How can I learn to write more and better?

by May 28, 2020

Barbaric Hacks for Writing and Rhetoric: Part 1

Why should you read this?

This post is Part 1 of a follow up to the article I wrote for Barbarian Rhetoric on creativity a while back. 

But why should you read any of what I’ve written below? 

Here are a few different reasons:

  • You want to learn how to write long-form content for the web, for example, like many of the contributors to this blog.
  • You have ideas for blog posts and articles but you have trouble getting started.
  • You struggle to get what’s in your head out of your head and into words that you can edit on your computer.
  • You’re at college or university and you have to write long-form essays.
  • You’re just keen to become a better writer. 

Also, one reason from my side, there’s a ton of content on this site that’s going to help you become more of an intelligent savage… that is, that will help you channel your inner barbarian. 

However…

What I want to do is to help you tap into something that isn’t discussed as much. This is, of course, the writing and “rhetoric” side of Barbaric Rhetoric.  

Ok, let’s get into it.

You need to learn how to improve your writing by building muscle

Not everyone is going to be the greatest writer in the world. But you can improve both the QUALITY and the QUANTITY of what you write.

Here’s the thing… The only way that you’re going to get better at writing is by:

  • Building muscle; and
  • Getting fit

What do I mean by that? 

Well, one way to get better at writing is to start by building the kinds of muscles you need for writing, and by developing a certain kind of fitness, that is, “writing” fitness.

Let me say it again. You need to build the right muscles that you need for writing. These muscles are mainly in your brain.

And this “writing fitness” is analogous to getting physically fit. You wouldn’t expect to be able to run a marathon without training, right?

If you were just getting started at the gym you wouldn’t be able to bench press or deadlift what you can now without some time to build the right muscles, right?

You’re not going to get better at boxing or martial arts without building muscle and developing muscle memory, right?

Writing is not different.

It requires muscles and fitness. 

And the same metaphor applies.

I have strategies for this I’ve used successfully with lots of folks – from teenagers and adults through to loads of different kinds of people including plenty that don’t speak English as their first language.

These strategies are like tools for your toolbox. They just work, but you need to familiarize yourself with them.

And they only work when you put in the work. Just like going to the gym or training for an event.

What I want to do here is to give you a couple of these strategies. This isn’t the whole toolbox, though.

That’s going to take a bit longer. But we can get started right now. 

The first strategy, the first tool for your toolbox, is called free writing.

What is Free Writing?

Free writing is a bit like journaling. 

But where journaling is supposed to help you reflect and get to know yourself better, free writing is more like the writing equivalent of a warm-up exercise that you might do before some serious fitness.

There are two kinds of free writing that I teach people. These are:

  1. Unfocused free writing; and
  2. Focused free writing

They have different purposes. The first one is to get you warmed up, help overcome writing blocks and build confidence.

The second one has all of the benefits of the first, but the purpose is more to help you generate or crystalize ideas for your writing. 

The rules for each are roughly the same, but let’s deal with unfocused free writing first.

Here are the rules:

  1. Get a pen and some paper.
  2. Set a timer for 10 minutes.
  3. Write down EVERYTHING and ANYTHING you can think of.
  4. Write as fast as you can for the whole 10 minutes.
  5. Keep your hand moving across the paper.
  6. DON’T stop writing for any reason.
  7. DON’T edit or critique what you’re writing, even inside your own head.
  8. DON’T read over what you have written until the time is up.
  9. DON’T worry about grammar, spelling, or sentence structure.
  10. DON’T worry if parts – or any of it – makes sense.
  11. DON’T spend any time fixing mistakes. If you make a mistake – ignore it or put a line through it if you have to do something.
  12. If you don’t know what to write, write down something like, ‘I don’t know what to write right now’.

TRY IT RIGHT NOW

And then read on below when you’ve done it… 

But repeat this every day for at least 5 days once you’ve started

Regular free writing will help when you:

  • Don’t know what you’re going to write about.
  • Are feeling anxious about a writing deadline or topic.
  • Are encountering any form of resistance to writing or getting moving on any kind of project.
  • Need to warm up and build your writing “muscles”.
  • Need to clear your head of unwanted ideas.
  • Need to kickstart your thinking and writing process.

Now, I can hear you asking:

  • “Can I use a pencil or do this on my computer?”

NO…! 

No you cannot. 

Stop being a whiny little bitch. 

Use a pen and practice writing by hand for a change.

If you’re unaccustomed to doing any sustained writing by hand then I’m gonna warn you now that your hand will probably cramp. 

This will hurt, but remember what I just said above. And remind yourself that you’re also building the actual muscles in your hand as well. 

Now you have a new tool in your writing tool kit. But you can get more mileage out of this if you learn a variation. 

Focused Free Writing

Focused free writing works just like unfocused free writing. The only difference here to what you’ve already been doing is that you start with a topic or some kind of prompt.

This prompt or topic is the focus of what you then write about. An example might be that you have an idea for a long-form article, so you pick one aspect of this topic or idea and then write about that for 10 minutes.

Focused free writing is simple:

  1. Think of a very specific idea, topic or subtopic or another prompt that relates to your larger writing goal.
  2. If you need to, note this down at the top of your page.
  3. Now write down as much as you can about that particular idea using the free writing rules I told you about earlier.
  4. STAY ON TOPIC…!
  5. Work for 10 mins only.
  6. All the other rules I told you still apply.

If you struggle with writing at all, though, perhaps stay away from this kind of practice until you build up some “muscle” and stamina by just practicing the unfocused free writing.

This phase of building muscle is important because you’ve got to get strong and fit before you get to the meaty stuff – the actual task of writing some kind of long-form content. 

And the only way to get stronger and fitter is through two things, both of which are considered “not cool” and downright not politically correct in some circles.

These are, of course:

  • PRACTICE; and 
  • REPETITION

All of this is going to help with writer’s block or if you get stuck. You might not believe me yet, but you’re gonna have to trust me. 

And there are more tools you need in your toolbox, too. But I’m going to come back and talk about those in another post. 

If you’ve read this far, just know this:

  • If you can learn and practice free writing every day for a sustained duration of time, like a month or more, you will improve both the QUANTITY and QUALITY of your writing.

I promise.

Bonus tip #1 – Measure Those Gains

  • Do a word count after each session and graph it then watch what happens over time.

Bonus tip #2 – Extra for Experts

  • Once you have proved to yourself that you can DOUBLE the quantity, that is the number of words that you can write in 10 minutes, then you can experiment with different amounts of time. For example, try setting your timer for 15 minutes or 20 minutes.
  • To unlock Bonus Tip #2, see Bonus Tip #1 first. You need to know how many words you wrote on your first free writing session.

Continue with:
Writing and Rhetoric: Barbaric Hacks Part 2
Writing and Rhetoric: How do I Write 1500 Words?

If you enjoyed this

You might also like another article I wrote recently for Barbaric Rhetoric:

Or you might generously want to buy my eBook on writing:

Or you might want to talk to me on the Twitters or check out any of my other work and projects:

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