HUGH CULVER

Why you need to be a writer

Updated to Business on January 22, 2023.

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.

via GIPHY

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.

Nope.

“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.