The Single Most Important Part of Becoming a Better Writer

When it comes to improving your craft as a writer, one thing matters above all others – you need to not fall in love with your own writing.

Over the three years this blog has been operating, you might have noticed some changes in my style, if not my substance. My writing is more compact now than it used to be. Some of this impetus came from reading Writing Without Bullshit, but not all of it.

When you’re writing something, you’ll be tempted to elaborate, to go on tangents, to highlight things that seem important in the moment but are only incidental to the actual topic that you’re writing about. You want to read more of your own writing because you like what you wrote, but your audience probably doesn’t feel the same way. Your audience might like what you wrote, but they don’t want to fall in love with your writing just because you happened to write more things to embellish your story.

Hittite Scribe Tablet
Pretend that you’re writing on a tablet and it’s such a pain in the ass that you don’t want to do any more than you need to in order to get your point across!

When you’re a writer in the age of screens, you need to be careful not to stray too far from the important things you need to say. If it’s not important enough to mention in the first sentence, or follow that sentence in its logical train of thought, it’s not important enough to talk about at all. If you want to talk about it, write a different post about it.

It might not be as fun, but to become a better writer, you need to strictly adhere to your narrative as if you were on a train track. Tangents and digressions distract the modern reader and introduce something else that competes for his attention. For example, I’m currently reading Herodotus’ The Histories, and while he’s great at telling a story and introducing the accounts of the people he’s talked to, he often interrupts his narrative and takes his reader somewhere completely different. Modern readers won’t like something like this. With most reading being done on screens only a few inches across nowadays, it’s even more important to eliminate elements that compete for the reader’s attention, because he can just push a button and go somewhere else anytime he wants. He already has a ton of things competing for his attention!

State the most important parts of your thought process first. Then follow it up in that paragraph. Then move on to the next one. Don’t stray from this thought process. You need to remember that you’re writing for an audience, you aren’t writing for yourself. Your audience wants to be informed and entertained, not impressed with how good of a writer you are. This impression is instead forged by how much you inform and entertain them. Less is more. Avoid unnecessary words, tangents, and digressions. Keep attention focused.

As a writer, you’re the conductor of a train, and your readers are the passengers. Don’t get off the tracks or danger awaits.

Writing is persuading. If you want to incorporate persuasive elements into your writing, read Stumped. It will teach you specific language and psychological tropes you can use to make your train ride more enjoyable.