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February 27, 2013 (Updated: February 3, 2023)
Writers love rituals.
Victor Hugo wrote in the nude. Maya Angelou checks into hotel rooms to write. Ernest Hemingway typed standing up.
But, not all writing habits are productive (and face it, we’re not all Hemingway). Read on to find out what a gay dog and Tucker Max can teach you about breaking your writing habits.
While Internet trolls love to tear apart even the slightest grammar faux pas, most of your audience will let mistakes slide if the content is interesting enough. It’s easy to get so caught up in “proper” writing that you fail to tell a story readers will connect with. Instead, focus on telling a compelling and accurate story.
For example, a poorly-written Facebook post trying to home a “gay dog” recently went viral, even attracting national news outlets.
This Facebook post spread because it’s an unusual story that moved people (plus it had a happy ending – the dog ended up being adopted). When it comes to writing widely-shared content, telling a story that evokes emotions is more important than using the correct form of “its.”
Some days you may be full of brilliant ideas, other days your brain may feel like a dried-up well. This is perfectly normal. Instead of scheduling blocks of time for brainstorming, adopt habits that allow you to capitalize on your creative peaks.
Identify the situations or times of day when you’re most creative. If you have a spike in creativity after finishing your coffee every morning, block out this time for tackling creative tasks. If you have great ideas as soon as you wake up, give yourself enough time in your morning routine to jot down notes (even if it means waking up earlier).
If you always come up with your best ideas in less-than-ideal situations (like the shower or while driving), find a way to record ideas in spite of the circumstances. As a writer, you should always carry around something to write with. Also have hands-free back-ups for storing ideas, like recording voice memos or leaving yourself voicemails.
Readers are greedy. They want to hear about them and even want you to give them something (preferably in the form of entertainment or enlightenment). Anecdotes and personal experiences enrich writing, but avoid making your content so personal that it only matters to you (unless you’re writing in your diary… in which case, have at it).
If a narcissist like Tucker Max can put the reader before himself, you can, too. In this Huffington Post article, Max drew on his own experiences as a law student and lawyer to offer 6 reasons why others shouldn’t go to law school.
The content was backed up by sources confirming Max’s claims as well as opinions from other lawyers. Overall, he provided the reader with something valuable – legitimate reasons to rethink a law education – when the same article easily could have been written as a lamentation on why he shouldn’t have gone to law school.
Deleting weak ideas or ill-conceived drafts may feel cathartic, but sometimes a bad idea can evolve into a great idea.
Keep your rejected ideas on file and review every them few months. Down the road you might think of a new angle, be more knowledgeable on a topic, or a current event might even turn a stale idea into a timely one.
Sift through drafts you never published. Is the writing bad or is the idea bad? If the idea was bad, look for phrases or sections of writing you may be able to use again. If the writing is bad, consider starting fresh with the idea. A topic you originally struggled to write about may come easier now.
If your best reason for doing something is “I’ve always done it this way,” it might be time for a change. Breaking habits can reinvigorate your writing process and breathe new life into your content.
What are some writing habits you’d like to change? Let me know in the comments below.