Anyone who tells you writing is easy probably uses ChatGPT.
The truth is that being a good writer is a challenging skill to master. It takes practice, discipline, creativity and a willingness to experiment and mess up.
But you can use certain time-tested hacks to become a more productive and effective writer. Whether you’re struggling with writer’s block or feel like you’re really bad at it, try using these strategies to make the words fly off the page.
Related: Here’s What 300 Writers Say Made Them Successful
1. Write every day
Writing takes practice. Making some time every day to write, even if it’s just for 10 or 15 minutes, will inevitably improve your writing. Think of it like sports. The more you train, the stronger you become.
Before writing, give yourself a goal for what you want to accomplish in your 10-minute session. This could be an email to an important client, an essay, a piece of fiction, or a love letter. It doesn’t matter what it is or if it’s good as long as it puts you in your seat to write something down.
2. Write for concentrated periods of time
Many writers swear by the Pomodoro Technique. This involves breaking up your writing time into small, focused intervals or “pomodoros,” usually 25 minutes each, followed by short breaks.
Why is this effective? The Pomodoro Technique helps combat procrastination by forcing you to do it for short periods rather than long stretches, which can be intimidating. It also helps you manage your time better by scheduling your writing time and breaks==
A bonus tip: Silence all social media, email, phone, and web browsers during your pomodoros to avoid distractions. It’s only 25 minutes – you can do this!
3. Read more
At the risk of sounding like Captain Obvious, you can’t be a good writer unless you write well. That’s like trying to be a good tennis player, but never playing tennis.
Reading can be difficult in our hyper-distracted world, with Instagram posts and TikTok videos vying for our attention. Last year, a Gallup poll found that adults in the US read about two or three fewer books a year than they did between 2001 and 2016.
But reading well-written books and articles can help broaden your vocabulary and expose you to different writing styles and techniques. By writing well, you learn a lot from what you ingest, such as osmosis. Your grammar will improve, your word choice will become smarter, you will have better ideas and you will have an overall appreciation for writing.
4. Done, not perfect
“Done is better than perfect,” professional freelance writer David Hochman told me on my podcast Write about now. Hochman has written thousands of stories for various publications, and his advice to aspiring writers is to stop worrying about your content.
“Don’t worry about getting it perfect,” he says. “It’s not going to happen, especially if you’re the final judge. Sometimes the simple act of just finishing something is enough.
Check out the podcast below to hear my entire interview with David about writing hacks.
5. Write first, edit later
It’s a rookie mistake to edit yourself while you write. Professional writers know that the best technique is to let it flow in the first draft and get your ideas on screen without worrying about perfection. You can go back and edit later.
When you focus on writing without stopping to edit, you let your creative side take over and create ideas you might not have thought of otherwise. You’ll also avoid getting bogged down in the details, like stopping to do a “quick” web search that sends you down an unproductive rabbit hole for 2 hours.
Related: Want to be a better book and essay writer? Start by avoiding these common writing mistakes.
6. Show, don’t tell
One hack that will make your writing stand out is to provide good, sensory details that allow the reader to experience the story rather than simply hear what is happening. It is more effective to show what happens in a story than to simply tell it.
For example, instead of writing, “The room was a mess,” you could write something more descriptive, such as, “Dirty clothes were scattered on the floor, and papers and books were scattered on the desk.”
Or as Anton Chekhov, a much better writer than me, once said: “Don’t tell me the moon shines, but show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
Related: Ken Follett’s Secret Writing Success Formula
7. Avoid overused or filler words
Good writing is concise. Don’t use unnecessary words that may confuse your readers. A good hack is to go through your writing after it’s done and delete and burn any words that don’t contribute to your argument. Here are some common culprits:
“Very”: This word is often used for emphasis, but it can be vague and imprecise. Instead, try using a more specific adjective to convey the same meaning.
“Just”: This word is often used to downplay the importance of something, but it’s often just not necessary.
“Really”: Like “very,” this word is often used for emphasis, but it can be imprecise. Try to deal with it or use a more specific adjective or verb to convey the same meaning.
“So”: Whenever you write like this, especially at the beginning of a sentence, ask yourself if it would be just as good without “so”.
“Moreover; Furthermore; Hence; Therefore” Unless you’re writing a thesis that requires formal, academic language, avoid using puffy words that make your writing stiff and boring. Try writing more like you’re talking to a friend.
Don’t beat yourself up
Remember, writing is hard – even the best writers complain about it. Ernest Hemingway once said, “Writing means nothing. All you have to do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
Do your best and learn from your mistakes.
And don’t let ChatGPT do all the work for you.