes?

Here are 10 of my favorite strategies that help when you’re self-editing, scrambling to make ends meet, and holding both a beer and a coffee in your hands while trying to write-and want to do your best work.

1. Start with a story.

Begin your piece with a fable that illustrates your point and shows the reader what it is that you’re talking about. Develop a scene and a scenario where people can nod their heads and say, yes, I see, that happens to me. I can picture myself doing that.

Despite how useful facts and lists are, stories are what resonate. We’re pulled into the grip of a helicopter crash, and most of us can’t look away when we see bright lights or hear loud noises. It’s the pull of the story and the unknown that captures our attention. Stories are memorable, and we can tell and re-tell them; they are, in fact, how we wire information into our brains.

Great writers on the web today hook readers in with stories, creating fictional (or narrative non-fictional) scenes with detail, specificity, and color.

Here are two great examples:

Danielle LaPorte, On Managing & Loving Money:

No one ever taught me how to manage money. My folks were young and working, Catholic High School didn’t give me any tips, and I skipped college. So that left me and my Visa card, which mysteriously showed up in the mail on my nineteenth birthday. I promptly went shopping that weekend. And the next weekend.”

If you look closely, the post is actually about a book launch, but the first paragraph isn’t about the book, the author, or the call-to-action at the end of the post. It’s a relatable, tangible story that outlines the problem all to common to many people: the problem of managing money, and the story of what happened when she got her first free credit card.

Caleb Wojcik, on The Metrics You Should Measure:

You know the rush. A guest post you’ve written goes live on a huge site, you finally launch the product you’ve been working on for months, or an older article of yours gets Gizmodo’d. You watch your traffic spike and you can’t peel yourself away from the analytics for the whole day.

‘Look at all those visitors!’ you yell to your significant other as they feign interest.”

This post is about what you measure when you’re evaluating your blog, website, traffic, or product. The introductory story, however, is about that feeling you get when you see a post of yours go live, hit the charts, or make the rounds in Twitter-and the way your significant other may or may not be involved in your online business.

You can also use this strategically in personal emails. For example, rather than jumping to the question you’re dying to ask, you can start out with a quick story (or set the scene for where you are). This situates the reader (on the other end, perhaps in some place far different than where you are) within the framework of your life. Like Instagram but with words, you can give a little snippet of your life through language:

For example, change typical emails that begin:

Hey Ryan, how are you? Hope you’re well.

To a quick setting of the scene-showing where you are and what’s in your life:

Hey Ryan,The other day, I was walking through the streets of San Francisco and grumbling about the never-ending fog. I realized that the city was like a refrigerator. Now that I’m in New York, I miss the air-conditioning and I also miss many of my friends like you dearly. It reminded me to email you and say hello. I hope you’re well.

In both blog posts and in emails, using stories helps you illustrate your point and takes general advice and makes it something the reader can see and feel.

2. Start with a question.

Much of life, and blog posts, are paradoxes, not answers. Starting with the answer first can be terrifying (and worse, inaccurate or incomplete).

We revisit the same ideas over and over again not because we’ve conclusively decided, but because each topic is worth thousands of conversations. We need the reminders, we meditate on the ideas, and we each have our own flavor and take on the issue. In a recent New York Times Opinion piece about the suffering in Syria, the author opens the essay with a question that haunts human philosophy: Does the torrent of suffering ever abate – and can one possibly find any point in suffering?”

You don’t need to answer the question to write a great story or essay. Begin with a question, and add your thoughts.

3. Play with the use of first, second, and third person narrative.

First person is filled with “I” statements-great when you know the author, or you have a relationship with the person doing the writing. Second person uses “you” all the time-and can be a wonderful tool for creating empathy and describing a scene that you want the reader to inhabit-but can become bossy quickly with excessive use. Third person focuses on the scene or the action from an anonymous observer within the room.

Most of the time, we don’t actually care about the writer. Your reader wants to know exactly how the writing affects him or her-and whether or not the reading is going to matter to them specifically Right from the start, you should paint a picture of the person or scene and show the action happening.

While first-person can be a tremendous tool as a writer, many bloggers (myself included) are often far too liberal in writing our experiences. Luckily, there’s a quick way to fix this: write the post you would normally write, and then edit selectively to remove the “I” from a couple of paragraphs.

Take a paragraph that looks like this, for example:

I was tired and hungry from a long day and the rain was beating down on my bike helmet. I didn’t want to work anymore-I was completely exhausted and ready to hit the hay. But I knew how important it was to continue to get this project out the door-it was my first real project as an entrepreneur, and delivering it mattered.

And turn it into this (reducing the use of I statements-but still narrative):

The rain beat down on my bike helmet. It was a long and tiring day. Sometimes it feels better to hit the bed instead of continuing to work-but I wanted to impress my newest client. Getting projects out the door on time is critical for first-time entrepreneurs. It was important to deliver, and deliver well.

You’ll know when removing the first person is great when the paragraph stands on its own without the use of the first person narrative.

Take this post by Chase Reeves on “How Much You Should Be In Your Business?” – the opening sentence is focused on the reader (the second person). For the sake of contrast, I’ll rewrite the opener in two different ways as a point of comparison.

Original (Second Person): “You’re here because you want to create a business that supports you. You want to build something that earns and affords you the life you aim for.”

First Person: “The more important thing to my business is creating something that supports me-something that affords me the life I want and creates earnings I can live off of.”

Third Person: “It’s clear why building a business is critical—it’s a form of support. It’s a source of earnings and creates a desirable lifestyle.”

To me, the original (second person) option is the most powerful-it connects with the reader, has them nodding yes, that’s my vision, and sets the parameters for the post. The first person version makes me wonder why I care about their business, and the third person feels dry and impersonal.

If you’ve written something and you know the content is good-but it’s not resonating in the way that you want-try re-writing it from a different point of view. That might be the trick to creating the snappy writing you want.

4. Talk it through.

Start with the communication vehicle you’re most comfortable with. Most people get stuck writing because they haven’t done it enough. They haven’t sat at the computer and made writing a habit, and each time they do eventually get to the screen, they agonize over each word choice and sentence until they’ve beaten the poor essay to death, 500 words and 2 bottles of wine later, declaring, “I’ll never write again, no, not me!”

If you’re stuck on writing, chat with a friend and use voice recorder, or stomp around your office or hallway and talk things out. Much of great conversation and thinking is done while moving-why should we sit and expect the great ideas to pour out of us once we’ve relegated our bodies to stillness? Start talking, start recording, and go for a walk. Many a mile I’ve walked with an earphone in my ear and a voice recorder on, pretending to talk to someone else while I’m actually just talking to myself.

5. Write the outcome you want first-by beginning with the ending.

Start with the ending, and the desired action. Sometimes the posts I write are creative, lyrical, poetic, and exploratory-that’s fine. Other times, I want something, and I want something specific. Perhaps it’s a donation to charity water, or a sign-up to my latest writing workshop. Each time, I think carefully and specifically about the person who will be reading the essay, and the end of the piece, and what action I want them to take.

Step one: write the desired outcome. Before writing your post, write the action or outcome that you want people to do. How do you want them to take action?

For example, a desired outcome might be getting people to sign up and enroll for FizzleCo. So, begin by writing this outcome down:

Sarah goes to the website, reads my post, and nods. Yes, she’s having all those problems I’m articulating. She really wants something to help her with online business training. Why does she click on the post at the end? Something is really compelling-she clicks because she’s having trouble figuring out how to make great videos and wants to talk to more people who are having the same issue-so, here’s what I’ll write at the end: Want to get better at making outstanding videos and meet more customers? Sign up for FizzleCo.

Step two: Outline the puzzle pieces (usually I use post it notes across my desk) that create a story framework that will lead to this desired outcome:

  • Start with a story-introduction that elucidates the situation or pain point
  • Add in background information and expert details;
  • Create the framework for a solution to the problem with suggested steps;
  • End with a call to action and final solution (your recommended solution).

6. Write about things you know.

Write about things that seem incredibly obvious to you (and that you’re perhaps overlooking). Describe how you do things, and how you sort your day. Pay attention to the questions people ask you at conferences, in email, and during dinner conversations for clues to what people want to know. Surprisingly, people are incredibly different and what you do may be novel to someone else.

7. Be incredibly specific.

Clichés and abstract thinking are painful to read and prevalent across every type of writing. The solution to clichés is to get incredibly specific-start detailing the scene and describe who is doing what, where you are, and what is happening. Examples are more powerful than anecdotes.

For example:

It was grueling, and I was exhausted. I’d never worked so hard in my life.

Can be turned into something much more specific, with details about who, what, where, when, and why:

My arms were quivering and shaking; in retrospect, doing a 26-mile run the day before writing my launch essay was probably not the best strategy. I could barely keep my fingers above my keyboard.

8. After you’ve written your essay, go back and delete the first and the last paragraph.

After you’ve written your post or essay, go back and delete the first and last paragraph. The body usually contains the most of the “meat” of the post, and many writers amble on too long in the introductions and conclusions. Try deleting it and shortening it to make it sweet and punchy.

9. Mimic great writers you like.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. If you’re stuck, use Evernote to copy and trace patterns that you like. I like to save out great essays and drafts from my favorite writers, print them, and then highlight them to study how people write effectively. Behind the words that you enjoy the most are patterns and clues to great writing.

For example:

  • Email headings: Pay attention to what you click on in emails-what were the five emails you opened first today? What did the headlines say? Jot those down. Circle words that felt great. Were they long or short? What made you want to click? Take one you like and flip it around to become something that works for your business, idea, or model.
  • Start with a bang. Use powerful ledes. Not sure what a lede is? (It’s the bullet or grab at the beginning of a story, made clear in the first paragraph) – skim 5 opening paragraphs of the New York Times with a highlighter and see what you like about each one. Convert it to your own style.
  • End with a boom. Wrap up the writing with a punchy statement, a leading question, or a call to action. If you’ve deleted your first and last paragraphs, perhaps there was one sticky statement you wanted to keep-perhaps distilling that into one sentence will do the trick.

10. Write less and link more.

Find examples and point to them. It’s perfectly okay to not reinvent the wheel – it can be equally valuable to curate great content or showcase your process of discovery if it’s lead you to a great outcome or conclusion.

Here are three of my favorite articles on how to be a better writer:

In todays’ world of digital and fractured communication, writing is more essential than almost any other skill-when you get better at writing, you get better at everything.

Writing isn’t just a tool for communication – it’s a tool for creative generation and unlocking what’s within your mind. It’s a tool for discovery, search, synthesis and re-wiring. Writing regularly is not just a means to create content, but is itself a tool to generate ideas and crystalize ideas. Whenever you can, use a notebook, use Evernote, google docs, or another system to capture your ideas and practice collecting (and imagining) ideas.

The more you write, the easier it gets, just like any other habit. When I first began writing, it could take me 6 to 8 hours to write a short post. Today, I can start and finish a post in under an hour minutes if I’ve been thinking about it during the week-writing has gotten easier to do because I keep it up as a habit. I use writing and sketching regularly as a means to generate ideas. My notes become stories, my stories become paragraphs, my thinking wanders over the page, and then I pour content into the computer.

But when you’re pressed for time-or you’re stuck in the here and now of needing to write a post, having someone to tell you that “practice” and “consistency” are the best tools to get better at writing doesn’t help you with the post that you’ve got to find a way to write-right now.

Get the free guide to defining your audience
  • http://seleyenda.com Sergio Sala

    Ten more ways to write! That is what I like about writing, the possibilities are endless! Some days you can go direct, some abstracts, some longs, some short and profound.

    If you believe in yourself, you can create it. Write one word, it may take you to thousand more.
    Great post, Sarah!

    • http://www.itstartswith.com Sarah Kathleen Peck

      Thanks, Sergio!

      Yes, writing is communication, and communication is expression. In my mind, we’re all doing experiments in expressing ourselves. Writing is just one form.

      Best of luck with your writing endeavors!

  • http://www.lyceumgallery.com Tamera Grieshaber

    This is one of the meatiest blog posts that I have ever read!

    I struggle with writing all of the time. Blog posts. Newsletters. Press releases. You have given me some great direction! I will start my morning with notes on NYTimes articles and continue through all 10 tips.

    Thank you!!

    • http://www.itstartswith.com Sarah Kathleen Peck

      Writing is everywhere! I think we’ve forgotten that in blogging, websites, and newsletters, — we have all become writers in some form or another. Thanks for the comments. Let me know how the NYT highlighting goes :) — I did it for a few weeks and it REALLY helped my writing once I started reading pieces with a highlighter and analyzing them.

  • http://energymatch.ca/ Ekaterina Ramirez

    Amazing article! Love it so much! Especially examples on personal emails and storytelling.

    • http://www.itstartswith.com Sarah Kathleen Peck

      Thanks so much, Ekaterina!

      This was my first guest post for Think Traffic, I’m glad you liked it. Over time I’ve found that the specific examples are always the most helpful. They take things from the abstract to really making them real and show how we would use them in everyday life.

      Glad you liked it!

  • http://formyourfuture.com Josh @ Form Your Future

    All of those are amazing tips… I think I really need to get better at telling stories. Sometimes my content is just kind of flat and I feel like I sound like a monotonous robot. I look back at my writing and I think, “that doesn’t sound like me, I don’t talk like that”. So why do I write like that?

    It will probably just take time and practice to really get my voice down on paper (or on blog, for that matter). I’ll just keep on keeping at it :)

    • http://www.itstartswith.com Sarah Kathleen Peck

      Josh, I know what you mean! Often the “dry” part of an essay is just the beginning bones — and it needs a story or a place (in time, in a scene) to make it really pop. Try adding a story at the beginning of the person or place and time in which the idea is happening. See if that helps–it sometimes works for me!

  • Pingback: We did our best, but we were powerless to reinvent journalism — it was a digital riptide! | whatsweb

  • http://nafk.net Suhail

    Brilliant article, This was kind of motivating. i’ll bookmark it.

    • http://www.itstartswith.com Sarah Kathleen Peck

      Thanks, Suhail!

  • http://www.rock-solid-business-coach.com John Cameron

    Great article, I’ve bookmarked it because I know that it will be a useful read many times.

    • http://www.itstartswith.com Sarah Kathleen Peck

      Thanks, John! Let me know what works for you–or if you need any other tips or strategies. I’ve got tons more.

  • Sarah Fritts

    Great article, Sarah. I will reference this article again. Your examples were especially useful.

    When I take walks from now on my iPhone is coming with me! My best sentences appear in my head on long walks and they promptly leave me when I get home.

    Thanks.

    • http://www.itstartswith.com Sarah Kathleen Peck

      Thanks, Sarah! I find that when I’m reading the web I always learn the most from people who point out case studies and examples–then I really get it. So this article got a bit long, but I thought the examples would really show what I was talking about. Glad you liked it!

  • http://cyclehacker.com Fraser

    Sitting at a computer in Zagreb, Croatia waiting for the rain to pass before continuing to cycle round the world, my attention turns to writing a guest post for a blog with big traffic.

    Then your wonderful article arrives into my inbox to provide the practical help and advice needed to make my best work come alive.

    Awesome post Sarah, thanks a million.

    Fraser

    • http://www.itstartswith.com Sarah Kathleen Peck

      Thanks so much! Love the story and the placement. It’s fun to know where people are in the world and what their lives look like–even in a few words about the setting–because otherwise you can’t tell from the computer screen!

  • http://thehealthsessions.com Jennifer Mulder

    Thank you for this amazing article with all the helpful examples, Sarah! You rock. Enjoy teaching your upcoming writer’s workshop!

    • http://www.itstartswith.com Sarah Kathleen Peck

      Thanks, Jennifer! This class is already a powerhouse and I’m looking forward to all the students introducing themselves next week–it’s a really fun time for everyone to meet each other!

  • http://artrek12@blogspot.com Melony Candea

    What a motivating wake up to my morning. A lot of great reminders and a few new writing tips for me to implement- after my second cup of coffee. Grin. Bookmarked, tweeted and shared. Thanks so much, Sarah.

    • http://www.itstartswith.com Sarah Kathleen Peck

      YAY! Thanks, Melony!

  • Liss Thomas

    Evernote again! I must give it a shot!

    Great post. I love writing stories, most of what I write is fiction. Wonder why didn’t think of writing a little story for my guest post? Silly me! Thanks for the reminder

    • http://www.itstartswith.com Sarah Kathleen Peck

      I love Evernote! I’m working on a post about how I use it and how it’s helpful to me–hopefully that will be helpful, too!

  • http://freshspectrum.com Chris Lysy

    It’s the middle of the night and your kid has the sniffles, meaning of course that you’re awake. You’re not looking for more advice, your latest post was a big hit, but how can you pass on a Think Traffic email.

    You start with a skim but all of a sudden you’re hooked. It’s solid advice and it triggers that idea generating part of your brain. “Sleep can wait a little bit longer,” you mumble to yourself as you open up a fresh document and start typing.

    Tomorrow morning you’ll have to thank Sarah with a comment.

    • http://thinktraffic.net Corbett Barr

      Well played, Chris :) I approve this comment.

    • http://freshspectrum.com Chris Lysy

      Thanks Corbett,
      Love what you guys are doing here, if you ever want a cartoon let me know. Least I can do for all the free advice you’ve been giving.

    • http://www.itstartswith.com Sarah Kathleen Peck

      Amazing comment. Brilliant. I love it when people DO the things suggested… hope it’s fun, too!

  • http://www.yachtsbhc.com Michael Williams

    SKP, Thank you for the insights. My product is yacht charters, small, big, and giant motor yachts and catamaran sailboats. They all float, are mobile and have many toys. Many times I have felt stuck in a rut using the same format and just changing adjectives…you’ve given some fine points to ponder that will hopefully lead me to writing better, eye-catching and more interesting posts. Thanks again. MPW

    • http://www.itstartswith.com Sarah Kathleen Peck

      Thanks, Michael!

  • http://www.dadverb.com Roger

    Wow. So many comments already.
    I really appreciate this piece. Sarah, you really over-delivered, and I am impressed!

    I prefer first-person posts and writing. A great example is James Altucher.. His latest post seems like its about 90 -95% first-person.

    “I started saying “No” to people who weren’t right for me. I started saying “No” to
    everything I didn’t want to do.

    I started saying “No” to mindless meetings, mindless events, mindless people who
    were bad for me, mindless food or alcohol, mindless anger and regret. Mindless TV
    and news.

    This might be a personality thing. My personality prefers hear someone telling me something personal. I don’t always trust statements as though they were fact. Its almost always subjective. Tell me what you were thinking and feeling. Then, I’ll trust you.

    • http://www.itstartswith.com Sarah Kathleen Peck

      Roger,

      I think you’re spot-on. It depends on who, and what, and how–and there are so many different preferences in writing styles. I love writing in the first person, and sharing my story, but knowing that there are other ways to tell a story gives me more fluidity in creating pieces for different venues.

      Cheers!
      Sarah

  • http://www.lynnefavreau.com/blog/ Lynne Favreau

    Early this week the realization that my novel writing was stalled due to my lack of an outline hit me like a ton of bricks. While it’s not a disaster, and in fact was quite a relief to find my way out of the rut I was in, it did have me questioning my writing process.
    How fortunate to read this post today, one that address exactly what issues keep me from blogging consistently. getting to the point concisely has always been my biggest challenge.

    • http://www.itstartswith.com Sarah Kathleen Peck

      Good luck on your novel!!

  • http://www.webafest.com.au/blog/ Julian

    Wow! This is a truly epic post. Thanks for sharing these points with us Sarah, I like how you mentioned to start with a story an work up to the point, That has helped me alot! Thanks

  • Pingback: The Weekly Optimiser ~ Zen Optimise

  • Pingback: OLB Online Marketing Roundup: Week 37 - Online Legacy Builders

  • http://www.thekitchensnob.com Dee

    Thank you for this. Thank you for not just giving advice, but giving examples. And not just examples but GOOD examples. That is what I love about Think Traffic! I already started using some of these this morning and it helped me to overcome a block.

  • metz

    I totally agree with number 2, start a question. Even a child can throw difficult question like “Why those the sky is blue?”. We are conscious with the things around us and asking will help us understand after a satisfying answer.
    And yes, write the desired outcome. On the other hand, nobody wants to read a roller coaster article. All in all, this is a very informative post. Great guidelines.
    I’m glad a topic has been written about this.

    I found this post shared on Kingged.com, the Internet marketing social networking site, and I “kingged” it and left this comment.

  • http://cheekyblogger.com Luis

    Lots of useful tips in there. I’ve sometimes struggled with my writing due to many distractions. I suffer from writer’s block from time to time as well. I’m starting a new blog and hopefully these tips and advice can help me write great posts for my blog.

  • http://fireprovedmarketing.com/ Vukasin

    Hey, another great post, well done. I really love to read every advice you write.

  • http://www.artdivision.co.uk Rachel

    This is a brilliant post on writing. Sometimes it’s easy to get frustrated and overwhelmed by all the low end spun content and lazily reworked ideas out there.

    This post has given me fresh inspiration and I’ve learnt a new word ‘lede’. Result!

    • http://www.itstartswith.com Sarah Kathleen Peck

      Win! Yes, I agree–often it seems there are lots of link-bait titles filled with things that aren’t actually helpful. My struggle with writing tips (while I love reading how others write) is that it’s hard to actually implement anything. It took quite a while to put together this list, and I always find examples to be extremely useful. Thanks for commenting!

  • Pingback: Bedtime Reading #1 | Corey Docken

  • http://www.breakfree.me Dan Meyers

    I really like the advice of “write less, link more”. Just as you have illustrated in your post, it helps provide relevant information, but it also helps build relationships! I’m going to try that…

    • http://www.itstartswith.com Sarah Kathleen Peck

      It’s a great strategy for when you’re stuck on a post but you still want to share the idea. Often curation (finding 10 or so really excellent articles on writing, excerpting a paragraph from each) can be extremely helpful. Good luck!

  • http://www.androidgamespro.com/ Lalitha

    Hey i liked liked this article.
    Really liked this point of “Start with a question ” didn’t knew that were an important part of reading.
    Will start this habit of taking notes with your article.

  • http://newinternetorder.com Azalea Pena

    “The more you write, the easier it gets.” Totally agree with this one. In my humble opinion, I find that writing is a skill that requires tons of practice. I look at it as more of a skill that you can hone, rather than a talent you’re naturally born with. Writing skills are to be developed and practiced. There are so many area to it that you need to dive into, if you really want to be a productive daily writer.

    I’ve been writing for 5 years and I must say, I am still learning how to write in different ways. I love the learning experience and I highly appreciate when my clients give me feedback (positive or negative).

    Thanks for the tips, very helpful indeed!

  • http://storiesmadepowerful.com/ Arlen Miller

    Yikes. This is a collection of gold. Thanks for that. Will be referred back to in the process of creating today’s post. Thanks!

  • Pingback: Just Browsing for September.20.2013 | CrowdScribed

  • http://theirrationalmind.com Mallie Rydzik

    Excellent. I stopped reading halfway through and wrote a personal story-based blog post for later this week. Thanks for providing that little extra push!

    • http://www.itstartswith.com Sarah Kathleen Peck

      That’s perfect! I definitely believe in “read as much as you need to do the work you need to do.” Glad the tip helped you get to writing your story.

  • http://www.yourdreamblog.com/ Shawn Gossman

    Great article!
    I think that you as a blogger and a writer should also become an editor. Research and study writing and editing, take some courses and do writing challenges. The better you are at writing, the better you will be at editing. You could even become an editor yourself for those who truly require them.

    • http://www.itstartswith.com Sarah Kathleen Peck

      Shawn — love this suggestion. Any time we try to edit, we learn so much. I’ve been an editor for a number of places, and it’s taught me more about writing than most courses. (And, as an editor, I went back to re-read this essay and found a handful of mistakes–ACK. SO it goes).

  • http://www.droid-guru.com/ Suraj Bhatti

    Great article Sarah! I’ll be bookmarking this post for future reference.
    Also also think it’s time to start using Evernote!

  • http://www.greenfellow.org Sagar nandwani

    I have always liked that quote you included by Nabokov, but I’ve never really agreed with it. Re-reading a text is valuable; it’s certainly a different experience every time, but to say that you can’t appreciate a text the first time through because you’re too focused on understanding what it’s about kind of disregards the value of the content in my opinion.

    Nabokov was obsessed with details – Lolita is so full of obscure details that no one is even sure what he intended to be there and what readers have invented. Nabokov told a student at one point that the text made no conscious allusion to Alice in Wonderland (a novel that he translated into Russian, changing every pun and detail to fit the Russian frame of reference), but readers have tracked the main characters’ path across America and claimed that it mirrors a set of chess moves that would free Alice in a scene in which she is trapped on a chess board in the latter novel. The level of detail is really cool, but he said himself that he viewed plot as more of a means than an end and I just can’t get down with that.

    I probably sound totally pretentious right now – 4 years of Russian lit will do that to you. I’m curious about what you think though, you write a great article! I’m especially impressed with the eye tracking study you brought up. I’m also not totally sold on taking notes while you’re reading for pleasure, but taking periodic breaks to let yourself process is valuable in almost anything (especially when you should be working, oops).

  • http://www.expertsenterprise.com Hugh Culver

    Love this! It’s great to see practical tips instead of nice generalities. Especially like the idea of start with a story (even if you delete it later).

  • Pingback: Friday Favorites

  • Pingback: : Resources and inspiration round up 8.10.2013

  • Pingback: How To Write A How To Guide Like You Know How To Do It

  • Pingback: Links! Olive oil! Plus size clothes! Cat gifs! Sexism in the Music Industry! Literature and Freedom! | davinia hamilton

  • Pingback: Links! Olive oil! Plus size clothes! Cat gifs! Sexism in the Music Industry! Literature and Freedom! | Blogosfera

  • Pingback: Top 25 Beginner Blogging Tips from Influential Bloggers – UpCity

Up Next:

Don’t Know What to Write About? Here’s the Real Reason Why…

This morning I found myself staring at a blank screen. I needed to write a blog post but couldn't think of any ideas to write about.

The Sparkline — a blog for independent creatives and entrepreneurs building matterful things.

% Stay inspired, productive + on track—get a weekly email from us. Short n’ meaty, built for speed. Get it Weekly