While the 5 Essentials can help you craft good writing, you also need specific skills to become a good writer. Why? Good writing and good writers don’t just happen. You need hone your content development and your ability to consistently produce quality work.
Let’s take a look at the 5 Skills you’ll want to develop to become a good writer:
- Planning. Good writers know how to plan. They know how to envision a project and identify the steps they’ll need to take to reach their goals. In particular, this skill helps you create a steady, manageable writing schedule.
- Self-management. Good writers can manage their productivity without supervision. This skill helps you set work schedules and complete projects without someone else repeatedly prompting you.
- Observation. Good writers are curious about the world and pay attention to the people, places, and things they see. This skill helps you draft interesting and relatable content.
- Research & Analysis. Good writers think about the information they take in and maintain a healthy skepticism when evaluating qualitative or quantitative data. This skill helps you draft credible, reasoned writing, which is crucial to help you sound like an expert.
- Openness. Good writers regularly consider new ideas and also feedback about their work. This helps you craft new, original content and improve your writing by being receptive to critiques.
The better honed these skills are, the more likely you are to produce good writing on a consistent basis, regardless if you’re writing for a college course or your company’s blog.
Having said that, knowing the 5 Skills and having them are two different things. So, how does one go about developing these particular skills?
Here are some tactics you can use to hone the 5 skills every good writer needs:
1. Break Every Writing Project down into Small Steps (Planning).
One way to avoid becoming completely overwhelmed by major projects is to break them into a series of smaller tasks. Here’s how I break down just about every writing project I do:
- Preliminary research
- Choose and refine topic
- Conduct and organize research
- Write outline
- Write first draft
- Ignore what I wrote for at least a few hours
- Reread and revise/rewrite
- Publish/submit/move on
For larger projects, you’ll sometimes be on one step or another for an extended amount of time, and that’s perfectly fine. The trick is to make progress most of the days you work on the project, even if it’s just a little progress.
2. Practice Prioritizing Tasks (Self-management).
Self-management and planning often complement one another, but they do require slightly different approaches. Planning is about envisioning a task or project; self-management is about doing a task or project.
Neurotypical people can struggle with productivity, and for individuals with ADHD or other conditions that affect attention or motivation, the ability to self-manage can be even harder.
One thing that just about everyone can do to improve their chances of succeeding at self-management is to know how to prioritize. Here’s an exercise you can do to help you practice prioritizing: Write a list of 5 things you need to get done today, then arrange them in order of how you could most effectively accomplish them.
- Pay rent
- Finish journal article
- Go grocery shopping
- Work out
- Make dinner
Now that you know what you need to do, your next step is to decide when you’re going to do these things. Here’s how I would handle the order for these five tasks:
- Pay rent on my way to get groceries
- Finish journal article
- Work out
- Make dinner
When trying to decide HOW to go about completing tasks, be sure to consider your strengths and weaknesses. For example, I know that once I eat dinner, I don’t really want to do much else the rest of the evening. Therefore, I would schedule my day so that I completed all my other tasks before I ate.
3. Get Present with What’s around You (Observation).
Good writers include specific descriptions in their writing, and to be specific and descriptive, you need to be observant. Practice actively observing your surroundings a few times a day until you get into the habit of observing without conscious effort.
Here’s a couple of questions you can ask yourself when you’re practicing your observation skills:
- What colors do I see around me? (Green? What kind of green? Light? Dark?)
- What sounds do I hear around me? (Loud like an ambulance sire? Soft like a gentle breeze?)
- What feelings am I experiencing? (Happy? Sad? Anxious?)
- Is anyone around you? What are they doing?
By getting present with your surroundings, you can develop your observational skills. Once you master the basics of being “present,” you can move on to observing more complex situations, ideas, or interactions.
4. The 5 W’s (Research & Analysis).
Producing good writing will often require being able to provide credible, quality information. One of the tactics you can use to research and analyze successfully is to answer the “5 W’s.” Here they are:
- Who is involved?
- What is going on?
- Where is something happening?
- When is something happening?
- Why is something important?
Want to practice? Pick two topics (e.g. fun things to do in your town or the leader of your local school council) and then research them by applying the 5 W’s.
5. Accepting Feedback on Your Work (Openness).
Part of being a good writer is being open to new experiences or ideas, which essentially means you’re always willing to learn. One of the things you’ll regularly encounter as a writer is people giving you feedback on your writing.
Sometimes the feedback will be positive, and sometimes it won’t. As a writer, you’ll want to be able to accept both – to take the compliment with grace and consider the criticism with seriousness.
If you haven’t gotten a lot of feedback on your writing, start with a low-key situation. Ask a friend to read something you wrote and then talk to them about what they thought.
- (Use the 5 Essentials as a guide if you’re not sure which questions to ask, e.g. “What did you think the purpose was?” or “Could you easily follow my train of thought?”)
Fight the urge to respond to anything they say, i.e., don’t explain yourself or defend what you wrote. Just listen to what they say and consider if you could use their comments to improve the piece.
How do the 5 Skills Help me Sound Like an Expert?
Most simply, these 5 Skills help you write on a regular basis, and routine practice is an important part of becoming a good writer who can reliably produce good writing.
Beyond that, each of the 5 skills helps you boost your credibility. Good planning helps you stay on top of deadlines, and self-management ensures you fulfill your commitments. Observation helps you notice things that other people may not, while research and analysis allow you to produce accurate, relevant content. Openness keeps you engaged in new ideas and enables you to receive useful criticism.
Experts don’t just sound smart; they produce results people can actually use.
More to Come!
Check back next week for more posts about writing fundamentals, including the habits you can develop to improve your skills. In the meantime, I hope you’ll follow me on Twitter!