by Daphne Gray-Grant
Flip a coin and you get either heads or tails. Point your compass
North and 180 degrees below you’ll see South. Go turn on the water tap
and you’ll have a choice between hot and cold.
Happy/sad, dirty/clean, hungry/full. Our brain, and maybe even our
world, seems to like the symmetry of a perfectly matched set of
A few weeks ago I wrote an article for Marketingprofs.com: “Five
Negative Thoughts That Can Sabotage Your Writing (and How to Shake
Them).” The piece generated an enthusiastic response from readers, but
now it’s occurred to me that the mirror image of this topic is just as
So, looking at writing from the opposite perspective, I’ve now
assembled “Five Positive Thoughts That Will Turbocharge Your Writing
(and How to Channel Them). Read on to find out how this look at the
“flip side” can help you write faster and better.
1. Writing is simply talking on paper
Imagine sitting in a coffee shop and chatting with a good friend. Do
you stumble for words? Do you struggle to express yourself? Of course
not! Now picture yourself standing in front of a room of 500 people
without any notes. Can you talk easily now? Probably not—even if
your subject is something with which you’re very familiar. What’s the
difference? It’s perception.
With a friend, you are relaxed. In front of an audience, you’re worried about being judged.
And that’s the problem when we write. We imagine people judging us.
We worry about making mistakes. About being boring. About not
But writing is not a mysterious, difficult process. It is simply
talking on paper. Have you ever heard of anyone with talker’s block? Of
course not! It may help to imagine you’re writing to just one person.
It may also help to talk into a tape recorder for awhile. Or to type
with your screen turned off (so you can’t see what you’re writing.)
But, mainly, you need to write. Just like you talk.
2. Writing can be done quickly, in little bits of time
You don’t need great big gobs of time to write; you need snippets.
This is contrary to everything you learned both in school and at work,
where you were likely advised to clear massive blocks in your schedule
for those big essays or important reports. (And then felt like a
failure because you didn’t get the work done in the allotted time.)
Writing needn’t be an item on your to-do list; it can be something
that accumulates, like snow. One minute the ground is bare, then
there’s a dusting like icing sugar on the road. Next thing you know,
the snow is piling up in drifts.
Use the “hidden” time in your day to get that snowfall started. As
you’re walking to the elevator, or waiting for a return phone call, or
waiting for a meeting to start, start jotting down words. When you
become accustomed to “writing” this way, you’ll find that whole
sentences start springing to mind almost unbidden. Grab them!
The big secret here is to make sure that you have a good system for
capturing your writing when you’re not actually in front of your
computer. Keep a digital recorder in your pocket. Or, if you’re a
non-techy type, use small notebook or even a set of index cards
attached with an elastic band or bull clip. Whatever you do, don’t let
those precious words escape!
At the end of the day, those sentences will have added up to
something substantial. If you’re not over-thinking things, you can
pretty easily produce 300 words in 10 minutes. And if you can manage
just three 10-minute writing sessions in one day, you’ll have 900
words. Almost without trying.
3. Writing is easy to change
If a chef forgets the baking powder, the cake needs to be thrown
out. And pity the poor architect. He or she designs a building, and any
mistakes—that ugly roofline, that awkward window—will
linger for decades, if not centuries. And worse still, if a surgeon
messes up, the patient can die. You? You have it easy. You’re a writer.
If you write quickly (as you should), then you simply need to
allocate enough time for self-editing—that is, making your
writing better and more coherent. This may mean choosing different
words, moving around paragraphs, rethinking your opening, and even,
shudder, deleting text.
Sure self-editing can be tiresome and sometimes time-consuming work.
But it’s not impossible. It’s not even as bad as it used to be, before
computers, when you had to use scissors and paste to move around text.
Count your blessings. Writing is really, really easy to repair.
4. Writing always gets better and easier with practice
When we’re learning to do something, it’s easy to feel tired and
overwhelmed. But after a while even hard-to-do tasks become second
nature. Remember the first time you rode a bike, or tried to
parallel-park a car? You had to concentrate really, really hard. You
couldn’t talk while you did it. You needed to think through all the
steps, slowly, one at a time. Now? It’s easy-peasy.
The problem with writing is that most people don’t do enough to get
really good at it. How much is enough? I’d say that anyone who really
wants to improve needs to write for at least an hour a day.
But guess what? Even 15 minutes a day will help. The bottom line is
that you will improve with practice. Writing gracefully and effectively
is not about “magic” or “talent.” It’s about practice.
True, writing every day may not turn you into a
Pulitzer-prize-winning novelist (just as running every day won’t make
you an Olympic athlete), but I guarantee that you will become an excellent writer if you do it regularly and pay attention as you’re doing it. You won’t be able to help yourself!
5. Your writing “voice” is unique
We often set up unnecessary barriers when we compare ourselves to
others. Perhaps you aspire to be Seth Godin or Malcolm Gladwell. Fair
enough. But when you’re writing, you should aspire to be yourself.
That’s because your style is unique and will attract customers who are
ideally suited to what you have to offer.
“Voice” is really another word for writing style, and it refers to
the myriad small ways you reveal many aspects of yourself. You do this
through your choice of words, your sentence length and tone, and the
basic architecture of your writing. Of course, you can learn by copying
other writers—an excellent strategy for improving—but be
sure not to lose yourself while you’re at it.
And, most of all, don’t lament that you’ll never be as “good” as
your marketing or writing idols. (After all, Bob Dylan isn’t James
Brown. And lots of people thought Dylan couldn’t sing, period. But he’s
still a star.)
You’re you. You’re unique. And there’s great value in that.