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Write good

For anyone to notice your words, you’ve gotta “write good”.

Obviously, this means it doesn’t have to be technically correct (otherwise I’d have said “write well”, so please don’t email me about my intentional grammar mistake).

I have the worst technical writing ever. Ask my copyeditor, editor or literary agent. Good writers don’t have to be adept at the intricacies of the written word. It’s seriously complex and – in the case of the English language – full of rules that make no sense.

People other than writers, like the folks I just mentioned, are much smarter at the technical stuff. A writer’s job is to make clear and effective points with words. If those words have a few spelling or grammar errors, that’s fine. I’d rather write clearly and make the occasional mistake than take 10x longer to write, but have it be perfect in the first draft. Just because catching typos is my Achilles’ heel doesn’t mean I’m a bad writer, it just means I suck at catching typos—they’re related but different skills.

Of course I’m not saying that you can’t work at improving the technical side of how you write. Every time someone smarter than me edits something I write, I pay attention. What did they change, why, and how does it sound now? What can I learn from that? When I started I had no idea what active and passive voice were or why they mattered. But I watched and learned.

Writing good means that you can communicate clearly. Not using the biggest words or shiniest industry-only jargon. Communicating clearly means writing simpler than you think. For some reason, the people who have a way with words often think those words resonate truer if there are more flourishes and embellishments. Don’t do that. Making sense is the first priority, everything else comes second. The best writing can be understood by someone who knows nothing about its subject. If you can’t explain something with your words that an absolute beginner could understand, then you need to practice writing more (because that can take time, and I still don’t have the firmest grasp on it).

Writing good means that you don’t matter. Yes, it could be a personal memoir or point you’re making from your own life, but still, you don’t matter. The “you” part of your writing is only as important as it relates to the reader. The reader matters more, unless you’re writing in your journal and you’re the only person who’ll ever read it. When you’re writing for others (like blog posts, books, courses, newsletters, etc), you need to write for them. Make sure they matter in your words, especially when you’re sharing a lot about yourself. If the people you’re writing for aren’t interested in what you’ve written for them, it sucks, but it gives you an indication that what you thought was important to them wasn’t. That’s fine, we make false assumptions all the time. When this happens, you’ve got to spend a little more time paying attention to the people you’re writing for. One of the most effective methods I’ve found is to (gasp) actually talk to them. I realize this approach is something a lot of writers don’t want to take (writing to people is easier than talking to people) but I can’t recommend it enough.

Writing good means that you leave your readers with something by the end. A call to arms, an action, a task, or even just a whole whack of knowledge. Whatever the case, in order for it to be “good” it’s got to give something away. (Otherwise it’s just vapid noise, and there’s enough of that on cable news.)

Writing good isn’t about coming up with the most epic piece that’ll instantly go more viral than the cat jumping out of a cardboard box video you just watched before reading this. Most writers only get popular YEARS after they begin sharing their words. There’s no real scientific way to know if your good writing is going to hit its mark, get shared, go viral, or hit the NYT bestseller list until after it’s been written and shared.

Contrary to what shitty growth hackers will tell you, writing good doesn’t mean you have to write massively long pieces either. You write until you’ve made your point, hopefully in as few words as possible. Old story goes that Hemingway was out for drinks with some buds and bet the table ten bucks each that he could craft an entire compelling story in six words. He gathered the money, grabbed a napkin and wrote: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” A six word story that’s more compelling than any 4,000 word “ultimate guide to ultimate guides” SEO-loving piece ever written. Dr. Seuss bet the co-founder of Random House he couldn’t write a book with less than 50 distinct words. Green Eggs and Ham turned out to be his best selling work.

Writing good is absolutely within your control as well. What happens after that isn’t. Most of the time, at least for every writer I’ve talked to, the pieces of writing you think are the worst are the ones that end up doing the best. So you never know. You just write good, as often as possible, and share it. The more you share, the more likely you are to release something that leaves a mark. It’s a war of attrition but then again no one ever said writing was easy, let alone getting people to read your work.

Word length, grammar, typeface, first person, who cares? It’s like debating shades of white in a paint store: it really doesn’t matter at the end of the day. White paint is white paint. Good is good. Writing good simply means that you can clearly share valuable ideas with someone else. And I’ll take that over dense or flowery language any day.

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