The Shortcut to Writing Well

If you saw this subject line and were mentally rubbing your hands together like, "YESSSS, finally the magical shortcut I've been looking for!"

Then I'm sorry. 'Cuz spoiler alert: There isn’t one.

Writing takes practice.
It takes an openness to critique.
It takes a desire to improve.

The trouble is: Most of the people I know want that quick shortcut that’ll instantly make their writing better.

I wish there was one. It would’ve saved me a lot of time and energy. I'd probably have a Ferrari by now. My hair would be shinier.

(Okay, maybe not those last two things.)

But I can tell you this: There is one thing I’ve done that helps me speed up the process.

Take Notes

Marketers would call it building a swipe file. I don’t like that. Calling it a swipe file feels really formal and marketer-y. Bleck. 😝 I just call it a Google Doc with links and notes. 'Cause that’s what it is. If I find an article or blog post or email that I think is written especially well, I save the link to it in said Google Doc.

Then I pull up the article up in a separate window and try to reverse engineer it, making notes as I read about:

  • The style of the intro (Anecdote? Quote? Rhetorical question?)

  • Interesting quirks/turns of phrase used in the writing voice

  • Examples or images that make the piece stronger or easier to understand

  • Direct quotes (what are they about and how do they add to the piece?)

  • The overall structure/format (and where I lost interest while reading)

See, my theory is that if I can dissect other people’s writing and pin down what makes it interesting, readable, and memorable, then I can better execute those same tactics when I sit down to write something of my own.

Make it a Habit, Keep Learning

This is not actually a shortcut. It takes some work, as most things worth doing do. It requires some careful observation and the ability to pick apart what you're reading. It means you've gotta suck it up and realize that writing well is an evolutionary process.

The reality is: You don't just get a certification or stamp of approval and then stop learning. When it comes to writing well, you have to work on getting better....always. Forever.


But there's beauty in this process. It keeps you a student (rather than feeling like, “Nah, I got this now. No more learning for me, HAHAHAAAA!)

So you should give it a whirl, too.

You’ve got access to the internet, right? And Google Docs are free, so...if you’ve got a spare 10-15 minutes once a week (or even once a month!) you can do this too.

Keep learning. That's the lesson today.

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