How to write something great

Let me let you guys in on a little secret of mine:


It’s three steps.

Step 1 Figure out what you’ve got to write about. If it’s an essay, determine exactly what the teacher is asking for. The worst thing you can have in your work is extra words. Wonder why passages with too many syllables or an excess of big words just sound uncomfortable? It’s because they are. The author probably didn’t even feel comfortable writing it.

Think like a swimmer: streamline yourself. It’s more efficient to come right out and say it rather than risk murking up your writing and confusing people.

If you’re sitting down to some creative writing, it may seem like a fantastic idea to just let your hands fly over the keyboard or paper. I used to think the same thing. Until I figured out why I never finished any of my story ideas: I didn’t know where I was going. The best thing you can do for your creative writing is obtain an objective.

Think like you’re in a tunnel: if there’s a little light at the end, it makes getting there enormously easier and less stressful. If you hurl yourself into the dark, it may be exciting at first, but the shine will wear off and you’ll end up lost. (You may eventually get to the end, but it’s nice to get there without the extra stress, right?)

Step 2 Write it. This is a complex process that is completely unique to every writer. Find out times to write that work for you; find out if you have deadlines to meet – and how to meet them in time; make sure you eat – writers often forget to; pick your favorite medium: paper or computer; outline if you have to; etc. Coddle yourself. Be a little selfish; any kind of art requires a little self-attentiveness. Writing is a delicate process, especially creative writing or writing with a deadline (almost all writing), so make sure you prepare yourself for the best writing situation possible. If you need to write in spurts – as in, writing, walking away, coming back, writing, walking away, etc. – do so. If you need to listen to cool jazz, so be it. If you prefer sitting in a fluffy chair with a princess notebook, why not. If you get angry when you write, make sure no one else is around. If you do, in fact,  require a stressful situation or the like to complete your best work – I know a lot of people who work better under pressure, i.e. the night before a project is due – plan accordingly.

Step 3 (Best Part) Hightail it away from your work. Once you have distanced yourself from it, imagine this:

Your computer crashed, or someone set your notebook on fire, or somehow you lost what you just wrote:

Would you be horrified?

Or would you be indifferent?

If you would be horrified, you’ve done a good job. Keep that work. Don’t stress over editing and re-editing the work – if you feel like you could turn it in right now, congratulations! Do so.

If you would be indifferent, I’m sorry. Usually, when I feel indifferent, I just end up deleting everything I just wrote; if I don’t love it, I hate it. (That’s just me, though.) Maybe you need to go back to step one, or maybe you just need to rearrange your paragraphs – step two. Either way, don’t turn that work in. It is most definitely NOT your best work, so figure out what went wrong and return to step one or two.

* * *

I think you’ll find that these steps work with academic or creative writing. I’m not a big fan of journalistic writing, so I’m not sure if it works the same way – it probably does, though. I hope this helps!

*Keep in mind that this is just a blueprint for an efficient writing process, but, as I said, writing is unique to everyone, so find what works!


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