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Perhaps a little less common than math anxiety, the anxiety experienced by writers can halt a writing project in its tracks. The only way to become a better writer is to persevere through the anxiety until the idea of writing no longer brings on those anxious feelings. There are, however, some basic steps the unseasoned writer can take to make the transition from novice to pro. Outlined below are eight habits found almost universally in all good writers.
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1. Understand That Writing Is Not Effortless
It requires a lot of effort to get just the right message across to an audience. All writers feel this pressure. The question is: Does the pressure inspire you or make you shrink down into a spiral of no confidence? Putting this pressure into perspective is the first step to moving forward.
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2. Start With a Plan
If you sit at your computer and just start typing, you are likely to become frustrated because you have no direction. It’s kind of like getting into your car and just driving around aimlessly when you really wanted to get to the grocery store. Start with a general outline and then work to make a more complete outline. Don’t think you must work from beginning to end on the outline either. Start where you feel most comfortable and fill in the parts as you go along.
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3. No Process Can Be Tackled All At Once
Writing should be viewed as a multi-stage process that can be broken down into smaller pieces. For example, in a technical report, there is a clear progression laid out for the reader with each section clearly labeled (introduction, arguments, conclusion, etc.). Don’t think, however, that just because the final product will progress in this manner that you have to start writing in this linear fashion. Start with the section with which you feel most confident and work from there. If you don’t know where to start, pen a tentative title and write a brief 200- to 300-word summary of your message. Then work to fill in more details using the summary as a guide.
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4. Nothing Is Written In Stone
You need not get every word, every sentence and every paragraph exactly right the first time. In fact, the best writers often revisit what was written previously to strengthen the message. It is better to get your thoughts down and revise it later then to try to write everything once and only once.
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5. Allow Time Between Writing Sessions
One of the best ways to write well is to leave some time between writing sessions. When your writing has had some time to “cool off," you can revisit it with a fresh pair of eyes. It is much easier to find mistakes in your writing when you have not seen it for a while. This is why you don’t want to try to make your writing perfect the first time.
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6. Set Up A Schedule To Write
This does more than conquer the tendency to avoid writing. It also sets clear start and stop times so you will not feel that there is no end in sight. Start with an hour and see how far you get. End each session with goals to accomplish at the next session so you do not have to revisit the material cold each time. You will find that the process is much more palatable in contrast to just sitting there wondering what to do next.
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7. Have A Clear Set Of Goals In Mind
Understand your audience and assess its reading level, technical knowledge and time constraints. A long report will not sit well with readers who have little time to read it. Similarly, a memo that is too technical has little chance of influencing a non-technical audience. Remember, you are not writing for you, you are writing for others.
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8. Write As Often As You Can
The only way to get good at something is to do it often. Think of each writing project as an opportunity to strengthen your writing skills. With each passing project, you become a better writer, providing the incentive to push forward rather than avoid it.
Writing is a skill like any other; the more you do it the better you get. When you gain proficiency with writing, you will find that you have developed your own methods that work for you which may deviate from the advice above. Either way, you are on your way to better writing.