Improve your writing in 15 minutes a day

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Ian Lurie Jun 4 2009

Writing is my most favoritest thing. I like to write, always have. In elementary school I got in trouble when the teacher asked me a question I didn’t hear, because I was too busy writing about science stuff.
I got beat up a lot in elementary school.
Cough.
ANYWAY, writing uses a part of your brain that’s like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the easier it gets. Here are the exercises I do, every day, to help improve my writing:

  1. Sit down at a computer. Start a stopwatch. For 4 minutes, write down everything that comes to mind. Don’t hesitate/edit/delete or otherwise not write something because it’s “not a good idea”. When you’re done, do what you like with the result: Delete it, or save it so you can show it to your therapist later on. Skills developed: Smooth writing flow; brainstorming; typing (if you need it). Total time required: 05:00
  2. Do a quick role-play: Look out your window. With the first person/animal you see, write down, in 2 sentences or less, what they’re thinking. No, I’m not asking you to be a psychic. Write down what you think they’re thinking. Skills developed: Audience analysis; imagination; smooth writing flow. Total time required: 3 minutes.
  3. Take one e-mail or other document you wrote yesterday and rewrite it. Pick something short, unless you feel masochistic. Take no more than 5 minutes. Most important: Make it at least 10% shorter, while still communicating the same message. Skills developed: Editing; active voice (it’ll happen); economy of words. Total time required: 5 minutes.
  4. Learn a new word. Sounds totally corny, I know, but more words = more ammo. Plus, you can tell someone they’re ‘avuncular’ and leave them wondering if you just insulted them or not. Total time required: 2 minutes.

I’ve seriously done all 4 of these exercises almost daily for 20 years. I’m definitely a better writer for it.
Try it: Do all 4 exercises for 2 weeks. If you aren’t writing more easily, and better, at the end of those 2 weeks, you can write nasty comments below:

tags : conversation marketing

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11 Comments

  1. I don’t wanna swoop in here with the ubiquitous “wow great post” comment, but I kinda have to. Wow, great post!!!
    I’ve just been contracted to do a good deal of creative writing myself, a job that I am a bit nervous about. Just wondering if I may have bitten off more than I can chew and it’s giving me a case of nerves. Finding this post was right on time.
    I did the whole “stream of consciousness” writing thing when I was much younger, but for some reason I gave up on it. I believe I got the original idea from a book called “The Artist’s Way”. Now that I think about it I remember it helped me, so I can’t understand why I ever stopped doing it. Oh well, no time like the present.
    At any rate, thanks for kicking me in the proverbial butt and giving me some tools to improve my skill set.

  2. Dave

    Hi Ian. This makes a lot of sense. For years I’ve thought of myself as a web designer, but my clients are slowly starting to rely on me to write stuff for them, something I’ve traditionally been lousy at.
    Over the past few weeks I’ve noticed it getting easier to write, and both my speed and abilities are improving with each page written.
    I’m taking notes here, and I’m definitely going to try figuring out what my cat is thinking each day. Thanks.

  3. Jimi

    Simple, realistic and effective.
    Truth be told, I’m only reading about a dozen blogs these days (down from 100+). But I ALWAYS read your posts Ian—and this is the reason.
    That and the $5 you promised me for every complimentary comment I leave.

  4. Ian

    @Dave I’m a cat person. I believe they’re generally thinking food food food sleep sleep sleep sleep poo poo poo out out out home home home food food food…

  5. Interesting. I’ve never really thought about how you can become a better writer with practice. I definitely think you are right though, particularly if you actually want to write as opposed to doing it because you have to.
    When I left school wasn’t too hot with grammar and general writing. I just didn’t care about writing at school. When I left, I started writing about things I was interested and quickly picked up on grammar as well as how to put good sentences and paragraphs together.

  6. Mainly, your tips fall into write and read more. And I couldn’t agree more. The more you write without worrying about what you’re writing, the more your writing improves. It’s tired as all heck, but practice does make perfect (or at least much better).

  7. Very clever, too often we’re paralysed about where to start, or give lack-of-time as an excuse. With these practical quick exercises I’ll have to come up with new excuses, at least that will be a creative exercise!

  8. Marie

    I’m always looking for new ways to improve my writing and these are awesome. Never thought that thinking about what my cat is thinking could make me a better writer, but it’s worth a shot!

  9. DK

    Since this post, I’ve been trying to read the minds of neighborhood dogs. Then I saw the Pixar movie, Up, and wow!
    Curious, have you read On Writing Well by William Zinsser?
    A mentor recommended it my first year as a journalist. Still use and adore it.

  10. Your post is a good reminder that not only do we need to exercise our bodies, but our minds as well. Learning a one new word in the dictionary everyday is a simple start. Thanks for the reminder.

  11. Just writing down all of those ideas can be a great start. I did that the other day and in 5 minutes I got enough blog post ideas for a month. Great post to help those with writers block.

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