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The habit of writing

April 17, 2017

writing in light

Photo: Erich Stüssi (CC)

Writing is very handy, whether you work in communications or a completely unrelated field. It allows us to express ourselves in so many ways: seeking and giving information; sharing thoughts, emotions and ideas; reaching out with empathy; conveying stories about ourselves and others.

I’m lucky to have practiced almost daily since high school, with quite a bit of work even in grade school.

Even if you consider yourself a novice, it’s never too late to start. What I’ve told students and reporters for years is that every writer has room for improvement. Even National Book Award winners. Even writing coaches.

One important habit to improve our writing skills is to do it every single day. This is both the easiest piece of advice to follow and the most difficult.

It’s easy because we have unlimited opportunities in our daily life to practice. Social media is a prime example: Compose your updates with care. Think about your intended audience and the core message. Whittle it down to as few words as possible.

This applies to tweets and Snapchat captions, as well as blog posts and text messages. Obviously it applies to emails and memos.

Take away any excuses: I keep pads of paper and pens together in my house, my office and my car. I can jot down an idea at a stop light — and often do. Dictate thoughts into your always-in-reach smartphone’s recorder or your voicemail (I do that, too). Keep a private blog with one simple rule: one entry per day, even if it’s a single sentence, a single word.

It’s difficult because writing can be intimidating. A blank page can give grown men and women the sweats, let alone the horrifying notion that someone could read it.

Every writer started somewhere. And many of the top writers struggle with their work — it doesn’t come naturally to everyone.

You must overcome your timidity of scratching out a sentence a day, one that no one but you will ever read. Otherwise, you’ve failed before you’ve even tried.

Another challenge for writers trying to improve their skills is the perceived lack of progress. I hack away at different writing assignments every day, but it’s hard for me to tell if I’m getting any better. I’m stuck in the middle of my own work.

Remember that daily writing will yield gradual progress, but it does take time. And we may not be the best judge of our own work — it always helps to have another set of eyes on it.

Getting started is a must. Keeping at it is essential. Write every day, even a lousy nonsensical phrase that sticks in the throat like so much phlegm.

The world needs more thoughtful writers. They come from those who practice the craft.

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