GrammarPhile Blog

I Can’t Write

Posted by Sara Richmond   Jul 14, 2022 9:00:00 AM

PRN_Blogpost_071420225 Easy Steps to Become a Better Writer

In your own words, you stink at writing. You’d rather do long division without a calculator while sitting in the sun as mosquitos feast on your legs. When you try to write, you feel overwhelmed and foolish. The results are always embarrassing.

Every now and then, you get an idea that seems brilliant. You type it out, read it back, and realize it’s actually trash. So you toss it, along with your hopes and dreams, into the bin. You avoid writing. Your standard response to anything writing-related is, “I can’t write.”

Enough already. This is codswallop, and I’ll prove it in five ways, just before I give you five easy steps you can take to become a better writer.

Why “I Can’t Write” Is Wrong

  1. Everybody says this. Ernest Hemingway said, “The first draft of everything is $&%#.” I hear “I can’t write” all the time, from kids to retirees to CEOs making millions to lawyers to my next-door neighbor. You might as well say, “Sometimes I get tired.” We can all relate. But that also means we can’t all be right.
  2. You know how to speak. There are a lot of similarities. You even get to use the same words. Repeat that to yourself: “I already know all the words.” Writing is just about ordering them well.
  3. You know bad writing when you see it. Just as you know a ton of grammar without being able to express it. When you read bad writing, you think “Eww!” When you read good writing, you think, “Ahh, very nice!” That means you have some inherent knowledge. Trust in that.
  4. “I can’t” is often just a cop-out. I mean that gently and with kindness. It’s what little kids say when they’re scared. You’re too awesome (and likely older than eight) to use that excuse.
  5. You’re contradicting your aim. Do you actually wish you could write well? Do you want to command an army of loyal followers and take over the world through writing? Get therapy. But also, stop saying you aren’t something you want to become. Stop saying you can’t do something you want to do. Try: “I’m learning how to write well.” Even “Writing is hard as heck.” is better and more accurate.

Now that I’ve taken your false belief to task—you can write (and if you don’t believe me, you’re wrong about that too)—check out this five-step solution to improve your writing.

5 Easy Steps to Become a Better Writer

  1. Write to one person. We covered this in a prior blog post: How to Write About a Boring Topic. The same lesson applies to writing in general, especially when you’re feeling insecure. Pick somebody who loves you, who really wants to hear what you have to say (even if you have to make that person up in your head). Write to them. Once you get your sea legs, you can write to people who despise you and your subject matter. Don’t get ahead of yourself and lay down on the chopping block too soon.
  2. Don’t church it up. Don’t grab a bunch of highfalutin synonyms just for the sake of sounding smart. It’s likelier that you’ll either annoy your readers or sound ridiculous. Stick with everyday language that fits you like your favorite T-shirt.
  3. Read it aloud. Once you’ve finished a first draft, read it aloud. That will help you find mistakes and determine flow and sense. Then revise.
  4. Read a lot. Don’t just read information. Read stories. Emails. Love letters. Case studies and annual reports and white papers are great, but you’ll learn just as much if not more when you’re reading fiction.
  5. Write badly. As I say to my children: “You have to start at ‘suck.’” If that offends you, amend it to the more boring: “You have to start at ‘not good.’” It’s not a bad place to be; learning how to do something well is a rewarding experience. Writing is no exception.

To sum up: You can write. Go write badly. Until you write goodly.


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