Writing is one of those things that takes practice.
It really doesn’t matter how much you read. How much you study. How much you “think about writing.” How much you talk about how badly you want to become a writer. At the end of the day, writing is about one thing and one thing only:
I have a bit of an unconventional opinion when it comes to the process of becoming a professional writer. There are a lot of people who would disagree with this notion of “reading” being nearly insignificant when it comes to mastering the craft of the written word. Unfortunately, every single piece of data in my own personal journey of becoming a professional writer points to the truth in this statement: reading, thinking, wondering, pondering, talking, reflecting, and every other relevant descriptor, are all second-tier variables when it comes to becoming a better writer.
What turns you into a better writer is writing. Relentlessly.
1. However much you’re currently writing, double it. Then double it again. And that’s how much you should be writing (on a daily basis).
Most people don’t believe me when I say I write nearly 10,000 words per day.
The reason they don’t believe me is because 99% of people find that level of dedication and practice nearly incomprehensible—the same way you would struggle to understand how a professional NBA player can spend four, five, six hours on the court, every single day.
But the truth is, writing is an exceedingly difficult craft. The masses like to think of writing as this magical process that happens with a glass of wine while wearing a chapeau, when in reality, it’s a sport. It takes practice, and dedication, and refinement. Which means, if you want to become a writer worth paying attention to, then you need to treat it accordingly.
Two hours of writing per day is solid. Three is fantastic. Four, and you’re golden.
Get to practicing.
2. Choose a time of day to associate with “writing” and protect that time no matter what.
When I was earlier in my writing career, my writing time was between 10:00 p.m. and midnight.
This was before I had “taken the leap” from my 9-5 job in advertising to go all-in on writing, and truthfully, these were the only hours of the day I had available to me. Which meant, if I wanted to turn this hobby of mine into a full-fledged career, I was going to need to make very, very good use of my time.
So, every single night, I would come home from work and the gym, sit at my desk, and write. I’d turn my phone off, and throw it onto my bed. I’d remove any and all distractions. And I’d mentally practice the act of letting go of the day and connecting fully with the writing process.
This is what you need to do, for yourself. And the reason is because slowly, over time, your subconscious will start to associate those dedicated hours with “writing”—which means, the moment you sit down to begin, entering your “zone” will happen faster and faster.
3. Practice in public.
This is something I preach endlessly when it comes to becoming a better writer.
If you aren’t sharing your writing-in-progress, you’re depriving yourself of the most important part of the entire journey: feedback.
Without feedback, how are you supposed to know what’s working and what isn’t? Without feedback, how are you ever going to get over your fear of what people think? Without feedback, how are you going to grow your confidence in sharing your work?
One of the best habits I ever adopted for my own writing career was writing and publishing whatever I wrote that day on Quora, Medium, even my column with Inc Magazine. Long-form material (like my first book, Confessions of a Teenage Gamer), I would refine and keep to myself until it was ready to be shared. But everything else? I shared. And I shared it because I was treating it as practice. I wanted and needed feedback in order to learn what was resonating and what wasn’t.
This article right here? I’m writing this stream-of-consciousness. And the moment I finish it, I’m going to publish it—because articles like these, to me, are just practice.
4. Build yourself and your personal brand as you go along.
99% of writers make the mistake of either building their personal brand too soon or too late.
In the case of being too soon, they try to attract attention and build all this hype around air. They haven’t written anything yet. Their first book isn’t done. They aren’t regularly publishing articles. And yet, they’re spending all this time, energy, and money on trying to get people to pay attention to them. (These people are far more interesting in being “known” as a writer, opposed to actually being a writer.)
In the case of being too late, these writers spend years working on a project, only to realize that by the time their project is done, nobody has any idea who they are or what they write about. They now have to play catch-up, and hope they can attract some sort of audience by the time their first book or major project comes out.
This is why I encourage writers to publish as they go along.
One of the biggest reasons (if not the biggest reason) I publish whatever it is I write that day (usually in the form of an article) is because I want to continue building an audience for myself—so that when my next book is done, and the book after that, people are already familiar with my work. They already follow me, or read my articles.
It’s a way of killing two birds with one stone.
5. Never read more than you write.
The moment you spend more hours per day reading than you do writing, you’re trending in the wrong direction.
Again, I realize this isn’t a popular opinion, but to me, writing is no different than playing the piano or a sport. And, for the life of me, I fail to understand how “thinking” about playing the piano is going to make your fingers move any better. Or how “studying” basketball is going to make you any faster, smarter, sharper on the court.
I just don’t believe that’s true—and nothing in my own personal experience has confirmed so.
I am a huge proponent of reading. Personally, I aim to read a book every week or two. However, the moment my input/reading time exceeds my output/writing time, I know I’ve got a problem. Either I’m being lazy, or I’m avoiding the hard work that needs to be done (and trying to rationalize my avoidance by doing something tangentially related).
So, be careful.
And always prioritize practice time over reading time.