It’s my honor to share the wisdom of Daphne Gray-Grant with my Wordsmith Studio buddies. I’ve been a subscriber to her Power Writing newsletter for nine years and through that weekly connection she’s taught me so much. Thanks, Daphne, for sharing your talents with Wordsmith Studio. — Kasie
I’ve been writing professionally for 35 years now. Yikes! How did the time pass by so quickly? It’s often said that you don’t really learn something until you teach it (the standard advice for medical students is: see one, do one, teach one) and I’ve found that bit of practical wisdom applies to writing as well. Here, then, are the five most useful lessons I’ve learned over the last 35 years. If you write, these lessons will apply to you, too.
1. Write every day
Writing is like exercise — it depends on repetition. Just as you don’t get to be an athlete by lying on your couch and eating Krispy Kremes, you don’t get to be a writer by talking about it. You actually have to do it. That said, I’m not going to instruct you to write for hours every day; I know you don’t have the time. In fact, I’ve become convinced that setting aside huge chunks of time for writing is the vampire’s kiss of death.
Writing works best when you let the words accumulate gradually over time, the way snow collects on the ground. I’ve been working on a new book lately and I limit myself to 30 minutes per day, five days a week. After less than six months, I’ve hit 55,000 words (only 15,00 more to go!) Best of all, it’s never felt burdensome or particularly difficult. Just showing up every day makes the writing easier and more fun, too.
2. Focus on stories and metaphors not information
How many words do you file away, every day, without reading any of them? How many stories in your daily newspaper do you ignore (and that’s assuming you still even attempt to read a daily newspaper)? If you’re like most people, you read only a small fraction of the words put in front of you.
And I’m willing to bet that the articles you’re most interested in are the ones that tell stories or take complicated ideas and show how they apply to you. Too many writers focus on facts. But we’re all drowning in information. What we need is meaning. What we want is something interesting. If you aspire to be read, tell stories and use metaphors. Give your readers context — don’t just dump information.
3. Employ the power of mindmapping
I discovered mindmapping late in my writing life and I’m now like a reformed couch potato who’s suddenly discovered the gym. I feel so good; I want you exercising, too. And here’s the really great news: with mindmapping you never have to break into a sweat! Mindmapping is a super-easy technique that will help you tap into the creative, imaginative, fun part of your brain. It makes writing ever so much easier. You can learn more about mindmapping, here.
4. Don’t be afraid to take a stand
I’ve given up predicting which columns I write will resonate with the most people. Ones I really like barely draw a peep, while columns I think are mediocre bring in a flood of ecstatic email. I’ve also noticed that the articles that draw the biggest, most enthusiastic response also tend to annoy the most people. I think this is because strong opinions will make some people dislike you. But they will also bring out the people who loooooove you. As mom always said: “You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.” Never fear breaking eggs.
5. Count on the kindness of strangers
My writing has given me the chance to connect with hundreds of fascinating people from around the world. I’ve received charming and heartbreaking emails and benefited from much support when I suffered from hackers, hard drive failures and even health problems. Writing is about connecting. I feel honored to be able to do that with you.
Daphne Gray-Grant is a former daily newspaper editor, a writing and editing coach and the author of the popular book 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. Via her website, she offers the newsletter Power Writing. It’s weekly, brief and free. Sign up at www.publicationcoach.com.