Welcome to another week of Start Writing Online—where we solve 1 of the 10 biggest problems every writer faces:
- Generating ideas
- Impostor syndrome
- Writing consistently
- Finding time to write
- Loose feedback loops
(And, of course, if you want to demolish all 10 of these AND master the fundamentals of Digital Writing in just 30 days, we'd love to have you in the next cohort of Ship 30 for 30!)
This week we want to help you overcome perfectionism.
When people think about what it means to become a “better writer,” they think they need to go take a literature class in France and spend 4 weeks studying with Hemingway’s ghost.
In fact, anyone can become a better writer immediately — just by making a handful of small (but powerful) tweaks to your writing.
That’s what makes them so powerful.
Let’s dive in.
Writing Tip #1: Organize rapid-fire thoughts into bullets.
Write your entire first draft in bullets.
- Compress what you’re saying into bullets
- Make sure you’re emphasizing the right points (in the right order)
- Then expand each point in more detail
If you don’t know the bullet points of what you’re writing, you don’t have clarity in what you’re saying.
Writing Tip #2: Delete the word “that.”
99% of the time you don’t need it.
For example, here’s a sentence before removing “that.”
Perfectionism is a huge problem that a lot of writers struggle with. When you believe that you need that perfect idea before you can start, or that your work must be spotless—you lose.
And the same sentence after “that” has been removed.
Perfectionism is a huge problem for writers. When you believe the requirement for publishing is perfection—you lose.
Feel the difference?
Writing Tip #3: Make the last word the most important word in the sentence.
“You knew who the first President was.”
This is weak because “was” is not the most important word in the sentence.
“You knew the name of the first President.”
Writing Tip #4: Increase engagement by increasing your RoR.
Rate of Revelation = how quickly you introduce new information to the reader.
Low score: 1 idea stretched across hundreds of paragraphs / pages.
High score: 10+ ideas compressed into a handful of paragraphs / pages.
For example, here's what a SLOW Rate of Revelation might look like:
When it comes to building a daily writing habit, the hardest thing for most writers is remembering the importance of just sitting down and writing. It can be difficult to get yourself to write, but that’s part of the name of the game. And in moments you can’t write, you have to remember that all writers go through this—it’s just part of the craft.
Now, here's what a FAST Rate of Revelation looks like:
When it comes to building a daily writing habit, there are three things that usually get in a writer’s way. First, they over-edit. Second, they talk themselves out of the idea (“This will never work. I’m better off just doing laundry.”) And third, their laptop runs out of battery at the coffee shop (this happens more often than you might think).
Notice how in the second example, every single sentence is moving the idea forward.
A good rule of thumb here is to ask yourself, "Am I continuing to describe and repeat something I already said? Or am I moving on and saying something new?"
Aim for the latter.
Writing Tip #5: Prep the page.
Staring at a blank page is overwhelming.
To immediately make the writing less intimidating, “Prep the page.”
- Name the document
- Start w/ a working title
- Write a first sentence
- Outline your subheads
Filling in the skeleton = 10x easier.
Writing Tip #6: Don’t use semicolons.
Most readers don’t know what they mean.
(And most writers use them incorrectly.)
Commas and periods are much cleaner.
Writing Tip #7: Make your first sentence a short, strong declarative statement.
A short, strong declarative statement hooks the reader, and tells them what they’re about to dive into.
Writing Tip #8: Write in different interfaces (analog & digital).
- Looseleaf paper
- Medium UI
- Quora answer
- Reedsy book editor
- Substack newsletter
- Microsoft Word doc
You will see your writing differently in each UI.
And for an Instant Writing Remixer, try ChatGPT to see different styles side by side in one simple prompt.
Writing Tip #9: Cut all tiny-word-chunks.
- “And so as”
- “It is for”
- “If it is”
- “Is it that”
Anytime you notice 3+ tiny words stacked next to each other, delete them.
The sentence becomes cleaner.
This is called: “Pulling the weeds between your flowers.”
Writing Tip #10: Delete opening “i” phrases.
- “I think”
- “I believe”
- “I have learned”
- “I conclude”
You’re the author.
Which means all the things you’re saying are your own thoughts, beliefs, lessons learned, and conclusions reached.
Repeating so is unnecessary.
Writing Tip #11: If you’re going to use niche language, make sure you are writing for a niche audience.
In contrast, if you want to reach a general audience, use general language.
The words you use dictate who reads.
Writing Tip #12: Visibility > Ability
Whether you like it or not, visibility matters more than ability in today’s digital world.
Which means, if you want to be a successful writer, publish a lot.
So whenever you’re in doubt, just remember: the simple act of publishing (and not overthinking & hesitating from publishing) already puts you far and above all the other writers/creators.
Because while they’re “thinking,” you’re DOING.
Writing Tip #13: Open your essays/articles with the 1/3/1 sequence.
 The 1/3/1 is cadence makes it easy for readers to fall into your writing.
 The first and last sentences read like candy. They are your bookends. But the middle paragraph is where the value is.
 Just like this Writing Tip.
Writing Tip #14: Ignore word count.
Instead, focus on saying what needs to be said.
However many words that takes (in its most potent form) is the right number of words.
Nothing else matters.
Writing Tip #15: “The Tequila Test”
When differentiating your content, make a list of all the things most people say about your topic.
Ex: How to have an effective morning routine
- Wake up early
- Drink coffee
Now, don’t use anything on that list.
It’s called “The Tequila Test” because if everyone else is saying, “Stretch, drink coffee, wake up early, take a shower, etc.,” and you say that too, you’re not DIFFERENT.
But if you say, “First thing you need to do is take a shot of tequila,” now you’re saying something DIFFERENT.
Rewriting Tip #16: Instead of trying to tweak your existing draft, put it aside and rewrite 100% from scratch.
Brand new sheet of paper. Brand new document.
Trust the best parts of V1 will make their way into V2.
And anything that didn’t need to be there, won’t.
Writing Tip #17: Don’t just say something.
Change something (in the reader’s mind).
Forget word count.
Focus only on moving the reader from wherever they are TO the new and different place you want them to be.
Writing tip #18: Delete adverbs.
Words that end in -ly are unnecessary descriptions.
Removing them makes your writing more declarative.
- Change loudly to howl.
- Change sadly to grieve.
- Change slowly to crawl.
Changing them makes your writing pop!
Writing Tip #19: Before you start “intentional writing,” do some unintentional writing.
Open a blank page and spend 15 minutes journaling whatever comes to mind. Don’t censor yourself. Don’t edit for grammar.
Clean out the pipes so fresh water can flow.
That's it for today's Digital Writing Compass!
Chat next week!
–Dickie Bush & Nicolas Cole
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