Seven writing lessons I’ve learned in the past year.

Writing both on paper on online were my lifeline in 2020. Photo by Lukas Blazek c/o Unsplash

I’ve been writing as a hobby since 2002 – 2003. My platforms were livejournal.commultiply.com (RIP), and my physical journals. There was nothing sophisticated about my writing; My entries were written teen diary style. They were a combination of rants, complaints, emotional outpourings, recounts of daily events, and cryptic posts about my crushes. I had no regard for my writing style or how it was received by readers since I was treating it as my private journal.

There was a long period that I did not write because of #adulting. With 2020 being the year that it was, writing became one of (if not The One) my lifesavers. However, I made a conscious decision to change how I do it online. So I went through a “refresher course” if you will. I realized that by putting content online, there are people who will read it somehow. I might as well put out content that readers can learn something about or get something good out of. Below are the seven things that I’ve learned over the past year.

Side note: I’m not an expert, I got these lessons through professional writers and through consuming and analyzing written content online. Also, the writing I’m talking about here is for leisure. Professional and academic writing has its own set of rules.

  • Write for your readers -Sounds like a no-brainer, but not really. As a teenager/young adult, I wrote for my understanding and what I thought would make me “cool” and “intelligent.” See how I emphasized my and me? If I’m only thinking about myself, I should stick to my physical journal. I put up stuff online in the hopes of people getting something valuable out of it. That means I should be writing about what potential readers are interested in.

 Having said that, I learned a sad fact that reading is something that not a lot of people enjoy or do properly. With social media giving users content at a snap of a finger, people have less attention span now and will not take time to read things if they are too long. At the same time, many folks have a low reading skill level for their age. It was said in Stephen King’s book On Writing that common folks in America have a reading level of an 8th grader. So these people will not be able to understand and enjoy reading through a hifalutin writing style.

 Besides writing what readers want to read, it’s also important to write in a way that will capture the audience’s attention and understand it in the simplest way possible. Unless you’re writing for academic/philosophical purposes, think of the masses when you’re writing. 

  • Write about you. – This seems contradictory to what I just said, but hear me out. I believe that writing both for your readers and about you is a balance you must strive for. To write about you means to write about what you know and what you’re interested in, not ones that will impress readers. This enables you to write from the heart, to write with authenticity and credibility. Ideas will flow naturally and writing will not be such a chore for you. Readers will be able to see through that genuineness and enjoy your content more. 
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is james-pond-1qkyck-ul3g-unsplash.jpg
When coming up with topic ideas, marry your reader’s interest with yours. Photo by James Pond via Unsplash.com
  • Write fast, edit slow – This was articulated well by Laura Vanderkam (Writer, Speaker, and Podcaster) in one of her podcast episodes of the same title. As per the transcript on her website: “When you write fast, you just get it down. You let the momentum of seeing words add up push you forward. You turn off the inner critic because you’re not trying to create a perfect manuscript if such a thing is even possible (it isn’t). Writing quickly means you have lots of time to edit. You can think about your story in the back of your head while you aren’t writing. You can see big problems in the first round of edits and fix them.” *
  • Cut, cut, cut – Since I’m not an outspoken person, I find myself having so many thoughts floating in my head that I need to put in writing. My posts end up becoming one very long essay with many unnecessary anecdotes. Piggy-backing on my 1st point about readers’ attention span, you have to be concise in your writing, and it has to make sense too. Cut out unnecessary rambling, off-tangent comments, storytelling, etc where possible. My partner says it takes the personality out of the writing (when I try to edit some of his drafts). But I feel you got to get to the meat of it, else your reader will hop on to the next article. 
  • Branding – I make fun of this personal branding stuff a few years back but now understand its importance. The Internet empowered everybody to have a voice. If you don’t have a schtick or an area of “expertise”, your voice will disappear in a sea of voices. Take some time to figure out what you want to focus on in your writing, and be consistent with it and how you do it. 
Build a personal brand through writing that people will remember you for. Photo by Anete Lusina via Unsplash.com
  • Contribute to the discussion – Now that each one of us has a voice and platform you’ll find there’s so much content out focusing on popular topics but say the same things. A lot of subjects that I write about here have been written elsewhere. So when I start a draft, I ask myself some questions like: What’s your take on this subject? What can you say differently? Can you contribute something new to the discussion? Ask yourself these questions too and aim to put a personal spin into your content. 
  • Restrain – While it’s a popular notion that having a platform means you can say what you want, I chose to restrain myself about my topics and how I write about them. I’ll be honest, the reasons for this, firstly, is that I don’t have the appetite and mental capacity to deal with savage keyboard warriors and people with whom I disagree. Yes I know that’s something I still need to learn more of if I want to grow in this field. Second, I’m a corporate worker affiliated with an organization whose ethics I need to abide to as long as I work for them. What I’m saying is, just because you can write about something, doesn’t mean you should. The internet would be a more peaceful place if more people understand the goodness of restraint, but that’s not the reality and I can’t control that. So I will let people be as long as I keep my own platform placid (most of the time).

Besides this, other important things I’ve re-learned are to acknowledge your sources (nobody wants to be accused of plagiarism) and edit your grammar (It’s super hard. I probably have a lot of errors in this entry).

There you have it. Again, I’m no expert but I hope  you picked up a thing or two out of this, that you can incorporate on your own writing journey.

*Link to Laura Vanderkam’s Article: https://lauravanderkam.com/2018/08/write-fast-edit-slow/

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