The Amateur’s Guide to Joyful Writing
This guide is not primarily about joyful writing in the sense that your readers will enjoy themselves. It’s more about how you, as the writer, can enjoy what you’re doing. I’ve kept this site alive for 18-ish years now, and I’ve learned a few tricks along the way. The guide probably won’t make you a better writer, though, because in that field I’ve got little to teach.
But it doesn’t matter much that you suck at writing as long as you love doing it.
Everything I write these days is published on this site, which is powered by WordPress. So when it comes to the tools of the trade, WordPress will be the main focus. You should, however, be able to apply everything else in the guide to your writing, regardless of the tools you’re normally using.
So without further ado, here’s the guide everyone’s talking about:
- Jot down your ideas the moment they appear. Carry a note-book with you. Not only will make you look very creative, even borderline artsy, but you’ll have somewhere to draft new ideas. Alternatively, you can use your mobile phone. Personally, I use the WordPress mobile app for Android when I’m on the go.
- A draft might turn out to be a dud. A draft you start doesn’t necessarily have to become a published post. Maybe the idea wasn’t as brilliant as you thought. Don’t kick yourself for that.
- Eliminate every distraction. As with every task that requires flow, make sure you’re not distracted. Turn off your mobile phone, it’s the worst source of distractions on the face of the Earth. If you’re writing with WordPress, consider using the distraction-free writing mode. You should also take 10 minutes and read my guide to effectively achieving flow. It’s focusing on flow in agile software development, but can be applied to any situation that requires flow.
- Read a book or two about writing. I’ve not read it myself, but heard I’ve great things about Stephen King’s On Writing. Personally, I’d recommend Writing Tool by Roy Peter Clark. The Elements of Style is also mandatory reading.
- Exercise. By that, I don’t mean you should just practice writing. I mean you should get some physical exercise; a good workout. Writing is a creative effort that needs your brain to work. Working out regularly isn’t just great for your physical health, it also does wonders to your brain.
- Find your muse. Try to figure out what makes you the most creative. Is it a time, a place, or when getting a particular kind of sensory input? I’m at my most creative when I get up at 5-ish in the morning while the rest of the family is asleep, turn on my laptop at the dinner table, and pop open an energy drink!
- Read what other people write! There are so many talented writers out there. Learn from the best, and read what they write.
- Enjoy reading what you write. If you enjoy reading what you just wrote, there’s a very good chance other people will, too. Does it feels stale and uninspired? It probably is. Leave it for a few days, and return to it later.
- Use a dictionary. Spelling mistakes are laem. Every modern writing application, even browsers, have an automatic spell checker. Turn it on.
- Use a thesaurus. Substituting a word you use often with a synonym. But don’t go overboard. Use simple synonyms.
- Check your grammar, too. Correct grammar is hard, but it’s a challenge that can be solved with the help of modern technology. After the Deadline is an interesting option.
- Use automatic tools to analyze your text. If you’re writing using WordPress, install the Yoast SEO, even if you’re not interested in search engine optimization. It’ll analyze the readability of your text in several different ways, including an automatic Flesch–Kincaid readability test.
- Don’t publish immediately when you’re finished. That sounds like pretty crappy advice. After all, when you’ve finished writing something, of course you want to publish it! But are you really finished? Probably not. If you can afford to, let what your wrote rest for a couple of days, then read through it again. You’ll end up finding all kinds of weird shit you’d want to change. You find words you out, and probably see a dozen different ways you can refine what you wrote, making it even better.
- If you published right away anyway, re-read it later. So you just could wait, eh? Well, now all your spelling mistakes and crappy grammar are published for the whole internet to see. But it’s no biggie, really. Wait a day, re-read what you published, and you’ll find plenty of things to change that will make your text even better.
- Get a second, and perhaps a third, opinion. Find someone in your target audience, have them read through your masterpiece draft, and give you feedback. Getting direct feedback can bruise your ego, but it can also be a gold mine. Think of the draft feedback as a preview of what the comments would have been like if you’d published the draft in its current state.
- But it doesn’t have to be perfect before you publish! There’s no such thing as perfect. Even the great authors make mistakes, and spill the odd boring paragraph now and then. If you keep trying to make what you write better, you’ll never finish it. Let it go, hit that Publish-button.
- Know when to take a break. If writing starts to feel like a chore, take a break for a while. Don’t try to force yourself to write, it will only reinforce the your negative attitude towards it. If you’re not inspired, your readers will notice. So don’t write. Do something else instead.
- Be prepared for feedback. When you’ve published something, you might get feedback. If you get praise, then good for you. Feels good, doesn’t it? You should also be mentally prepared for negative feedback, particularly if you publish anything on the internet. There are a surprisingly high number of people who enjoy stomping on others, and internet somehow brings out the worst in them.
- Be prepared for no feedback. Getting no feedback at all can be even worse than negative feedback. Especially if you write for the sole purpose of engaging with other people. But the internet is a wast place, and your voice will easily drown in all the noise.
- Find your audience. If you want to people to notice what you write, try to write on a site that already has a large audience. Some notable options are Medium, WordPress.com, and - shudder - Reddit.
- Write about a topic you find interesting. Writing about something you’re passionate about is so much easier than writing about a topic you have no interest in. Enthusiasm is contagious, and your readers will love it. If starts to feel like an assignment, you’re probably writing about a topic you find boring.
As always, let’s include a little disclaimer: When you take advice from some random fella on the internet, take it with a grain of salt. Everything in this guide is based on personal experience, and has absolutely no root in research and academia. If anything in here is something a professor in a writing class would recommend, it’s purely coincidental.