Advice on Writing
I spend a large amount of my days writing, for both my position as a researcher, and for this blog. I consider writing on this blog to be a method of exercise that allows me to refine my skills and become a better writer. This blog acts as a playground for my ideas, and is a place where I share my thoughts about the world freely and openly. As I have published more content, people have continued to ask me how they can become a good writer. Writing is a skill that you need to be good at no matter what business you work in — whether you are an investor, marketer, or developer. Writing is not only a method of communication, though: it is a medium through which you can explore your ideas in more depth. By writing something down, you are able to sift through your thoughts and identify which ones are valuable, and which ones don’t make sense.
Writing is also an art, and great writing can change the world. There are no specific rules for writing, and I think every individual writer has their own style. For me, I like to write longer paragraphs, use subheadings frequently, use em-dashes liberally, and I like to only publish my writing when I feel confident in its quality. Everyone has their own set of rules though. Some people don’t like to use em-dashes; some people love to use semi-colons; others prefer short paragraphs, or sentence-long paragraphs where appropriate. Therefore, despite the title of this essay being “advice on writing”, I suggest that you think about whether my advice applies to your unique style before adopting it. The breadth of writing styles is what makes content interesting — don’t change your style if it is working well for you.
Refer to a variety of different disciplines. The key to writing a good article, book, or essay is to link your point to other topics. Readers want to be able to learn something new — that’s why they are reading your work — and it is easier for them to learn something when they can relate to the content you are writing. Learning about decision-making may not seem like the most interesting thing to a lot of people, but it ties into so many other disciplines — psychology, behavior, history, gambling, baseball, and other things that people enjoy. If you write about decision-making plainly, without referring to any outside examples, most people will quickly get bored unless they are very interested in decision-making. If you were to use examples of how baseball players manage risk and decide when to hit the ball, more people will be interested in your work. A lot of people like baseball — or at least know the basic mechanics of the game — and they will be able to link what you are saying to what they know about baseball.
You, as a writer, can also realize a benefit from linking your points to different disciplines. Thinking about other subject matters that link closely to yours allows you to develop a firmer understanding of your point. You will consider alternative viewpoints; think about how a certain concept in another field may apply to your point. Explaining topics by referring to others will make it easier for you to understand your point. Readers enjoy writing where the writer has a strong command over the subject about which they are writing, so this is a two-way benefit.
Don’t try to please everyone, and choose an audience. When I first started writing, I adopted the mindset that my writing had to be of a high quality and entertain everyone. I started to remove good paragraphs and sentences because I knew that some people may not find any value in those words. I started to alter the structure of my writing because I knew that some people may not like the structure. I tried to write an article that would make all readers happy. Indeed, making constant revisions to your work is important — doing so ensures that you are always publishing work that you are confident in. However, you have to understand that your writing is never going to be perfect. There will be flaws, and some people will just not like what you are writing. This is difficult for new writers to internalize because it can make them question the point of writing if people aren’t going to like their article.
You should choose an audience which your writing will be aimed toward. This article is aimed toward people who already write but are looking to improve the quality of their writing. This article is not aimed at people who are already expert writers, nor people who are only getting started (I have a lot of other tips on how to get started, which may be featured in a different article). When you are writing, you should choose an audience and constantly think about what they would like to see in your article. Will your audience derive any value from the complex point you added to make your work seem more complete? Will your audience think that 2,000 words about the topic you are covering is enough, or too much? If you choose a specific audience, then you can focus solely on making those people feel happy with your work. You will make changes that improves the quality of your writing and audience reception, rather than changes that make your writing good for everyone to read.
Be concise. Readers — especially today when social media is dominating content consumption — have short attention spans. If your work is not interesting, they will just go ahead and read another article, or check social media, or do anything else. The best essays and articles are those which are short, but effectively convey their points. They carefully consider every sentence that they write, and revise their work to ensure it doesn’t include unnecessary words or points that don’t matter to the text. When you are writing, you should try to get to the point as soon as possible. This may be contrary to what you were taught in school where you have to write a certain amount of words for your assignment to be considered complete (i.e. write 10 pages, or a 1,000 word essay). Don’t focus on length; focus on quality. What is the minimum amount of words you could use to convey your point? A heuristic I like to use is “Does this need to be an essay? If not, would it make for a better short-form article? Could it be boiled down into a Tweet or two?” Make your point, then move on to something else — quality matters most, anyway.
This rule also applies in terms of the words you use. Avoid the words your teacher told you were “vocabulary words” or “SAT words”. Instead use the most simple and appropriate words possible. Using a good range of words is important, but the words you use should be familiar to most people who would be reading your article (again, refer to your audience!).
Write about original ideas. If you are writing about something, try as hard as possible to include independent thoughts. I find that my most popular content is that which has included solely my raw perspectives on new ideas. I am not interested in writing about ideas that already have a lot of coverage where I have no independent thoughts to share. When you are writing, always consider whether or not there is already a good article out there about the topic you are thinking about. If there is, then try to improve upon it. If you can’t improve upon it, choose another topic. Indeed, writing about unoriginal ideas can be good at the start as it will help you build consistency and get used to writing more content. But over the long-term, if you want to get more value out of your writing, then you should try to write about the ideas that you have had and the thoughts you think other people would be interested in.
The rules are yours. You do not need anyone’s permission to write a blog post or an article. You can go and do so right now. The thing that helped me increase consistency in my writing was to internalize the fact that the rules were mine. I get to choose when I write, and how long my articles are. There are no SAT guidelines that stipulate the form that I should write in. There is no time limit within which I need to finish articles for this blog. This is my writing, and I have full control over the thoughts I share and the thoughts that I decide to leave out. This is important to think about because there are a lot of people that say you need to write in a certain way, and abide by certain grammatical rules which are very difficult to understand. Don’t let that discourage you. If you have a unique thought to share that you think other people would enjoy, write about it. You don’t need to ask anyone for permission; just write.
Take some time before publishing. My goal with this blog is to publish a new article each day. This is a more frequent cadence than most writers are used to, but doing so taught me an important lesson: do not publish until you are ready. When I started, I would publish an article immediately after finishing it and then it would be out there for anyone to read. This was a mistake. Now, I schedule my posts to be published a few hours after I have written them. The best writing you will ever read is that written by someone who has taken a lot of time to think through their content. They have not rushed to write about something just because they want to write. They take time to consider each sentence, and don’t publish until they feel confident in their work. My rule is that I only publish when I feel confident in my writing and when I feel as if I would read what I have written. If, a few hours after scheduling my article for publishing, I think that there is something missing, I will go back and revise that point.
I often find myself adding a few sentences to my writing even after I have finished writing it. My subconscious mind is thinking about the article I have written and over time new thoughts come to mind. I think of great examples, or I would think of a point that needs to be made. Or I would realize that my introduction needs changed. These are often small changes, but it is the small changes that matter most. As I mentioned earlier, readers often have short attention spans, and one confusing point or under-developed argument could encourage them to go and read something else. Also, don’t be afraid to write multiple drafts. For new writers, there can be a compulsion to only write one draft — you are not used to writing multiple drafts. But even if you read over your article and make a few quick changes, that will make a difference to your work. Don’t rush your writing; take some time before you hit publish.
Writing has been a major part of my life over the last year. I have written a ~1,000 word blog post each day, alongside research reports and articles for work. I also published a book earlier this year. In doing all of this, I have realized that writing is a great way to share and clarify your thoughts. I have also realized that writing is a great connector; I have met dozens of people who have reached out after reading one of my articles. As I continue to publish more content, I will likely have more thoughts on how to write higher quality articles. But I will only share those thoughts after careful consideration, because each writer has their own style and a lot of my thoughts will likely about improving my work. The most important thing to know is that writing is an iterative process, and the more you write, the more opportunities you have to improve. Writing is also an art, and so even small changes can significantly improve the quality of your work.