Tips To Start Writing Better

Many people sometimes want to sit down and write an interesting story, song or poem, but they are stopped by self-doubt. Luiza Gashimova explains how to overcome the difficulties.

Tips To Start Writing Better

Over the years of studying in HSE, we learn a lot about efficient academic writing. But we must not forget about our creative side. Many people sometimes want to sit down and write an interesting story, song or poem, but they are stopped by self-doubt or fear of the lack of talent. However, just like any other skill, the writing skill requires practice and helpful advice. Which ones I would like to share with you.

Ask yourself: what do I want to write about and why?

Think about what and why you want to write. What to share with readers, what to tell about, what to push? Maybe you have long wanted to tell people about fictional worlds and their heroes, to open a fantasy world of the past, present or future?  However, writing for yourself is also appropriate, just like the following answer: «I want to write a book in order to become famous».

Listen to the advice of others

If you are a specialist or business writer, find a topic that interests you, that you understand, or you can bring in experts to help. You can collect in a book the wisdom of many people or advice that your parents gave you and that helped you succeed in life. You can write about your life experience and professional path, or describe the biography of famous personalities.

Overcome your procrastination

There are two excellent ways to do this. The first one is to talk to yourself, to give an extended speech out loud in a free form in response to the question: “what do I want to say in this piece?”. After talking, we, as a rule, find successful formulations or moves for the beginning of this or that piece, or even the whole text. If after a few minutes you realize that it is easier for you to speak today, turn on the pre-prepared dictaphone.

The second one is to calculate in advance how many thousands of characters you need to write today - and when procrastination enmeshes you, starting to write as boring as you like, but according to a detailed plan. Through force, persistently - and at the same time without literary processing, just write what you think about this matter.

Write first, edit later

«Write drunk, edit sober» as advised by Peter de Vries in his vovel «Reuben, Reuben».[1] Whether or not to involve alcohol in the writing process is a personal decision of everyone, but the truth is that you must first write, surrender completely to the impulse and plunge into a state of flow, and after a while return to the written and edit. Trying to polish the text in the process of writing, you get out of the state of flow, you lose thought and non-standard turns. But it is much more effective to write 10 thousand characters of «uncombed» text than 3-4 thousand verified and weighed.

How not to abandon writing

Make a public statement. Yes, peer pressure does work! Tell your friends, relatives or subscribers on social networks that you have started writing a book and plan to finish it by a certain date. Public engagement will keep you on your toes.

Be a good and interesting storyteller 

Avoid clichés, catchwords, and boring official language. Don't pile up complex words in dashingly twisted constructions. Make a vocabulary of synonyms. Create your own imagery and metaphors to captivate the reader with the freshness of your style. Write in simple sentences to make the book easy to read. Create and develop your own recognizable style: rhythm, language, visuals.

Don't forget to be clear to your readers

You have to be on the same level with the reader. Use the so-called «cooler test»: Imagine that you are reading your material to a friend you met at the cooler at work. Better yet, let someone else read the text. To a friend, groupmate, loved one. And ask three questions:

  • Will they be pleased to listen to you?
  • Will they understand you?
  • Will they make the right conclusions?

If the answer to all three questions is yes, then you've written great material.

It helps a lot to come up with a specific addressee to whom the text is addressed: it’s as if you personally tell him this story, focusing on the fact that he will be interested in how many minutes he will listen to you continuously (and then you need to distract yourself, somehow joke or change the topic ) etc

In general, talk to your reader like a friend, then even the most demanding and busy people will find time for your text or article.

Read as much as possible

Writing well is impossible unless you spend at least a few hours a day reading books. When we read, new words and expressions are deposited in our head, old ones are updated, the style and manner of correct speech are adopted.

Read classic literature. But do not forget to read something else as well - sometimes it is useful to shift your attention even to frank «slag» in order to be able to distinguish one from the other.

Train all the time

To be able to write, you have to write all the time. Richard Davis presents this idea by using an analogy with a biky: «You cannot theoretically learn to ride a bike. To drive, you have to drive. Everyday. Sit down and pedal. Fall, get up and sit down again. A  blog or a page on social networks can be a good «bike» for a writer. You can write there shortly, slowly learning to express what you think and feel as accurately as possible. And here there is also an opportunity to get feedback from readers».

He also suggest how can one find a story worthy to write for training: «for the sake of training, you can write about everything: an overheard conversation in the subway, an unexpected snowfall in April, a memory from childhood that came to mind. The main thing is to find the «potential difference», some kind of tension between the two poles, the beginning and the end of the sketch, consciously arrange in your story some kind of opposition of elements. So that the reader falls on this hook and does not get off him».[2]

Where to look for inspiration

You don't need it. Think of writing as a job. It can be easy and enjoyable, and sometimes hard and tedious, but this is work, and you have to do it if you want (substitute what you need) to convey your ideas, images and stories to the audience, epress yourself, create a real bestseller, make money, become a famous author and continue to create ...

If you only write when you have inspiration, the process may take years or it may not end at all.

However, you can spur your brain to creativity a little. Try to walk more. They say the legs are the wheels of thoughts. Many writers came up with ideas during walks in the fresh air. Chat with people, listen to music, have breakfast at your favorite cafe. Or maybe the inspiration comes when you do some housework?

And watch the world around you, it throws a huge variety of stories and plots, you just need to catch them. Keep a small notebook or smartphone ready to record thoughts, observations, ideas that have visited you. If you write down everything that happens around, very soon you will collect material for several books.

Special efition for songs and poems:

  • Concentrating on the idea of ​​the song/poem

Lyrics should express one idea. Effective lyrics are written so that the listener can clearly understand the story told in the song, even if he is listening to the song while driving and deliberately not listening to the words. Keep in mind listener does not have a lyric sheet, nor does he know what you wanted to say with your song. You only have 3-3.5 minutes to tell your story. This leaves no room for additional storylines and extraneous information.

  • Unity of emotion

Awakening emotions in the listener is the main task of any author. It doesn't matter how you felt when you wrote the song, as long as the listener didn't get that feeling. In order to clearly convey the desired feeling, it is necessary that the entire song expresses this one feeling. From the very first lines of the song, the listener should clearly understand how the performer is feeling. The listener can get confused and not get emotional feedback if the singer is happy in the first verse, angry in the chorus, and indifferent in the second verse.

  • The unity of time and intonation

If you choose natural, narrative intonation for the words, you will need to stick to it throughout the song/poem. You should not interrupt a sincere, heartfelt mood with any random funny line. Good lyrics are in the same style and intonation. Another common mistake is piling up different times in one song/poem. If your first line in a verse is in the past tense, make sure that the rest of the lines are not in the present or future.

  • Make sure each line in the song:
  1. contributes
  2. develops the inner story
  3. gives the listener/reader a better idea of ​​how the author is feeling

Remember: it's alright to be afraid

To quote Steven Pressfield's book «The War of Art»: «Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.»[3]

[1] De Vries P.(1964). Reuben, Reuben. University of Chicago Press.

[2] Davis R.(2017). Literary masterclass: How to write well. 

[3] Pressfield St. (2002). The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. Rugged Land.

Text by
Luiza Gashimova