Everybody knows what it takes to be a great athlete. Or a great scientist. Or a great architect. Generally speaking, these professions have “road maps” that we can follow to a certain extent. If you want to be a legendary baseball player, you know you have to get your body to a certain physical condition. You know what you have to practice and how often. There’s a trajectory – a journey that many others before you have taken – that you can follow. Whether or not you’re actually capable of reaching that level is irrelevant. You more or less know what you have to do and how you have to do it to excel.
Great writers, on the other hand, aren’t so lucky.
There’s not really a “one size fits all” process at the heart of great writers because people can barely agree on what great writing looks like in the first place. For some, it’s a checklist of rules to be followed as if they were handed down in stone tablets. For others, it’s the type of story or article that they still occasionally think about years after they’ve read it.
All great writers eventually got to the same place, but they took incredibly different paths to get there. Put it another way: so much of writing is subjective by its very nature, why should the process behind it all be any different?
The Nuts and Bolts of Great Writing
When people think about their own writing processes, they’re usually concerned with the logistics of it all and how effective they are. “I have to wake up at this time, sit in this chair, write until lunch, outline in that notebook, etc.” While that’s certainly a big part of it for some, they’re also failing to think about the much larger (and arguably more important side):
The mental perspective.
To be a great writer, you actually need to write – everything begins right there. Every component of your process needs to be built around that one goal. It needs to support you and drive you forward, even when you’re “not feeling it.” Your deadlines have no patience for “writer’s block,” and neither do your clients. It needs to help you learn how to write even when you think you don’t have time. Even a couple of hundred words a day is better than nothing at all when it comes to getting better at this.
Most of the obstacles we face aren’t nearly as insurmountable as we think they are, and the right process will slowly begin to show you that. Do you find it difficult to write during the day because it’s too loud at home and you also don’t like working in public spaces like a library or coffee shop? That’s okay – grab your laptop, get in your car, go drive to a quiet parking lot and get started. To some, that may sound absolutely insane. But for you, that’s just what you need to do to get your day started.
The Art of Getting Out of Your Head
At this point, we also need to be clear: the process behind great writing is not a way to guarantee great writing every single time you sit down at a computer.
When a lot of people sit down to find a writing process that works for them, they often make the mistake of judging its success based on the quality of the writing that it generates. Make no mistake: this is a path that leads to despair and little else.
Even the best writers – the one’s with names that you know and love – have bad days. They spend hours on something only to realize that what they really have is nothing at all. They chase angles that ultimately lead nowhere. No matter who you are or what your talent is, this is going to happen to you. This isn’t something you need to fear.
It’s something you need to embrace.
When an idea is still in your head, it’s still hypothetical – meaning that it’s “great” by default, because you haven’t had the opportunity to screw it up yet. Once it’s down on paper and you realize that it isn’t quite as good as you’d hoped it would be, this is an incredible position to be in. Because at that point, you can fix it.
You can’t fix something that doesn’t exist except inside your own mind. So if your current process took up a huge amount of your time and generated something that you’re less-than-thrilled with, understand that this just means the process isn’t over yet.
Anything that gets you to that point – where you’re getting those words and ideas out of your head and dragging them into the real world – is what the process behind great writing looks like.
In the End
There’s no “one size fits all” process behind great writing – just as there is no single definition of what great writing actually is to begin with. There’s no magic formula that you can follow that will allow you to hit that proverbial home run every time you step up to the plate. There’s no secret that terrific writers everywhere are keeping closely guarded out of fear of increasing their own competition.
Instead, there is only the one process that works for you.
If you want to be a great writer, you need to take writing seriously. You need to treat it like it’s a “traditional job” – because that’s exactly what it is. You can’t afford to romanticize every waking moment of your day. Deadlines have no patience for “writer’s block” or any lack of inspiration you might feel like you’re struggling with.
You know what you have to do. You know what your abilities are. Anything that allows the former to support the latter is what the process behind great writing looks like.
If you commit to the work and give yourself over to the process, you will do the work. The more you do the work, the better you will get at it. The quality of your pieces will increase. The satisfaction of your clients will grow. You’ll open more doors for yourself and create new opportunities because you’ll quickly start to develop a reputation not as some hidden genius or as “The Hemingway of Content Writing,” but as someone who can get it done when it counts.
At that point, it doesn’t matter what your process looks like. You’ve found the one that works for you and now, all you have to do is grab onto it and never let it go.
Stephen L earned his Bachelor of Arts in Film and Video Production at the University Of Toledo College Of Performing Arts in Toledo, Ohio. In addition, he also worked for a big box electronic retailer for three years specializing in high definition audio and video equipment as well as computers and software. He has created almost ten thousand pieces of SEO-driven content for various online clients on topics ranging from the entertainment industry, electronics, computer operating systems and general technology.