Written by Emily Wilson
Most of us write every day. Answering emails, drafting applications, compiling reports—the ways we use our writing skills are nearly endless.
Yet few of us take the time to pause and really invest in our writing ability.
This behavior is to our detriment. Effective writing skills positivity impact both professional and private life. Think of it this way: the skills that you'd use to create a well-reasoned argument in a research paper or work proposal are the same skills that you'd use to negotiate personal boundaries or express yourself in a private disagreement. Strong writing skills increase your confidence in expressing yourself clearly. In turn, this reduces the stress that most writers feel during the writing process.
Learning to improve your writing skills simply takes time and a measure of discipline. Over my years learning from professional writers and editors (and working as a professional writer and editor), I've discovered five key healthy writing habits, which I've personally found to be very helpful. If you incorporate them into your own writing process, I'm confident that these habits will help you:
- Reduce stress in your writing process and
- Develop clear, concise writing.
5 healthy writing habits (for less stress and clearer, more concise writing)
1. Always have an outline
In many ways, writing is more like being a wilderness guide than a reclusive creative genius. As a writer, it's your responsibility to guide your reader through your text. Moreover, depending on who your reader is, you must design a route that is either well-reasoned and orderly or laden with carefully constructed twists, turns, and compelling mysteries.
If you don't know where you're going, you cannot guide someone else there effectively (let alone do it with style). Outlines force you to always keep your destination in mind, which has a two-fold effect.
First, it saves you the stress of writing into a shapeless void. Second, this habit encourages concise writing because, in knowing where you want your reader to go, you'll be more likely to create compelling, direct routes there (rather than, say, sending your reader down a series of unrewarding side trails).
This isn't to say that you should never deviate from your outline. Some of the best writing occurs that way. However, writing with an outline in mind increases your chances of enjoying a stress-free writing process and encourages you to be clearer and more concise in your writing.
2. Make breaks an essential part of your writing process
Writing is intense creative work. You cannot do it on autopilot, and you cannot do it well when you are running low on creative energy. Few people in this world can write for eight hours straight every day.
It is absolutely necessary to balance your writing time with routine, non-creative tasks. This gives you the time and space you need to refresh your focus and return with a clear head. These breaks save you the stress of creative burnout, and they help you keep the quality of your content high. If you're not exhausted, you'll be much more likely to craft thoughtful, concise sentences rather than desperately forcing out a string of words to meet your word count.
If you're having trouble incorporating longer breaks into your schedule or are under a very tight timeline, consider giving the Pomodoro Technique a try. This popular technique involves focusing for a 25-minute chunk of time before giving yourself a five-minute refresher break. It can be very effective if you have many distractions in your workspace, such as kids, that require frequent attention.
3. Embrace the fact that your first draft will be horrible
Many writers struggle with perfectionism. It's a massive source of stress in both the writing and editing industries. Constantly questioning the quality of your work and trying to make every sentence perfect (particularly while writing your first draft) is a recipe for disaster. It's a time-consuming habit that will make your deadlines come screeching toward you.
Embrace the fact that first drafts are for mistakes. Moreover, for the health of your writing process, it's important to give yourself permission to write an imperfect first draft. Great writing isn't some magical process that happens in one grand coffee-fueled go. Rather, it is a multi-step process that requires lots and lots of revision.
Your first draft isn't the end. It's the beginning. It's where you'll be able to see what works, what doesn’t, and what's clear or muddled within the context of your entire work. Looking back and thinking that your first draft was horrible is a good sign. It shows that you're improving your current writing project while improving your long-term writing skills.
4. Invest in a good editor (use them as a test audience)
Anyone who writes knows the value of a good editor. Whether it’s a friend, a professional, or maybe even your mom, having an outsider's perspective on your writing is worth its weight in gold. That being said, hiring a professional is often the best way to obtain an objective opinion or keep the peace if your family and friends are tired of reading your drafts.
Besides its many other benefits, editing is a valuable opportunity to take your writing out for a test run. It's a chance to see what resonates with your reader and what might be confusing. This is especially useful if your reader may not have as much in-depth knowledge as you do about a non-fiction topic or if you are introducing your reader to a fictional world that they are unfamiliar with.
Investing in a good editor helps reduce your overall stress. Writing is a solitary pursuit, and simply inviting someone else into your process can be a relief. For example, with an editor, it's not just you stressing about incorrect commas or typos. Now, you have the support of a trusted individual to help you catch errors, correct muddled text, elevate your tone, and prepare your writing for its grand debut.
5. Learn how to say goodbye
After spending so much time revising your writing, it can be very difficult to finally let go. For example, maybe you know an academic who has been drafting their manifesto for well over a decade or a friend who is constantly working on their screenplay. Or, perhaps, you belong to the silent majority of us who rewrite our emails over and over.
Revision is a necessary part of the writing process. It helps you improve your writing skills and develop clear, concise writing. However, like all good things, too much of it can be a problem. Theoretically, you could continue editing your work forever. However, if you do, you're effectively stifling the impact your words could have made in the world.
Learn to trust that your work is enough. Editing is important, but don't use it as an excuse to never share your work.
Enjoy stress-free, clearer, more concise writing
And with that, we've reached the end of this article. Use these five healthy writing habits to reduce stress while improving the clarity and concision of your writing.
It takes time and patience to implement any change; however, these habits are well worth the effort. With them, you should find yourself happier not only with your writing but also with the time you spend devoted to the task.
Image source: NomadSoul1/elements.envato.com
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About the Author
Emily has thrown caution to the wind and pursued a riotous, life-long love affair with English. Over the years, she's worked as an English teacher, an editor, and a copywriter and is now happily employed as Scribendi's junior content marketer. When she's not reading or writing, she's exploring the outdoors.