Publication coach Daphne Gray-Grant offers five tips for better writing, which range from writing in “dribs and drabs” to creating a mind map. She also explains why it’s crucial to separate writing from editing — and says this is her most essential tip for better writing!
Here’s what Gray-Grant thinks about how schools teach writing skills:
“School has changed a lot since Sister Mary Rosa taught me to read in the 1960s — but one thing doesn’t seem to have evolved: the teaching of writing,” says Gray-Grant, author of 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better. “Most schools don’t do much of it.”
Schools may not be the best teachers of writing skills – but luckily we have publication coaches, published authors, and successful writers to share their writing tips! If you’re a slow writer and want to speed things up, read How to Write Almost Anything Better and Faster! by Arthur Herzog.
And, here are Gray-Grant’s five essential tips for better writing…
5 Essential Tips for Better Writing From a Publication Coach
Schools teach little kids how to hold pencils to form the letter W and they grade the papers of pre-teens and teens with lots of red X marks for spelling and grammar mistakes. Better teachers even render little check marks for thoughts and ideas that are well expressed. But how many of them teach kids how to come up with their ideas and make a reasonable point? Precious few.
Let me share five essential tips for how to approach writing. Learn them yourself, to improve your own writing ability. Most of all, teach them to your kids.
1. Make a schedule for prep, writing, and editing. When you get an assignment — whether for school, your boss or a client — immediately write down a realistic assessment of how long it’s going to take. Don’t think “oh that’s not due for three weeks — I can plan later.” Do it right away. Furthermore, don’t just think about your plan — write it down. This is important for two reasons: (1) it increases your commitment, (2) it gives you a track record against which you can measure your performance — useful for future planning. Being realistic is also extremely important. There’s large evidence that if you are a perfectionist you seriously underestimate the amount of time it takes you do anything. (And read 4 Tips for Overcoming Perfectionism for Writers!).
2. Spend more time on prep than on writing. When you prepare your schedule, remember to allow for a significant amount of planning time. There is nothing worse than sitting in front of a computer with a mind that’s blanker than your screen. To write, you need to have something to say. Writing takes preparation. It frequently requires research but it always involves thinking — and almost no one I’ve ever worked with has allowed adequate time for thinking. One of the best ways to think is by creating a mindmap.
3. Write in “dribs and drabs” rather than in one big chunk o’ time. I can’t tell you how many people regularly carve off an afternoon to write a report. Then they embarrassedly report to me how little they accomplished during this huge chunk of time. This tip for better writing is about not making a big deal about writing. Write a little bit whenever you have the chance. When you’re waiting for a meeting to start, scribble some thoughts in your notebook. When you’re waiting for a call to be returned, start typing. Take those dribs and drabs of time and make them useful. When you next sit down to write you’ll be thrilled to discover you’re no longer facing a blank page.
4. Separate your writing and your editing/re-writing. This is the single most important tip for better writing I can give. Do not allow yourself to start editing while you write. The two tasks are completely different and use different parts of your brain. When you write, write. When you edit, edit. Don’t confuse these very different jobs. As I say in 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better, trying to edit while you write is like trying to wash the dishes while you’re still eating dinner. It really doesn’t work.
5. Forgive yourself. Guess what? You’re going to screw up and make mistakes. Your schedule will be inadequate. Your prep will be incomplete. You may not find enough dribs and drabs of time and you may find yourself sneakily editing when you should be writing. Worst of all, your written work may not be perfect! So take a deep breath and tell yourself: “I don’t have to be perfect. I just have to get this done. I will have the chance to edit later. Moreover, I will have future writing projects.”
The more you write, the better you’ll get. Just do it mindfully and with planning.
If you have any thoughts or questions on these tips for better writing, please comment below!
A former daily newspaper editor, Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of the popular book 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a brief and free weekly newsletter on her website. Subscribe by going to The Publication Coach.