5 ways to cope when you feel your writing's awful
I’ve been writing for mass audiences for nearly a decade now. And still there are moments when I feel that every word I write reads like trash.
It happens to a lot of people, no matter their level of experience. Some days, your ideas reek of garbage. Your sentences don't flow. And your word choice seems stilted and juvenile.
Feeling that way sucks. It sucks even more when your business or brand is on the line.
How do you overcome the bad vibes to write the story you need to tell? Here are some strategies you can use.
Tip 1: Take time to think
People underestimate just how much thinking is involved in writing. I’d venture to say that efficient writers usually spend much more time thinking than they do actually writing.
It takes intentional thought to build a story and weave a narrative. Depending on what you write, you may have to sift through tons of dense information and disseminate it in a way that’s coherent, interesting, factual and easy to read. If you’re writing about your brand, you need to communicate something new and interesting that keeps your content fresh.
That’s no easy task. How do you deal with it? Put your writing to the side and start thinking.
Turn off your laptop and go for a walk. Eat a snack. Clean the house. Do something menial that doesn’t require much mental prowess so your brain can rest, reset and do what God intended. Think.
Nowadays, our brains are constantly on go that it’s hard for us to not push them into overdrive. Give your brain a rest, and it’ll reward you with the word gems you need at the most unexpected moments.
Tip 2: Don’t be afraid of drafts
Unless you’re under a tight deadline, never treat your first draft as your final draft.
Let it sit for awhile and then revisit it. Read it aloud. Question your word choice and sentence structure. Switch up your vocabulary. Shorten your phrasing and give it punch. Detach yourself from the story and think like the reader. Does that word really make sense? Is there a better way to say this? Do I really need that paragraph? Does that warrant more explanation?
Do this, and you might find yourself rewriting some, part or most of your first draft. That’s OK. You’re not a failure or incompetent. Writing is a mental exercise and you’ll need to do a few reps if you want to build stamina and get really good. Sometimes, that means starting from scratch.
Embrace the process and trust that what you come up with in the end will be worlds better (in case it's not, always save your first draft).
Tip 3: Read other writing
Most writers know this: good writers are good readers. It rarely matters what you read, just never stop doing it.
You’ll pick up on other writers’ style. You’ll see how they establish their own voice. You’ll learn new words. You’ll see how authors use details to make their words jump off the page and capture attention. You’ll expose yourself to writing that’s digestible and easy to read. Before you know it, your own writing style will begin to reflect what you intake.
Pro tip: Read various types of writing.
I read news everyday but also find time each week to ingest a long-form piece from GQ, Vanity Fair or The New Yorker. I read the Bible for daily spiritual application but I also admire its various literary styles (the book of Amos has beautiful prose, in particular). The late Agatha Christie is one of my favorite authors and the retired Edna Buchanan is one of my favorite reporters. Both women wrote with such sharp detail that it’s hard not to envision every bloody crime scene they penned.
Tip 4: Cut back on the self-flagellation
You’re going to be your own worst critic. No matter how good your work is, you’ll find the flaws and punish yourself for them.
I won’t advise you to abandon introspection because, if applied correctly, it can work like fuel. But when that fuel becomes incendiary and incinerates your self-confidence, that’s a problem.
Stop tormenting yourself and write with confidence. Give yourself some grace and, ultimately, do your best.
Tip 5: Find a friend to shade you into action
Note: “Shade” is slang for uttering a subtle rude remark.
I hadn’t written anything new on my blog in a month. Life’s busy and I didn’t adhere to my first tip to stop and think about what I needed to write.
Then, this happened:
Sure, Chris can teach a masterclass in shade. But, in this case, he gave the push I needed to start thinking. I began brainstorming ideas and, on my drive home from work, came up with this post.
So, thanks Chris.
The point is: If all else fails, seek help from a trusted friend who understands your plight and can offer a much-needed kick in the pants. Or, find a sarcastic friend to cajole you with their savagery (again, thanks Chris).
Get more brand writing tips on the Jon Writes Brand Blog.
And if you’re interested Chris’ non-shady activities, check out his website, huntgather, a digital platform that educates and inspires black creatives.