I started writing online 2 years and a half ago with a simple goal: Share my love for languages and my newly-found interest in self-improvement. Unfortunately, all I wrote was pure rubbish.
Had they not been my own articles, I wouldn’t have stopped for a secnd to read those pieces. The titles were bland. The content was self-oriented and boring at best. I could have fallen asleep in less time than it took to read those small articles. I’ve come a long way since then. Not that my writing has become perfect since then. I’ve got my ups and downs but the quality of my writing is nothing to compare.
I’m not one of those writers who went viral in no time. What I am, however, is proof all it takes is consistent effort. If this piece can help you walk a similar yet shorter path, then I’ll have done my job. Let’s see how I do at it.
Transform writing into an unavoidable habit
2 months after I started writing, I gave myself a challenge. I decided to publish an article a day for a full year. It wasn’t easy but I still accomplished it. I wrote hundreds of thousands of words in one year, divided into 365 articles.
I don’t really care whether a habit takes 21 days, 66 days, or even 150 days. What I can assure you, however, is that 365 days does the trick.
When you’re only starting to write, 365 days seems like a beast. It’s a lot more than you’ve ever written. And it’s out in the open, ready for remarks and doubts from anybody in the world. There’s something scary about that but you’ve got one thing going for you then.
Nobody cares about you
When you’re not someone everybody looks up to, you don’t have to follow rules. You don’t have to worry about haters. You don’t have to care about results. You can focus on your writing.
365 days later, you’ll have gone from someone with no confidence in his writing skills into someone who can judge the low quality he/she first offered. And that’s the first step.
In my 1-year writing challenge, I tried all sorts of things. I wrote in different states of mind. I wrote some pieces angry. Some others laughing, crying, amazed, or excited about something.
Writing became cathartic. I saw it as my own little therapy I was sharing with the rest of the world. In reality, I was sharing it with a few people nice-enough to read these horrors.
I was able to share what I wanted, when I wanted, and the way I wanted to.
Reframe what you write
Still, when you’re writing online, you want an audience. There’s nothing wrong with that. It just feels wrong to want one because, at first, you believe you deserve one.
It’s impossible to get an audience when you’re too self-centered. If all you say is telling a story about yourself without considering how it can be useful, then you’re wasting everybody’s time. Yours included.
To combat this, I began reframing my words. I switched many of my articles from “we” to “you”. That brought some more life to the articles I wrote. Was it the only tweak I needed though? Oh no. I wish that was the only problem with my old pieces.
Play with article length
Back when I started, most of my articles were about 300-word long. It took me up to an hour to write them. For someone like me who could type at about 70 words per minute, it felt laughable.
The problem wasn’t my fingers. It was my brain being totally lost in its own thoughts, incapable of putting one word after another. I felt like a baby trying to say his first words. Because everything was a mess in my head, I struggled to make long pieces without them showcasing that mess.
Now I average 1,100 words per article. Some even go above 2,000 words. Or 3,000. A feat I didn’t even dare dreaming of at the start. Does length matter? In this case, it kind of does.
Before I got to the length of articles I can now write, I forced myself to make a few longer pieces before I was ready. My first over-1,000-word article was 4 months in. I then increased the average to 400, then 500, then 600-word articles. Little by little, my efforts compounded.
Leave your experience behind
6 months after starting to write, I had mostly written articles on self-improvement and languages. I had gotten better but my progress was beginning to stale.
To combat this, I began writing articles on topics I knew less of and played around with styles. The furthest from my comfort zone was probably this one, about the history of Pachinko. It forced me to organize my article differently. This pushed my skills to their limits and while the article probably wasn’t the best ever written on the topic, it impacted how I wrote articles later on.
I wrote articles relying heavily on sources, articles based on metaphors, or even poems.
If you always stay in your lane, your progress will slowly fade away. You’ll get stuck with the same boring ideas and formats. Just like Toby Hazlewood who renewed himself by starting to write on cryptocurrency in January, you need to go out of your lane to make new advancements.
Spend full writing days
I only became a full-time writer 5 months ago. Before then, I had a full-time job that required 10 hours of overtime per week, if not 15 or 20. I also had a girlfriend and had to find the time to write without burning out.
I mostly wrote in the early morning before going to work but what truly boosted my skills was definitely spending, here and there, entire days focused on writing.
At least once every two months, I went to a coffee shop at 8 am with my computer and stayed there until it closed, at 10 pm. I wrote 2 or 3 articles. I read other people’s articles. I found new ideas. I organized future articles to write. I did some research on topics I wanted to write about. I looked for flaws in my recent articles.
These days were my secret weapon.
By spending entire days focused on the topic of “writing”, I learned a lot about the craft and improved my quality. I also, without knowing it, gave my future self a taste of what it’d be like to be a full-time writer.
Go back to the basics
Last September, I took part in Tim Denning and Todd Brison’s writing class. I worried the class would be too much aimed toward beginners. When I reached out to Tim, he reassured me and said the course wasn’t aimed at beginners (although it’s definitely useful for them as well). The one thing he put most forward, however, wasn’t the lessons themselves. It was the community he was building.
The course was interesting and I definitely learned a few things but, as Tim had told me, it was the community that mattered most. I saw many people who had started after me improved at amazing rates. And I noticed one major flaw in my writing. My style had cemented.
As you keep writing for a long time, you slowly build a certain rhythm and style. Your stats show you overall where you shine and where you don’t, but you’re still stuck with one opinion.
I saw less “experienced” people fix their wrong habits quickly while I struggled to get rid of mine. A few months in, I knew I needed to rekindle the “beginner” mindset I had lost.
I had to learn to make mistakes and start from scratch again. Not to get rid of everything, I just needed to forget that my audience had grown. I needed to experiment with new topics and new formats (like short-form).
Going back to the basics helped me improve the quality of my writing manifold. When was the last time you went back to the basics?
My writing is still far from its “final evolution” — if there’s such a thing as a “final evolution”. There’s no denying, however, that it’s gotten a lot better than when I started.
Old crappy articles I wrote make me cringe now but I’m glad I wrote them. Hell, I’m glad I never deleted them. They are a reminder of how far I’ve come.
I didn’t think my writing style and skills could change so much when I started so I’m now excited about the future. I have no idea how I could improve further. I had no idea back then as well. I know I will improve. I just don’t know in which way.
That’s the life of a writer.
Write crap. Improve a bit. Stale. Experiment. Fail. Keep writing. Experiment. Keep what worked. Go back to the basics. And, again, keep writing.
As long as you never give up, you’ll only get better.