Writing Is a Habit

5 Tips to Build Writing Skills

I’m often asked how I can crank out one or more columns every day. The answer is simple: writing is a habit.

Like you, I wasn’t born with a pencil in one hand and a computer in the other. While I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was grade school, I never studied writing in university and, to be honest, English wasn’t my best subject. But when one of my college friends got cancer, it made me think about my life and what I wanted to accomplish. I kept coming back to writing. 

Since I wasn’t in a position to give up my day job, I looked into alternatives for learning how to become a writer. A friend recommended the University of Iowa’s writing program. Although my writing at the time would have assured me of a quick rejection, their summer program was open enrollment and I took the plunge. After that, living in New York City gave me access to other writing programs and the ability to hear many authors read their own work. That said, I believe that writing is as much about the desire to write and constant practice, like becoming a good athlete. Of course, this by itself won’t overcome Blank Post Syndrome.

Here are five suggestions to help you build your writing habit. (And, for even more help, here are seven ideas on how to seven ideas on how to ensure writing inspiration strikes.)

  1. Practice writing every day. Writing has to become like brushing your teeth. Develop the habit by doing it at the same time every day, ideally first thing in the morning. It’s like paying yourself first since you’re putting your creative goals front and center and leaving the rest of your day for work and other obligations. Further, if you start writing before you interact with people and media, it’s easier to connect with your inner self.
  2. Build writing muscle skills. Forcing words out onto a piece of paper or a computer screen can be painful when you first start. It’s the same as if you woke up one morning and decided to run a marathon and just showed up at the starting line. Chances are that you wouldn’t get very far. Practice by writing morning pages, as suggested by a number of creative coaches, namely Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way and Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones. Sit down and spill out whatever comes to mind as fast as you can. This writing isn’t for anyone else’s eyes. It’s to develop your writing skills and getting in touch with that inner part of your being. (BTW, this exercise is useful if you’re going through a difficult period in your life since it gives you an outlet for your thoughts and emotions.) This is uncensored writing. You should write faster than you can think about what’s going onto the page. If you start focusing on the right word to use or decide I don’t like the way I phrased that, you’re on the wrong track.
  3. Prepare to write. To maximize your writing effectiveness, gather ideas and other elements of your writing. It’s much easier to crank out a good column if you start with an outline or a set of ideas. Find what works for you. Maybe it’s just a title or it could be a full outline. Whatever your focus, find a way to gather germs of ideas wherever you are, whether it’s on your smartphone or in an old fashioned notebook.
  4. Have a special writing space. Create a place to work, preferably where you can leave your writing out so it’s ready when you return. It helps if it’s your private space where you can close the door and keep others out. As a Manhattanite, I appreciate that it’s not always possible to have this type of space so it helps to have other locations where you can go if you want or need to get out, whether it’s the local library, a Starbucks or a local park.
  5. Feed you mind. Translation: Read widely. The object isn’t to become an expert in one particular area but rather to learn from other people’s writing. This means all types of writing, books, articles, blogs, etc.

Understand that writing is at the same time a very personal and a very public activity. As such, it can be scary to share with others. But it you really want to write well, including blogging, you must develop the habit. Based on my experience (and your mileage may vary), these habits help.

Do you have any special habits or tips that have helped you improve your writing skills? If so, would you please share them?

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen

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Photo credit: topgold via Flickr

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