Why you need to be a writer

Updated to Business on January 22, 2023.

I was in a car the other day with a radiologist and a neurosurgeon talking about hypertension. 

This conversation is actually not as unusual as it might sound. I volunteer for a local society that does trail clearing in a popular hiking and mountain bike park and many of the volunteers happen to be recently retired doctors. 

Back in the car, one of the doctors happened to mention that recently his medical partner, who is in his early 60’s, had a mild stroke. As we wound our way further up the dirt road to our work site my education continued. 

I learned that strokes are the second biggest cause of mortality worldwide and the third most common cause of disability. The scary statistics get worse. As you age your chance of a stroke doubles every 10 years after 55

There’s a checklist of health conditions that make you more susceptible to a stroke, like obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes. But the biggest culprit – six times out of ten – is hypertension or high blood pressure. In my books, that’s worth paying attention to.

What’s interesting is that stress, in itself, is not the direct cause of high blood pressure. It’s what we do when under stress that leads to nasty results. We eat too much, drink too much, and move too little. Basically, we deal with stress by making unhealthy choices.

For me, stress starts with worry.

Ngoc Son Temple, Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

I’ve had a lot of worries

There is a world of problems you can worry about – take your pick. You can worry that Ukraine will be pummeled into a tiny province of rubble, or that we’ve passed the tipping point with global warming, or the tiny spot on your chin is cancer. 

Or not.

“I’ve had a lot of worries,” quipped Mark Twain “most of which never happened.” Our mind loves a good worry. Like a dog chewing a bone, we want to turn our worry around, looking from all angles, poking and prodding until it swells up into something bigger than it really is.

I used to worry incessantly before every keynote speech. I’d worry I’d miss my flight or wasn’t prepared enough, or I would be greeted by the “audience from hell.” Trust me, when you have 60 minutes to educate, entertain, inspire, motivate, and get laughs from an audience you’ve never met before, any sane person would invent a long list of worries.

It was at one of those events when a fellow speaker opened an exit door for my worries. He suggested that audiences don’t want you to fail – in fact, they want you to succeed. “They want to see you having fun—enjoying yourself. That way,” he explained, “they can enjoy the ride with you.”

When I accepted the long list of what I could never control – my flights, the audience, the speaker before me going overtime – I was free to focus on what I could control.

Enjoying the moment. 

What your life will have been

In her book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön tells the story of delighting in the preciousness of every single moment.

A woman is running from lions. She runs and she runs, and the lions are getting closer. She comes to the edge of a cliff. She sees a vine there, so she climbs down and holds onto it. Then she looks down and sees that there are lions below her as well. At the same time, she notices a little mouse gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries emerging from a nearby clump of grass. She looks up, she looks down, and she looks a the mouse. Then she picks a strawberry, pops it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.

Learning what to focus on, and what to ignore, seems to be the ultimate secret to living a healthy, stress-free life. “Whatever compelled your attention from moment to moment,” writes Oliver Burkeman in Four Thousand Weeks (a must-read for anyone over 50), “is simply what your life will have been.”

So, what are you focussing on?

What to focus on

You can learn a lot when you’re the dumbest one in a car full of doctors. I learned that strokes are a silent pandemic. And that hypertension is the leading cause of that pandemic. And I learned the leading cause of hypertension is stress. 

I was also reminded that stress is a choice.

We all have lions and tigers in our life. Maybe even a mouse or two gnawing away at something we value. Meanwhile, we have the moment.

Choosing what to focus on (and what not to) might just be the healthiest choice you can make.

Got this far? You might also like these posts:

Photo of eggs by Nik on Unsplash
Photo of Ngoc Son Temple by author
Photo of tigers by author

I’m not a writer. Let’s get that out of the way right now.

Some five years ago I wrote and self-published Give me a Break – the art of making time work for you and by last count we’ve sold 7,000 copies. Pretty good for a self-published author – peanuts in the publishing world.

I’ve also written a half dozen or so ebooks and some 200 blog posts.

I’ll admit some of what I write is dribble that dies on the virtual vine. Every once in a while, I feel I’m really writing and sharing something of value.

Either way, I keep going.

When I wrote Give me a Break it felt like I was back in graduate school. Impending deadline, struggling to find the right adverb—the fun was sucked out and replaced with monotonous writing, editing, writing and editing some more.

I had to birth that baby and start selling.

That’s not writing – it’s work.

Writing – real writing – is when words flow and you end up with more than you started with.

Why write?

Many studies have documented the health benefits of a gratitude journal or writing about a traumatic event. There is even evidence writing can help you find a job.

It can also be good for business.

And writing has been brilliant for my business. I have close to 10,000 people monthly visit my site. That helps build my list, and fill courses like BOSS. I also get speaking enquiries because of my blog.

All because writing makes you an authority because you get to, as blogger Gary Dekmezian says “…showcase your knowledge and expertise.”

All good.

Writing also makes me think.

Writing also helps me form creative solutions to old problems. For example, I speak about productivity. But, nobody wants to hear (one more time) you need to plan ahead.

Instead, writing led me to my Plan Like A Pilot model that’s now been taught to over 300 audiences and some 10,000 people.

When I write I’m exploring a solution, or insight, to an old problem – in effect, practicing before I preach.

The trick is to get started.

Get started

If you want to get serious about writing for your blog, future book, or even a journal, you need to commit to a regular time. No regular time to write leads to no writing.]

I’ve always been an early riser, so an early morning writing routine was easy to adopt. Whether It’s 5 AM, like me, or later, every writer I’ve asked agrees morning is best.


Once you have your time set, you need to set the stage with a routine. This is my routine:

  • the night before decide what I’m working on. If it’s a blog, by then I usually know what the focus is. If not, I go back to my Editorial Calendar for ideas.
  • 5:05 make tea
  • 5:15 write for 45 minutes (no spell checking, no email)
  • 6:00 2nd cup of tea
  • 6:55 download new podcasts for walk
  • 7:00 head out door with Riley for fast walk or run (45 min).

Example of an Editorial Calendar

It might sound boring and predictable…it is! But, I love it. It’s a meditative zone where I only think about and work on one thing. No distractions, no wandering over to Facebook or looking at other blogs – just thinking and writing.

I also use a template.

Use a template

I used to think being a writer was about turning thin air into brilliant prose. You just sat there and typed.


“All good writing is copywriting” says author Jeff Goins, “Every writer has to earn a reader’s attention, word by word and line by line.”

My dirty secret is I use a template.

Just like my speeches – I need to know where I’m going and what I need to get there. My Ultimate Writing Template breaks down parts that make up the final product.

It might sound formulaic and overly predictable for your readers – it’s not. The writing template gets me started, knowing I have to start with a problem, then my connection or experience with that problem, followed by the solution, etc.

Trust me, a template is a whole lot better than starting at a blank screen trying to get started.

If you want a behind the scenes glimpse of the work of a writer, listen to Tim Ferriss’s surprisingly insightful interview of best-selling author and prolific writer Malcolm Gladwell.

Just write

The trick to avoiding the blank-screen-of-death is to get momentum. “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts” says best-selling author Anne Lamott “You need to start somewhere.”

My goal is to get my first draft and leave it to marinate.

The trick to writing your first draft is to have a plan, know what you’re writing about, and write without distractions. That means no email, Facebook, spell checking or looking up facts (did you know Peter Drucker wrote 36 of his 39 books after the age of 50?)

I usually return the next day, tidy up my writing (I delete as much as humanly possible) and create the image(s) to go with the post.

I’m also looking to find my personality in the post.

Put you in it

I don’t think anyone cares about leadership, cooking, customer service, or better parenting. What they DO CARE about are their skills, experience, fears, frustrations. As prolific writer Ann Handley asked in a recent Forbes article “Here’s what I’m trying to communicate, but why should my reader care?”

The more you put YOU in your writing the more your readers can relate to their skills, experience, fears, frustrations. (I wrote more about putting your personality into your writing in this post “10 quick ways to tune up your blog and your results”)

Here’s a simple example, I’ve written at least 30 blog posts about public speaking. But, posts about my screw ups, mistakes and other idiotic moves consistently get 5 times the readership of any other post.

Now before you run off to bare your soul – putting you into your writing can be as simple as telling a personal story or using the word “I” a few more times.

The simple test is this: put yourself in the reader’s shoes and ask “Would I care?”

The last step is editing.

Edit with an axe

As a writer you need to grab your reader by the knickers and hold on. “The reader” warns William Zinger in his excellent book On Writing Well “is someone with an attention span of about 30 seconds.” Extraneous words, rambling sentences or long, boring bullet points won’t cut it.

You need to edit with an axe. Or as Stephen King put it “…taking out all the things that were not in the story.”

The first edit should be for structure. Read your draft out loud – it will be uncomfortably obvious where you’ve left the tracks.

Fix that first.

Next, I chop rambling writing into single or double paragraphs to keep the reader moving down the page (screen). I covered this and 6 other tips in the post “7 fast and easy ways to add more punch to your writing.

Finally, delete all the “that”, “but”, “so that” and other unnecessary words. If absolutely necessary, insert a dash “-” (replaces the word ‘to’) or em dash “—” (marks an abrupt change of thought) to keep the reader running down the tracks.

Just for fun, you can read about 11 incorrectly used words (like regardless vs. regardless and then vs. than) in this post.