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Six tips to overcome your writing challenge

You can listen to this article in the first episode of the WordCaps Showcase!

Writing is a skill that affects us all. 

For some folks, it’s not a big deal, but for a lot of us, it actually is. Some of us are afraid of confronting the page because we don’t know where to start, writing has been historically difficult for us, or we’re faced with a new writing challenge—such as writing for a business

But we can’t always run from writing, right? We have to draft that work email, write that thesis or social media caption, or even do something as basic as sending a text. So, writing is a part of our lives.

In this post, I will share six systematic tips to overcome your writing challenge.

Here’s the first thing I always ask people when they express a writing concern: “What do you want to write?” or “What are you writing?” It seems like a simple question, but it will amaze you how many people can’t answer it. 

Know what you want to write about 

This is important because it keeps you from scrambling for ideas on the page and losing the reader. It also makes the writing process more organized and less cumbersome for you. Here are two questions that could help: “What is my vision for this writing?” and “Who is the audience?” As you unravel the answers to these questions, your topic or project idea will become clearer.

Another guidance on knowing what to write is to stick to one topic. Maximize your effort toward developing the topic you’ve chosen by researching. This will help you discover what others have written on the topic and determine your unique perspective. If your topic is on processing tapioca in West Africa, perhaps your unique take is focused on how this process has been done in the last five years and with the occurrence of a global pandemic—this will make your writing stand out. 

A note of caution about research, though. You have to be careful to stay focused and remember your focus. Research should aid and not take over your writing. I see this happen with fiction writers a lot. They spend too much time writing about details readers will likely gloss over, such as lengthy paragraphs about pottery, instead of showing us why this character is making a clay pot and connecting it to the story. Here’s a question to ask yourself as you write: “Will this point/plot advance my overall topic/story?” If the answer is no, you don’t need to add that detail.

Create an outline 

Outlines are so crucial in providing a framework for your writing. They’re like the pillars that hold up a house. 

To create an outline, start with a heading and then drill this down into subheadings. Let’s say you want to write about baking a sponge cake—that’s your title or heading. You may include a small blurb after the heading to explain why you’re writing this recipe. Now think about your subheadings: you’ll usually have ingredients and the recipe. So that’s your outline right there—heading, blurb, ingredients, recipe. If you start to write about the nutritional benefits of butter or sugar, you can already see that that’s out of scope, and this will help you to stay on topic. 

This is basic advice on creating outlines; I’ll share more about structuring your writing in another post.

If you’re writing fiction, this may be different. Some fiction writers don’t work with outlines, and some do, but that’s a matter we won’t get into in this post.

Start writing

In the initial draft, it’s essential to try not to censor yourself. Avoid self-editing and wondering how audiences might receive it—for now. Just dedicate some time and start writing. 

Sometimes we say we don’t have time to write, but the truth is we’re afraid to confront our writing challenge. We think it’s too hard or others will find our writing weak or unimpressive. Well, the only way to strengthen your writing voice is to write. I often say that writing is like building muscle; the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it, and this is true for many skills. Practice produces resilience and improves your proficiency. You can’t be an effective storyteller or communicator if you don’t train yourself to discover pathways in writing. As you do it, you’ll learn what you write best, and you can hone in on that, whether that’s a business proposal, poetry, or social media captions.

Refine your writing

Now that you’ve finally released yourself from this burning idea, you need to let the pages rest and refine your writing. This is crucial. Remember, you didn’t censor yourself during the writing process, so your draft may have grammatical errors, wordy sentences, or tonal problems. 

In this refinement stage, watch out for missing words, typos, complex sentences, long sentences, and other impediments to understanding. If something feels off as you read it, rewrite it. Do some research to corroborate any claims you’ve made. Ask yourself if your meaning comes through the draft, and try to read it as the reader would. If the situation permits, have someone else read it or hire a good editor. 

Determine what you want to do with your writing 

If you’re writing for a business, you’ll likely share it on a blog, a website, or a newsletter. So, ensure you’ve edited the piece, so readers can keep coming back for more great stuff. 

If you’re writing for academia, you’ll likely submit it to journals for publication or a panel to receive an academic award. Ensure you’ve followed the submission guidelines, so your work is not disqualified. I also recommend—highly recommend—having the work professionally edited.

The publishing process for these two situations is pretty straightforward in terms of what you need to do to get it publication-ready. 

Now, if you’ve written or are writing a personal project like a blog post or a novel, you need to determine where and how you want to publish it. Do you want to publish it on someone else’s blog or on yours? Do you want to publish your novel in e-book or hardcopy format? Do you need a cover design for your project? Do you need to do some marketing? Do you need to get some permissions before you publish? Would you rather get an agent to help publish your book? Or would you rather not publish at all? The answers to these questions are entirely up to you and will be determined by your response to the vision question I posed at the beginning. 

Whatever your situation, you’ll need to ensure that the work is refined, so hire a good editor.

Congratulate yourself

If you’ve made it this far in the writing process, you need to congratulate yourself for conquering your challenge. Writing is an exhausting endeavour, so pat yourself on the back for doing it. You may not be entirely pleased with your writing, but I encourage you to recognize that writing is a learning process, and you evolve as you continue to write. Be proud of what you’ve done and note the lessons you’ve learned along the journey. I look at the novellas and novels I published when I was younger, and sometimes I cringe at the writing because I know better now. But did I write and publish them? Yes, I absolutely did, and I’ll live to do better next time.

So, these are my tips to overcome your writing challenge: 

  • know what you want to write about,
  • create an outline,
  • start writing,
  • refine your writing,
  • determine what you want to do with your writing, and
  • congratulate yourself.

I hope you’ve found this helpful! Let me know if you have any questions about these tips or other communication-related questions in the comments. 

Happy writing!

Image copyright: Steve Johnson/Pexels

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Lola Opatayo is a creative writer, communications professional, and editor. Her work has been endowed with awards from the Iceland Writers Retreat and MacDowell. She is a recipient of the inaugural Equity Fellowship from Editors Canada and the 2020 Gerald Freund Fellowship. Lola is the founder of WordCaps, where she empowers small businesses and writers with writing strategies and resources.

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