The Secret to Easy-Breezy Writing

The Secret to Easy-Breezy Writing

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.

No excuses.

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.]

Post by Claiborne Ashby

Claiborne Ashby (also known as Clay) is a copywriter and web content writer focused on green and environmental companies. When she isn't writing for clients, she's busy creating structured blog post outlines for her website, Clearly Green Media.

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  1. Barb Johnson says:

    Excellent post and thank you. I had already decided to take the course, I desperately need it, but you gave me another reason to go for it.

    I need it! Can I wait another week?

    • Thanks, Barb! If you’re already signed up for DFW, you made an excellent decision.

      The course exercises and personalized feedback from James will make you a better writer. Just be sure to put in the effort and keep up with the exercises. That’s what made the difference for me.

      Good luck!

  2. Clay, this is brilliant. You did a great job explaining some of the main points in the DFW course. The “outline, draft, edit” was one of my favorite lessons too.

    Raising a glass of wine and wishing easy-breezy writing to everyone.

    • Thanks, Mary! That’s very kind of you.

      And yes, I’ll raise a glass of wine with you (what the heck – it’s after 8am) — easy-breezy writing for everyone!

      (But seriously, you can do it without the wine.)

  3. Outlining is one excellent way to start writing, but other good methods exist as well. I usually write the rough draft and then make an outline, adding points that I’ve missed the first time around. I agree with you, however, that trying to edit during the drafting process is counterproductive. The worst of drafts can be fixed later–the important thing is to record your thoughts without getting hung up on the details. Thanks for your insights!

    • Yes, editing while drafting is indeed counterproductive. I have to constantly remind myself that writing and editing are different tasks.

  4. I have the terrible habit of not writing an outline, which I think really does create more work in the end. It is down the road then that I see holes of missed opportunities of text that come to me later. If I had created an outline, I think those thoughts would have come to me and made it to paper. I certainly need to improve on my lazy writing style.

    • Writing from an outline definitely takes discipline — it’s more work up front. But it helps me stay focused so I don’t forget the point I set out to make. It might help you see thoughts you meant to include earlier in the process.

  5. I’ve struggled with outlines and structure since my first academic paper; therefore, I still struggle with it today. My problem seems to be getting my characters from Point A to Point B in a way that’s not utterly predictable and dull to readers. I also rely way too much on free writing, which is probably a terrible thing! If you happen to have any tips for writers who dread outlines, then I’m all ears… 😉

    The Damn Fine Words course sounds amazing, Clay. Good luck to you and thanks for the great post!

    • Jill : You have struggled with outlines and structure since your first academic paper; though you still struggle with till today, it is a great idea just not to drop like this. Just keep working on it.

      Ntarugera François

    • Thanks, Jill! My only tip is to feel the dread and do it anyway. Go through the process more than once. If you struggle with outlines, you probably won’t like it the first time. (I sure didn’t.) But by the third time you might start to see the benefits and, I know it sounds crazy, enjoy outlines.

  6. I love this idea of chunking. I happen to use Scrivener. Though I searched around for a solid blogging template for Scrivener, I wasn’t able to find one. So, I built my own. It works for me. Which is what is the important part.
    Chunking gives me a great way to just chill out. Great post.


    • Thanks, Stephen. I like your word, chunking. It helps me relax and enjoy the process. I haven’t used Scrivener – I’m going to check it out.

      • Yeah Scrivener has been built to be more or less morphed into whatever you, the writer, need it to be. I keep all my resources cataloged in it, as well. Right now my workflow looks like this:

        Inspiration Amassing > Evernote

        Evernote is my online/offline digital backpack

        Evernote > Best of the best gets filtered into the “Resources” in Scrivener.

        Scrivener is where the chunking takes place. I write my complete ideas on the ‘corkboard’ cards – move them around, nest them, etc. Then get down to work. I write using Gruber’s Markdown for quick conversion for web.

        Then I ‘compile’ or export my post. Scrivener translates the Markdown into html – copy and paste into WordPress. Then it’s off to my editor.

        I am sure that my workflow isn’t the best out there. However, I am writing.

        Hope this helps:
        Scrivener is found at
        or if you are on a Mac with10.7 or better, you can simply open up the Mac App Store and download a copy.


        • Hey, whatever keeps you writing. Scrivener looks like a handy tool. I’ve experimented with Evernote some – seems like a cool way to record random moments of inspiration. Thanks for sharing your workflow.

  7. Trying to edit while writing is a pain. I know know not to do this. Also – the three sentence structure given in the course is magic. It is taped to my computer so that i use it every time I write.
    Thanks James – great course

  8. On 24 th August 2012 , I respected my invitation from the Forum of Private Newspapers in Rwanda where by the theme was to recognize the people who paid attention to what their doing as social responsibility . I have been wanting to create an outline that has a setup of writing ever since supported by a plot , a point, and of course as you said three supporting points for each. I strongly believed that it was my foundation for tight, concise, focused articles what my audience will want to read. I am still holding it for more backing , because though the story had only main point to address , but it has also lots of stories behind it.

    So , keep reading, one day , you will come to it. There is nothing worse for a journalist more than to beg for an article and resources to publish it !!!!

    Ntarugera François

  9. I find it so amazing how powerful it is to be told by someone else the things you already know. Thanks for the great tips. You have placed them into a clearer perspective and made it simpler to follow. Somehow the mind just find ways to complicate the things you know and should do. Cheers.

    • It is amazing, isn’t it? Good point. If only we could get past the mind clutter, we’d always know exactly what to do. Glad the post helped.

  10. Great post! I know that I personally tried several times to write some publications and each time I failed to implement a schedule or routine sitting down to write X minutes a day, week, etc. This should help get me back on track!

  11. I always feel like I say what I want to say when I just get it down. Correcting grammar and spelling can always come later. My thoughts just don’t stay with me unless I get them written out.


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