Learn to WRITE better
This post is Part 2 of a piece I wrote recently on writing long-form content. Both are a follow up to the article I wrote on how to become savagely creative (which, by the way, is not the same as being Creatively Savage).
As with the last post, there are a bunch of reasons why you might want to read the next 2000 words. For example, you:
- Want to learn how to craft long-form content like the good folks that write for Nathan on this platform.
- Have ideas but know how hard it is to get started.
- Struggle to get what’s in your head out of your head.
- Have to write long-form essays for college or university.
- You don’t want to write a book (well you might) bit mainly you just wanna write better.
- Understand that writing more and better will help you channel your inner barbarian.
There might be other reasons but forget about 280 characters. If you want people to take you seriously you need your writing online to be quantity as well as quality. No joke.
If you haven’t already read my other post you should open it in another tab and read it now or as soon as you can.
I want to be upfront about something, too. I have an ebook on writing that I want to sell you. I’m a terrible salesman so I’m just gonna tell you now.
There’s no clever pitch. Buy it if you want, or not, but if you plan on reading any further, I want you to know something else. There’s no end to actionable advice – if you want to improve your writing you actually need to DO some of this. Or all of it.
Here’s a question to yourself started and improve your writing skills:
- How are you going to plan your long-form essays, articles and blog posts?
And here’s the answer: do these three things:
- Use free writing
- Use mind mapping
- Write an outline
There’s more detail on each of these in my other post, but here’s a summary – first in visual form and then a few short explanations:
Use free writing
Doing 10 minutes of unfocused free writing is an easy way to warm-up when you’re about to do some writing.
Regular practice will help you build the kinds of muscles you need for better writing and there’s an added side benefit. You’ll be able to unload random thoughts in your head that might be getting in the way of your ability to concentrate.
Free writing sounds like one of those fun writing games (and it can be fun) but I’m serious about the benefits.
- Get a blank page to write on and get started now!
Use mind mapping
When I learned how to do mind mapping it was like gaining a superpower. In fact, it is a writing superpower.
If you don’t know what mind mapping is you should google it and have a look at some examples. There are plenty of great resources online for learning mind mapping techniques. But you don’t really need them. Just look at some mind mapping examples and copy them.
Mind mapping is an excellent way to generate, categorize, organize, reorganize, and order your ideas.
- Grab another piece of paper and some pens and create a mind map now!
Write an outline
For a piece of serious writing, it’s hard to go past learning how to write an outline – a good clear outline.
The outline is your roadmap. Sticking to the roadmap means you won’t wander all over the place.
In terms of an essay outline format, you don’t need anything super sophisticated. Just use numbered points or bullets. Something like this:
Use both sides of your brain
Often, when you’re writing, your brain is locked in a kind of struggle with itself. What’s going on is this:
- Parts of the left hemisphere of your brain are fighting with parts of the right
You need to use both sides of your brain to write, but – unless you’re already a grandmaster writing ninja genius – you should learn to switch between these different brain functions when you’re writing.
Here’s what I mean. Our brains are literally divided and this a strong indication that we need to pay attention to the functions associated with each side.
I’m referring to your ability to concentrate the intuitive and creative parts of your writing process versus the other parts where you want to analyze, assess, edit, and evaluate what you write.
Here’s that one neat trick that good writers figure out on their own but I’m gonna tell you:
- Stop doing these things at the same time
Instead, make a conscious and mindful decision to do one of the following; and then, when you’re ready, switch to the other:
- Just write with no judgment or editing
- Just edit and don’t try to add new content
Use rhetorical patterns in your writing
This sounds fancy but it’s not. Your writing should follow patterns that your audience can detect. One of the main patterns in any kind of long-form writing is a movement from the GENERAL to the SPECIFIC.
This means that you need to learn how to narrow your focus.
There are other patterns you can follow when writing but this one is a good default setting because not only can you apply it to the whole of your essay, but you can also apply it to your paragraphs.
Here are some other examples of rhetorical patterns or structures:
- Chronological order
- Cause and effect
- Most important to least important
- Comparison and contrast
- Argument and persuasion
- Process or sequence
- Statement + examples
Use this structure for your blog post
If you already know what you’re doing then you don’t need to read the rest of this. Just go and get started.
But if you’re still reading this then I’m going to give you the rest of my crash course in writing. It’s short, don’t worry.
Here’s the first thing. Any long-form essay, article or blog post has three parts:
- Conclusion or summary
Each of these parts breaks down into sub-parts. Once you know what all the parts are you’ll know how to put them back together and write excellent long-form content.
None of this is especially technical or complicated, but you will notice that there are some words that we need to use to talk about the writing process that might not be part of your everyday vocabulary. Here we go.
Your introduction should have three components. When you write your introduction you should:
- Write introductory sentences that go from GENERAL to SPECIFIC.
- State or restate the topic of your essay or question that you are writing about.
- Preview the structure of your article. This means that you tell your reader the things that you’re going to cover shortly in the body paragraphs.
Pro tip: Unless you already know exactly what you’re doing. don’t write this first. Write it last and at the same time that you write your conclusion or summary.
Here’s a summary:
|Write introductory sentences that go fromG E N E R A L↘ to ↙SPECIFIC|
|STATE your question or overall topic|
|PREVIEW the structure|
Next, are your body paragraphs. These come next in terms of the linear sequence of your blog post or article. But when it comes to writing, you should jump right in and write these first.
Do some free writing to get your brain working and then:
- Write a clear topic sentence for the start of each paragraph. Make sure you say clearly what the topic or key idea here is. Link your paragraphs using words like “The first…”, “The second…” and so on to start these topic sentences.
- List a few key controlling ideas for each topic sentence and write supporting sentences that link and develop your paragraphs. Aim to provide relevant information and supporting details, explanations, and examples.
Here’s a quick summary of this part:
|Write clear TOPIC SENTENCES that LINK your paragraphs STATE your topics clearly for each paragraphLIST a few key controlling ideas|
|Write SUPPORTING SENTENCES thatLINK and DEVELOP your paragraphs providingRelevant supporting DETAILS, EXPLANATIONS, EXAMPLES|
Conclusion or Summary
When you come to the end of your essay, article or blog post you need to leave the reader with a sense that you’ve finished well.
You don’t always have to arrive at some new or amazing conclusion, but it is good form to leave people with a sense that you’ve rounded up your thoughts in some way.
There are lots of ways to do this. Here’s one way:
- Write a few sentences that summarise what you have written in the body of your article. Don’t introduce any new information or ideas. Instead, just try to link to the rest of your writing.
- Re-state your purpose for writing and review the topics that you’ve covered in your body paragraphs.
- Write some kind of end statement that leaves the reader with a challenge, a prediction, a question, or some kind of generalization.
Point 3 above is why I said before that you should write your introduction and conclusion at the same time. One is a mirror of the other.
Here’s a final summary:
|Write a SUMMARY for your essay or article thatLINKS your conclusion to the rest of your writingRESTATES your purpose for writingREVIEWS your paragraph body topics|
|Write an END STATEMENT thatCHALLENGES / PREDICTS / QUESTIONS / GENERALISES|
Joining up the dots
In your introduction, you state your purpose, question, or overall topic; and then in your conclusion, you restate it. In your introduction, you preview the structure of your article; and then in your conclusion your review it.
There’s a pattern here over the whole structure of your article or blog post. I call these the bookends:
- State ⇒ Restate
- Preview ⇒ Review
If you do this well it provides a kind of symmetry to your writing. It’s a bit like as if the main body of your article or essay was a pile of books, and then having a well-formed introduction and conclusion gives you a strong set of bookends to stop the books from slipping off.
Here’s the whole pattern now, in terms of an outline:
– General ⇒ Specific sentences
– State your purpose, question or overall topic
– Preview your structure
– Restate your purpose, question or overall topic
– Review your structure
– Write an end statement
Now… I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t practice what I preach. So, to recap, I started this post which is now about 1700 words long with some ideas on how to write better as well as a bunch of reasons why this is important.
One of these was that if you want others to take your writing seriously you need to write quantity – that is, long-form essays and articles – as well as quality. And in order to achieve this, I suggested the following:
- Using free-writing, mind mapping and writing a clear outline
- Writing from both sides of your brain
- Using rhetorical patterns such as general to specific to make it easier for your readers to understand your writing
- Having a clear structure for writing long-form content
- Writing effective introductions, body paragraphs, and conclusions
That’s enough for now. This is – essentially – a compressed version of what you would learn in a college or university level writing and rhetoric course, but without the debt and time-wasting.
If you’ve read all the way to the end I’d like to thank you for your attention and leave you with a challenge.
- Are you enough of a savage to use these barbaric hacks for writing and rhetoric to brainstorm, outline, draft, write and post a 1500+ word long-form article or essay?
Feel free to raise the word limit if you feel 1500 words isn’t enough. You don’t even need a blog – just get a free account at Medium and get started.
And if you do write a piece of long-form content and you want me to know, then tag me on Twitter here: @smith_graeme. I’ll retweet your post with a shout out to all the crew at Barbarian Rhetoric to do the same.
If you enjoyed this you might generously want to buy my eBook on writing before I revise it and double the price.
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