Wrestling with a 2,000 word essay is not unlike birthing a calf. A life is at stake here. Your job is to make sure it survives.
In my experience, great writers have always been socially odd. They’ve resisted invitations to birthday parties from close relatives, pretended not to hear when people are talking to them, and even ignored phone calls …
So they can do this one thing.
Outsiders consider this behavior bizarre and anti-social. So be it. But it’s really just a pretty normal day in the writer’s life who wants to kick some tail and take names.
It’s all about getting better. One day at a time.
In this roughly 10-minute episode you’ll discover:
- The aggressive work ethic of exceptional writers
- Two daily writing challenges that will make you a better writer
- When practice isn’t helping you
- What you should know before you join a critique group
Listen to Rough Draft below ...
The Show Notes
The Crazy Thing Writers Do to Become Exceptional
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Demian Farnworth: Hi, this is Demian Farnworth, Chief Content Writer for Copyblogger Media. And welcome to Rough Draft, your daily dose of essential web writing advice.
Thank you for sharing the next few minutes of your life with me.
And if you haven’t yet, jump over to iTunes and leave me a rating or a review or both. And for those of you who have. Thank you.
I just want you to know that when I read your comments, I am encouraged. I just want to work harder. As a gift to you.
So thank you. Now. On to the show.
This is Episode 20. It’s part of a mini series called The Exceptional Writers Club where I’m asking four very important questions about becoming an exceptional writer.
Yesterday, I asked, what is your strategy? Why are you a writer?
Today I’m asking, do you have the right technique?
Now we’re into the mechanics of the thing, actually punching the keyboard.
The Aggressive Work Ethic of Exceptional Writers
Technique will probably absorb most of your time as a writer since mastering technique is what has made the greats the greatest.
If you watched that documentary I mentioned yesterday, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” you’ll see what I mean. And if you haven’t watched it, what are you waiting for?
Watch it. Then tell me what you think about it in the comments.
Mastering the art of writing is hard work. It’s daily work.
If you’re a dandy or a princess, then this lifestyle is not for you. Wrestling with a 2,000 word essay is not unlike birthing a calf. A life is at stake here. Your job is to make sure it survives.
Your job is to sit in the cold and mud through the night and pull until it comes out.
So, first things first — do you have the capacity to park your bottom in front of the keyboard — and not move until it is written?
Exceptional writers have that aggressive work ethic. An ethic that says …
When I arrive at the door of creativity and knock and no one answers — I’m going to kick the door in. I’m going to make myself at home.
And I’m not going to leave when someone shows up to evict me … I’m going to fight them tooth and nail.
See there is nothing magical about writing. The work has to be done.
Can you do it? Will you do it?
As Mark McGuinness said, “Many a creative breakthrough starts as a creative break-in.”
That’s a long way of saying developing good writing technique means you have to practice.
Two Daily Writing Challenges that Will Make You a Better Writer
Even when you are not writing, exceptional writers find ways to practice. You write emails, tweets or Facebook posts. Dash off poems. You journal in the morning and in the evening, and whether you are running over hilly trails or lying beneath the clouds, you are writing and rewriting in your head.
The more you write, the better you become.
Furthermore, your practice involves a clear purpose: you are trying to improve a certain element of your writing. You are trying to write the best first sentences. You are trying to write the best calls to actions. Headlines. This is deliberate purposeful practice, the kind Geoffrey Colvin wrote about in his book “Talent Is Overrated.”
I still spend hours over headlines. Because I want to write the best headline. And not rest upon my past work.
And, this practice is repetitive. The goal is to make writing great headlines, first sentences an instinct. This is why I’d recommend writing daily. There really is no better route to becoming a good writer than writing often.
For a number of months publish seven days a week. Challenge yourself to write a sonnet a day. For an entire year. Most of them will be nominal. Most of them will be forgotten. But you’ll be sharpening the saw. Each and every day.
This is education through writing sprints.
This practice is purposeful. It’s repetitive. Which means you have to pay attention to what you are doing and adjust.
You must be your best and worst critics of your own work. You pull out old letters and blog posts, and you evaluate it. What would you do differently? What makes you cringe? Make note, and stop doing that. Make note, and start doing something.
When Practice Isn’t Helping You
Review, critique, your own work. Be harsh. Be brutal.
For example, I’ve gone back through and listened to every episode of this podcast again. And I cringed each time I said the word “Right.” Probably, and this is no exaggeration, I said that word over the course of these nineteen episodes, nearly two hundred times.
Ugh. Now I have a bright gold sticky note on my laptop with the word “right” crossed out.
What You Should Know Before You Join a Critique Group
But even if you are a good critic of your own work, ask for feedback.
Exceptional writers scheme their way into relationships with honest professionals who can give them the kind of input needed to improve.
Or you can join a critique group. Even if you don’t agree with everything they say, look for patterns in what your group says. They may be on to something.
And go back and listen to the early episodes of this podcast. The ones on writing headlines and openings and first sentences in particular.
And of course, exceptional writers look for new angles. You experiment. You study a list of the best first and last sentences. You wonder if an article would be better if they injected humor, shared a racy illustration or opened with a quote.
Anything to break new ground. You experiment with your technique, keep what works, ditch what doesn’t.
There are endless ways to practice and master technique. You are limited only by your imagination.
I of course will be talking throughout this podcast about technique. In fact, once this mini series is over, in two episodes, I will get back to working our way through the essential elements of a good piece of online writing — things like subheadlines, and internal cliffhangers, and bullet points, and warm blooded verbs, and white space.
All good stuff. In the meantime, pick an area of writing in which you are weak, and vow to practice today to improve that weakness.
Until the next time, take care.