“Writing is putting your thoughts down on paper.”
Sounds simple, doesn't it? Yet, why does writing seem to be so difficult for a lot of us? And it is not a question of having a clear train of thought. We have seen many people who can talk on and on about a particular topic, yet when it comes to putting their ideas on paper, they freeze up.
People tell me that writing comes to me naturally, but it was not something I developed overnight. Like everything else, writing is a skill and hence it can be learned. There are of course innumerable articles and courses you can consult in order to learn writing, and some of them can appear a bit daunting. So here is my simple guide to learning how to write, based on my experience. This applies mainly to writing non-fiction, but you can apply some of the ideas here to writing fiction as well.
1. Start reading more:
In order to get better at writing, you need to start reading. Reading improves your vocabulary, exposes you to different styles of writing and even inspires you with new ideas. There is no fixed rule of what you should read. Whether it be a newspaper, magazine, story or online article, anything you read will make your brain more receptive to the concept of writing and expressing your ideas.
2. Generating Ideas:
In order to write about something, you first need to know what that something is. I find it easiest to start with writing about something you have a prior experience with in your life, as you can visualize your ideas clearly and convert them into words. So, how does one generate ideas?
One way is via brainstorming with a friend or family member, or even yourself. Don’t dismiss any idea that comes into your head, no matter how silly it may seem. It just might be something unique and new that people will be willing to read about. Write down those ideas in a notebook or your phone, so you can refer back to them later on.
If you are stuck and cannot generate any ideas, do not force the issue. I find I get the best ideas out of nowhere when I am relaxed, particularly when I go for a walk and am alone with my thoughts, or even on the toilet. Make sure you write down those ideas in your phone then so that you don’t forget it.
3. Researching and making notes:
So, you have an idea or concept which seems feasible for an article. Now you need to generate the content which will go into it. If the article only needs your own input, great, there is no need for any further research. I would recommend taking a pen and paper or sitting in front of your computer and opening a word document.
Then, start writing down all the ideas which come into your head as you are thinking about the subject matter. It does not matter what order you write it in. This step is for generating information which will then go into a framework and ultimately the main article. It does not have to be too long as well. You are not writing the entire article here, just the main ideas which will go into it. Sometimes at this stage, you find that you do not have enough ideas to sustain a complete article. That’s ok, that means the idea was not feasible, and you can move on to another one.
If you are writing an article which needs concrete facts and specialized information, you need to do your research, either online or offline and see if the information is available. You then make notes, along with writing down the links to the sources so you can refer back to them later if need be.
4. Forming a Framework:
Now you have a list of ideas and a general idea of what will go into your article. The next step is to order these ideas so that they form a framework around which you can write.
The basic framework for any article is the Title, the Introduction, the Middle or Body and the Conclusion.
An article's Title is the readers first point of contact with your writing, and it is important that it relates to the content of your article. The article's title should give the reader an idea of what they can expect within. It should be short and sweet, and not misleading, as that can turn a reader off when they start reading the content below.
In the Introduction you introduce the concept to the reader, and get their attention. Using a question, a fact or a quote are good ways of hooking a reader in, and making them want to read more.
The Middle will be the main body of your article, where you put the main crux of your concept and the ideas they contain. Here you go into further details about the concept, and expand on it. The middle will contain most of the ideas and information you had generated in the previous step.
After this comes the conclusion, which can be just a single sentence or a paragraph. You can conclude with your opinion, a summary of the points introduced above or an interesting fact.
5. Getting comfortable:
I find it most essential to be completely focused when writing. This means finding a comfortable spot, a good chair and desk, good stationary, or a good position for your keyboard if you are writing on a computer.
Writing often involves a flow and rhythm so it is essential to be free from distractions. If possible, find a quiet room for yourself, and tell other members of the house not to disturb you. Keep your phone in silent mode and do not look at it every few minutes. I find I can write for 30 minutes to an hour at one time. But don’t put pressure on yourself to write for a fixed period. Even 5 minutes to start with is good.
It is also important to be in the right mood. Sometimes, I just don’t feel like writing. In such instances I don’t force myself to write, unless there is a deadline involved. Take time out, do any activities you enjoy, go for a walk etc. You will find it is much easier to write when you are relaxed.
6. Writing the first draft:
Now comes the time to write your article. A draft is the preliminary version of a piece of writing. It is when you first put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Do not worry about checking and correcting what you are writing as you go along. Just start writing and putting down your thoughts, based on the framework you have created earlier. It will seem difficult at first, especially writing the first line. Do not aim for perfection at this stage. Writing is all about getting into a flow. Just write what comes to your mind. I find it easy when I am speaking the words out loud when I write, but you can write in silence as well. You will find that it does get easier and easier the deeper you get into the article, with ideas flowing from one to the next, and your thoughts also flow along more easily.
7. Editing your document:
Congratulations, you have written your first draft. You might feel a bit tired at this stage, in which case I would recommend you come back at another time to edit your document. If you do not feel tired, feel free to edit at this time. Go back to the beginning of your article and start reading it. You will find errors of spelling and grammar, or perhaps ideas you want to remove or include. Make those changes here. Do not hurry, and do not be bothered if you do not like your writing at this stage. We are our own harshest critics.
Edit your document slowly, and when you come to the end you will find that your document has morphed from ideas in your head to a written article. You should feel proud of yourself.
I would recommend a second edit after some time, when you have cleared your head, but it is not 100 percent essential.
8. What if I am stuck:
Sometimes, you will find yourself stuck in the middle of the writing process. In such cases I would recommend you ignore the point you are stuck at, leave some space for it and come back to it later. Move onto the next point or paragraph. You will find that the other ideas will still flow from you and you can write most of your article. If you really feel that the words are not coming, then put down your pen and take a break. Look at your phone, go out of your room and talk to someone, or go for a walk. Sometimes the inspiration will come back after a few minutes or an hour. If it does not, relax. Forget about your writing and get a good night's sleep. I find being refreshed very helpful when I am stuck, and I am even able to generate new ideas the next day.
9. Get someone else to read your article:
This is not strictly necessary, but I find it a useful step, simply to get a new perspective and find some errors that you may have missed. Getting a third party’s opinion is important as they view your ideas from an external lens, without your biases. You may feel that you have explained your concept well, but they might bring up some points that you have missed. In such cases do not get defensive or let down. Rather, look at it as an opportunity to improve your article by correcting those points that you have missed. Or you can also choose to ignore the feedback if you feel your writing is good enough.
10. Publish it… or not:
After you have finalized your article, you can choose to publish it to the world. These days it is quite easy and free to publish your article on the internet. But you don’t necessarily need to do so. You can write just for yourself, and be satisfied with the content you have created.
Like any skill, the only way to get better at writing it is to do more of it. We are not born with language skills or knowing how to write. And indeed, many of us feel that our writing is not up to par. And that’s ok. We are our own harshest critics. Keep writing more, and you will find that over time you generate your own unique style. You will get better at it, and reading your old articles after some time, you will see just how far you have come along, and have improved.