You know that stereotype of the tortured writer? The miserable, disheveled drunk who tries to rip his hair out as he struggles to pull works of genius out of the deepest corners of his mind? He slumps over his keyboard day after day wondering why the writing gods are always punishing him.
It doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t have to be intoxicated, angst-ridden, or even brilliant to write well.
You just have to add a healthy dose of discipline to your craft.
I know this because I took the Damn Fine Words writing course, taught by A-list blogger and professional copywriter, James Chartrand.
For 10 weeks, I had a backstage pass to her rock-star techniques for producing kick-ass writing that gets results. And let me assure you that while she may knock back a glass (or two or three) of Shiraz to unwind, her methods have nothing to do with getting wasted and damaging her hairline.
She teaches that good writing, the kind your audience wants to read, is planned, structured, and produced on a routine basis. Because without a solid plan in place, it’s practically impossible to produce good writing regularly.
These are a few of the secrets I learned in the Damn Fine Words writing course:
Follow a Set Writing Routine
It turns out your brain is highly trainable. You can condition it to write the same way you can condition your body to get to the gym. Just set up a writing routine and follow it exactly, every day.
Decide when and where you’re going to write, and then develop a series of specific actions to follow before you start. After a while, that routine will signal your brain that it’s time to write.
The ideas will start flowing and you’ll be typing away on autopilot.
I wake up early, pour a cup of coffee, step onto the patio for a minute, stretch, and then head back in to my desk. Once I’m sitting at my computer, it’s time to write.
I’ve noticed that I’m doing a lot more writing in the morning and a lot less aimless internet surfing.
Create a Solid Structure Before You Write
Do not try to write free flow. Leave that to the experts. It may sound completely boring, but you need to create an outline before you write.
Why? Because you know too much.
You’ve stored up massive amounts of knowledge over your lifetime, and if you don’t give yourself boundaries, your writing will drift and wander and fail to make a solid point.
Create an outline that has a setup, a plot, a point, and three supporting points for each. It’s your foundation for tight, concise, focused articles that your audience will want to read.
When I read the blog posts I wrote pre-Damn Fine Words, I’m surprised. What was I trying to say? I thought I knew, but I didn’t always hit the mark. I gave myself a pass on creating outlines for my own writing and it was a mistake.
As I browse the blogosphere now, it’s clear to me that I wasn’t alone…and I’m thankful I’ve left that behind.
Outline, Draft, and Edit in Separate Steps
Have you ever tried to write and edit at the same time? I have – and it was painful. Like pulling teeth. I critiqued my writing as I typed, stopping to perfect sentences before they were even fully formed.
There’s no need to torture yourself like that. Divide your writing tasks into separate steps. Generate a new idea and create the outline right way, then write the draft, and then edit. It’s simple and oh-so-much easier than trying to do it all at once.
And since you’re doing each task separately, you can create a full line-up of articles to have at the ready if you don’t have time to write a polished piece from scratch. Just generate a bunch of outlines, and when you have the time to draft them out, pick one and go.
Separating tasks like this makes the writing seem, well, almost simple.
And with techniques like these at your disposal, you can put that tortured writer stereotype to rest. Just start following a plan and your writing will be more focused, easier to read, and more fun to write in no time.
Because the more disciplined you are, the better your writing will be… for you and your audience.
[Editor's note: If putting your tortured writer to rest sounds likes a great plan to you, now's your chance. The Damn Fine Words writing course opens to new students on September 3, and it's going to be one awesome session. Head over to the site and get on list for all the course details - you won't want to miss this one.]