One Skill that Will Take Your Writing from Good to Great

One Skill that Will Take Your Writing from Good to Great

Reader Comments (86)

  1. Hi Kelly,

    Good advice.

    The key to great writing is focus and communicating with the fewest words possible. As William Strunk Jr. would say, “Omit needless words.?

    Now, if you will excuse me, I have some writing (and editing) to do. 😉

    Blake

  2. Kelly, your inspiring piece was definitely worth your time and effort. My copy of “Morning Pages” is collecting dust at the moment. You’ve moved me out of my chair to take it off the shelf and begin…again. Thank you!

    • So glad Missy! Some really super stuff has been coming out in Morning Pages for me recently. Writing long hand just does something cool to the brain!

  3. Hi Kelly,

    Thanks for the post.
    I enjoy writing but I always stop halfway because my mind is flooded by clutter/noise.
    Reading your article opens my eyes in opening the heart to write a post firstdraf long hand and decide on the next step.

    Thanks!

    Jocelyn

    • For sure. I find it so easy to get stuck on a computer. And then it’s a short step from there to Facebook right?! Much easier to stay focuses with paper and pen

  4. Kelly! SO awesome to see you here on Copyblogger and LOVE your post. I really need to make time for free writing and also, not editing as I write. It is SO tough to do!

    Thanks for the reminder! Off to write… 😉

    • Hey Prerna – thanks you as always for the lovely support! And yes, it feels so hard to make that time for free writing – we have so few writing hours available to us! But it’s really made a huge difference to my writing.

  5. Great read, Kelly. Thanks for sharing. My one concern about morning pages, as I clicked through to watch Julia’s video, is that once you write all those negative thoughts, they do not disappear, they become reality – unless you discard them immediately. What are your thoughts on the theory that whatever you write will come to be?

    • I want to hear more..
      This may be very true, “I’m not good enough” often makes us just that.
      Self defeat is a monster and to let it in a little is enough to ruin.
      Where can we find more information on this “idea” or “concept”, I’d love a study or two..
      I’m off to look for more info I may be right back.

    • Hey Robyn. What I’ve found with Mornings Pages is that my worried and negative thoughts lose their power when they’ve been written down. I can see them for what they truly are (ie not as big a deal as what they seemed when they were inside my head!)

      I’ve never found that writing down those thoughts has turned them into reality 🙂

      • Thanks for sharing that thought Kelly. It is really helpful to have an arsenal of thoughts and practices to be at the ready when things are not going our way.

        I’m aiming for a quiver full of arrows and now I have another one to add to my list!

  6. This was such a helpful post for me, Kelly! I’ve been writing Morning Pages and so much comes out of this time… But when I sit to actually wrote a post I have felt like I have to write at the computer – like “people” (because I have people looking over my shoulder while I write apparently) would look down on me for writing with a pen and paper!! Overall great reminders about the value of editing! Thanks for the encouragement!

  7. Hey Kelly,

    This is excellent advice! I come from an academic background, just finishing my MA by research, and this is my first job as a content writer. Some of the points you raise, like writing longhand I’ve been doing for years, thinking they were time-consuming only I found them really helpful in those dark moments when you stare at a blank computer screen and you wonder why you’re doing this to yourself over and over again. I almost never keep the first 2 or 3 drafts I write, and then I’m stifled with panic before the deadline. As you say, my work is immensely better in the end, but I really have to work on my time management skills. It is really liberating to find out that other writers face these problems and also exhilarating when you see that you’re doing something right!
    Cheers,
    Maria

    • Hey Maria – it’s always nice to know other people are experiencing the same things isn’t it?! I think the real key (for me anyway) has been to really give myself a good amount of time to write the important things so I can give them room to breathe and re-write with rushing. It’s the rushing that I alway find leads to an unsatisfying final piece. Which is a shame given how much time we spend writing these things!

  8. Hi Kelly,

    Great article and advice, I really need it! I am not a writer but I do blog about business (how to build, prosper and grow). It is a huge struggle for me to get the info out there that I want.

    I will take your advice for all of this and especially the at night part and come back to it. I find that when I write and publish it is always about a day later that I realize I could have said it much better.

    Again, great advice and a huge thank you from a non-writer writer!

    Dean

    • The errors (particularly structural errors) in a piece are ALWAYS so much clearer the next day. It’s why I try to have a final piece ‘finished’ a solid day ahead of publication. Just so I can check it over with fresh eyes one final time before pressing ‘publish’ 🙂

  9. Great article Kelly. Totally agree. It can be extremely difficult to be ruthless with your own work because you’ve spent so much time writing it in the first place! It feels like a total waste of time and effort if you just hit delete, but it’s VERY important. I always find that coming back to my copy the day after helps me to re-evaluate which lines are ‘golden’ and which can be jettisoned.

  10. Terrific article. Ironically, a great article on writing, about writing (that is hard to do). Find the one single golden line is great direction. Aside from web writing, I am also involved in songwriting. It employs the same tenants. I spoke to Brad Roberts of the Crash Test Dummies years ago, and I remember him telling me something to the effect of “writing was quantity, not quality”. Implying that he writes, and then edits (he is a great lyricist by the way). Anyway, thanks again.

  11. Hi Kelly,

    Thanks for those beautiful lines. Specially “Start again with just that line. Throw away the rest.? It takes a lot of strength to start all from scratch. I am thinking to give it a try but am unable to extract the strength. Lets see!

    • It sure does take a lot of strength – but I’ve done it a good few times now and the final result has always been so worth it. So it’s getting easier and easier to do!

  12. Hey, Kelly.

    Nice post and great quotations. I usually set up a goal once a week to write 1000 words in one sitting. I will take your advice and edit them along the way to save important time.

    Thanks for sharing this article. Cheers!

  13. Thank you for this post. I loved it and will apply it to my writing. What’s the natural follow up advice or post that I can extend to my students?

  14. Kelly, the single, golden line for me was: “I want my writing to change how people think and move them to take action that makes their lives better or easier — or makes the world a better place.” Thanks for that inspiring reminder. I’m posting it by my desk.

    Anna

  15. Good points.
    The biggest thing I have done is that I frequently read my competition to see who’s saying what. There are only 1 or 2 who, when I read their materials, just leap off the page. When I find there best articles, frequently I’ll try a rewrite around what they said. That’s when I find that there are certain emotional twists they use that GRAB the reader. So after trying to take their approach, and rewriting to what I want to say, I get much closer to being as emotionally grabbing as they do. From that point, I’ve learned what GRABS, and can do that in my own writing from here on. The more I do this, the more I learn, and the better my own writing gets.

    I tend to be a fact type of person, so I tend to say things rather unemotional and to the point. So studying how others truly connect emotionally, I learn how to do that.

    • Yep – I’ve spent many hours over the years breaking down articles that have grabbed me and getting an understanding of what the writer has done to captivate me. The best way to learn I reckon!

  16. The phrase, “If it doesn’t add, then it subtracts.” applies to many areas of life, e,g, weight, clothing, accessories, etc. But most certainly it applies to writing content. “Less is more” also applies.
    When I write about a new service or product for my biz, my nose is pressed to the glass. I struggled with this until I engaged a professional editor. He looks at my first draft descriptions and comments on them. While a professional editor is a luxury, his comments enable me to write a better second draft or final content.
    I used to fool myself that I wrote better under pressure. I gave up that belief after about 20 years of trying to make it work. Now I write and rewrite articles for publications because they represent me and my business.
    I am going to try Morning Pages tomorrow as I have two 250 content pieces that are due soon. Perhaps Morning Pages will lessen my procrastination.
    Question: my handwriting is so terrible-really terrible; should I struggle to produce handwritten content or stick with my computer without editing?

    • Ah – I love having an editor to fall back to when I am too close to a piece. It’s so helpful!

      RE handwriting – mine is awful too. The thing with the hand-written content, it’s not like you’re trying to read it and then transcribe it onto your computer as the second draft. The handwritten stuff just provides a platform from which to launch a completely fresh draft – the one you type on your computer 🙂

  17. Thank you Kelly. I traded just writing for the constant push of structure and planning. You are correct, the best ideas often come from free writing and then need to be rewritten and rewritten to become truly great content.

    • I did the structured and planning thing for SO long. But I kept finding that even with all the planning, I’d find myself in a position where I just wasn’t hitting it with the piece. But I’d feel locked into that plan – committed! And those pieces never came out as well as I liked. Things got a lot better when I took the looser approach!

  18. Another great article from the great copybloggers. Kelly your words are an inspiration and came at the perfect time. You guys are mind readers over there. Thank you for sharing this wonderful piece.

  19. I like the concept of Morning Pages. Have to give that a try. As to writing longhand…. you clearly have never seen my horrible handwriting. I can barely understand it after I write something. I think I’ll stick with my computer.
    Great article. Thank you for sharing.

    • Seriously – try the longhand anyway. My writing is also atrocious but I find I never really refer back to what I’ve written out by hand. The handwriting stuff simply engages my brain, shakes down the best bit of the idea I have – and then I start a fresh new ‘second’ draft around that idea.

  20. Fantastic article! I have realized what a necessity writing is in the online world (which is one reason why I am here) these articles have really helped me improve my own writing. Thank you so much.

  21. Excellent advice Kelly! This reminds me of an episode of Dave Grohl’s Sonic Highways series when he talks about all the songs he wrote and recorded that never saw the light of day. He never intended them to be published. He just needed to exercise his songwriting muscles. All that practice paid off later on all the Foo Fighters albums.

  22. Thank you, Kelly. A great article and you obviously practice what you preach. I am guilty of editing as I write, and I know I shouldn’t, but I agonise over every word and comma. You have put forward the best argument yet for free writing and I think I’m finally convinced to give it a go.

  23. I have a lot of trouble throwing away words, too, though I’m getting better at it. If I’ve written something I find particularly inspiring or insightful but it doesn’t quite fit in the full body of text, I may save it somewhere else, just in case it fits in another piece. You never know!

  24. Hey Kelly,

    Thanks for sharing these great insights! It’s tough to find good writing critiquing and I’m always looking to improve.

    Do you type or hand-write your morning pages?

    • Hand-write. I used to type them – and I could type them in 15 mins compared to 30 mins writing longhand. But the stuff that comes out writing longhand is heaps better!

  25. This is insane. Imagining someone credible and great writer doing a critique for my work.

    The key takeaway for me is – write, edit, accept it is not good, repeat till you create the best content.

    When it takes time and guts to do something, the end result is better than what others do in single take.

    Loved the post. Stay Awesome.

  26. Thank you for sharing! I always felt pressured to “sit down and write” when I had set aside a certain amount of time for it. But this changes my complete perspective. It’s good to know that I need to give myself “free time” when writing.

  27. Great piece Kelly. While I feel a little bit physically ill at the thought of all those “good enough” words being thrown away, I know that you’re absolutely right, and I should do more throwing away. I used to – I guess it’s when time for me got so limited that I found I just couldn’t! But you are RIGHT!

    • I know! But it is so freeing too. I once wrote 1000 words for an email newsletter … left it to sit overnight … then came back to it the next morning and realised it was all self-indulgent tripe. I knew it couldn’t be saved by editing so binned the lot and started again. What came after was so, so much better. And the whole experience made it so much easier to bin entire pieces after that!

  28. Some thoughts on first drafts, which are often viewed as suspicious, and for good reason. Invariably they need to be edited, right? But we writers owe it to ourselves to take a different tact when it comes to the first draft and recognize the incredible energy and unmistakable magic that comes with one. That’s what Morning Pages are, in part, intended to do–draw from your subconscious its creative genius, its skill at finding patterns and making something out of them, its ability to make amazing connections and then draw subversive conclusions. And the language that comes out when you do! Do whatever it takes (jogging, listening to music while you write, write to a prompt) to make your first drafts lush with possibility. Your final draft will be that much better for the consideration.

  29. Great article, Kelly. Must learn to channel my inner buddhist! Less attachment to our words. Create more space (and time) between ourselves and our work. Thank you.

    • Space and time are definitely the magical ingredients. Given space and time, the darlings that needs to be killed in our work become glaringly obvious!!

  30. Oh this is so true. I made up one of this scary lady memes that says DELETE ALL THE WORDS, printed it out and stuck it up on the wall at my workplace. I think that pretty much sums up my philosophy on good web writing!

  31. Kelly,

    I can relate when you mentioned spending time to write each day, but not to write post drafts. That’s exactly what I’m doing at the moment. And while it does help me get the content out, there is still this part in me that though: “Hey, I didn’t spend enough time writing today.”

    Very enlightening post, I’ll try to apply some time off my day to just write stream-of-consciousness words. (Checking morning pages out now!)

    Thanks for being inspiring.

    Cheers,
    Anh

    • I think any amount of time spent writing each day is a good amount. We do like to aim for a large ‘minimum’ amount. Better to aim for a small amount. 5-15 minutes even 🙂

  32. Excellent advice Kelly. I once read similar advice from Mark Twain. I believe Hemingway also said, “the first draft of anything is sh*t.” 🙂

    Yet, do I practice this advice? Hardly. Why? Because as a corporate b2b staff copywriter time usually doesn’t permit. Therein lies the answer: I must force myself to start first drafts sooner. Then I can completely trash them and begin from scratch. Hopefully with a piece that’s not, as Hemingway says, sh*t.

    Thank you 🙂

    • Heh you’re welcome Jim. Time is definitely the key. We can’t give time to every single piece we write when we’re producing a lot of content, but we can certainly give time to the important ones.

  33. Hi Kelly,
    This is my first comment here. Just correct my sentence formulation if I’m wrong. Your 3 ideas are great in writing “great content”. Reading your writing style opened up my eyes to clutter-free publications. My heart shrills, when I have to cancel my 1000 words, which are written after much thought. The last step of “re-writing” is like the golden eagle. You can kill or miss the audience with it. You really helped me to develop my blogging career better. Thanks. 🙂

  34. Great idea. i think i will try it to see how it goes. i always write my drafts in a schematic way at first, with only the main ideas, then i expand on that.

  35. Great article. I wish I could do longhand writing but I have not written longhand a lot since the year 2000 (when I first used a computer) so I am to continue to use my computer for typing. But one thing I am doing more and more regularly is to abstain from editing while I am writing the first draft. I first create the first draft using whatever comes to my mind, and without worrying about formatting or editing. Then I take a break (which may be of few minutes or few days) and come back and update the original draft. This practice suits me and I think it’s helping me to become a better writing.
    I don’t think that longhand writing won’t be better, but given how comfortable I am with the alternative (and how awful my handwriting is) I don’t want to give it a try 🙂
    Thanks for this lovely piece of writing Kelly!

    • Such a pleasure. And ha, yes, longhand writing is fast becoming a lost art! But certainly first-drafting without editing is a great replacement 🙂

  36. For years i have been churning content. New , old, Recycled and more. After reading your article i think i will have to dump most of the blog posts. Fortunately i find a lot of sense in whats said here. I wouldnt feel a bit of guilt even if i had to remove 1000’s of my pages from nearly 40 of my websites.

    Thank you kelly. I think you just threw some light on my path!

  37. Waaaooo amazing article! SO HELPFUL!

    I think Im converting into a Copyblogger fan. I never been fan of anything… wait… not quite true. I was Zelda fan… anyways…

    Im been recomending this blog to everyone. Every time I create a video with some copywriting content, I always recommend Copyblogger.

    • Remember – you don’t have to do it with every single piece you write. But the ones you really want to resonate – longhand all the way 🙂

  38. Hi Kelly, Awesome and worthwhile read! I always looked at my Morning Pages as a place to “dump the junk,” but I’m finding great ideas do emerge from that time. And I love writing longhand and then transferring the draft to the computer. The pen to paper seems to stimulate my thinking.

    Thank you! 🙂

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