A cottage industry had popped up in the last few years, online courses/private coaching networks. It’s a great idea because everybody involved benefits.
The teacher/”celebrity” gets passive income and the ability to spread what he knows to more people while the folks who enroll get first class teaching and access to folks they couldn’t get on their own. A rare win/win situation.
There are some amazing and successful writers doing private coaching networks. Jerry Jenkins of the Left Behind Series, Andy Andrews, Jeff Goins and more.
BTW, Stephen King wrote a great book on how to be a good writer creatively titled “On Writing”, which I highly recommend. It’s not your normal textbook, paint-by-numbers instruction manual, it’s more of a memoir with tips dropped in along the way.
What’s interesting is to read all of the advice in the courses. There really is not a lot of difference. Most of it is the same instructions, packaged differently. The writer puts his own flavor on the skills to be a good writer.
I’ve paid for courses and attend webinars from all of these folks and have distilled them down to the top tips to writing well. These are the tips I’m using during this train wreck of an idea of becoming a writer in public.
Write a Lot.
Everybody says this. From Stephen King to John Acuff to Andy Andrews to Jerry Jenkins, all say write a lot.
That’s an interesting bit of advice from me. Or at least it was the first time I heard it. I had always thought writing was a natural talent a few special people have. I thought they could sit down and write a novel in a couple of weeks, a month tops. When they were at the keyboard it was like water running out of hose.
I never realized writing is a skill anyone can develop. If you’re willing to work at it. It’s like learning to play football, golf, poker or guitar. You can learn any of these if you’re willing to put in the work. I can testify to this because I learned how to do everything in that list.
Learning a new skill requires practice, where you do the basics over and over and over again. I mean just look at the ratio of the amount of time someone spends practicing versus playing a sport. In college football, players spend 20 hours a week in practice for a 3-hour game.
It’s all about the reps. Write A Lot.
Read a Lot
Read great writers and you begin to pick up on flow and word choice and plot twists and character development and all the things that make a great story. It’s not that you’re going to copy the person you’re reading, it’s that by osmosis some of his goodness is going to seep into you and come out in your writing.
Avoid passive voice.
I hated diagramming sentences and worrying about the arcane rules of English grammar as a kid. This turned into a roadblock that kept me from writing as an adult. I knew it wasn’t a strong point of mine and I honestly was not willing to pull out my 5th grade grammar books to re-learn all of that stuff.
Fortunately I discovered I don’t have to. The are just a couple of rules you need to remember to make your writing strong.
Avoid passive voice is at the top of the everybody’s list.
Here’s how author Jerry Jenkins described passive voice:
“The easiest way to spot passive voice is to look for state-of-being verbs and often the word by.
And the best way I know to teach this is by example.
Passive: The party was planned by Jill.
Active: Jill planned the party.
Passive: The wedding cake was created by Ben.
Active: Ben created the wedding cake.
Passive: The Little League team was given trophies by the coaches.
Active: The coaches gave the Little League team trophies.
Passive: A good time was had by all.
Active: Everybody had a good time.”
Depending on adverbs lets me avoid the hard work of finding the perfect word to get my message across to the reader.
Instead of giving you a long explanation, read this from Grammar Girl:
“Here’s a brief list of very, very useless adverbs: the ones often used carelessly as intensifiers. You really should cut these out: “extremely” “definitely” “truly” “very” and “really.”
If you’re still confused:
- Don’t say “very big”. Say “enormous” or “huge”.
- Don’t say “said quietly” but rather “whispered”.
(BTW, do a global delete of “very” and you’ll see an immediate improvement in your writing)
Vomit write first drafts
I’ve got to get it out of my head. I don’t stop when doing a vomit draft. I don’t worry about how pretty it is or how well-constructed it is, the goal is to get it down on paper.
Edit, Edit, Edit
Which leads me to the second bit of advice I’ve gotten from all of these courses, edit edit edit edit. One guy put it this way he said you write fast first drafts and slow second drafts. Another guy said he was a lousy writer but a great re-writer.
This is the step where you fix the grammar and make better word choices. It’s also the drudgery of writing. But like most things that are drudgery, it’s the difference between mediocre and great.
So there you go! I just saved you a couple thousand bucks you don’t have to spend on courses. Feel free to send me 10% of what you would have spent. Just kidding.
Now as you watch me go through this process of becoming a writer, you’ll know the method behind my madness.