I had no idea what I was signing up for when I began blogging. I thought you just sat down, wrote several amazing posts, and then six months and ten thousand followers later, you began negotiating a book deal. Right.
Although last year was a good one for my writing, most of the years before that were spent quietly writing posts that my mom and 212 other people would read. But I’m grateful for that time of slow growth. I learned a few lessons, a few of which I’ll share here:
- The only way to get better at writing is to write. One time I was talking with a friend who asked me how long it takes me to write one of my feature articles (for example, “Where Have All the Beautiful Women Gone?“). When I told him that it takes about 25 hours, he was shocked. He assumed I only worked for a couple of hours, that 1,200-word feature articles just flowed out of the keyboard naturally. They don’t. Although there are a few posts or articles that come with ease, for the most part, it takes a great deal of energy to write something worth reading.
- After years of practice, you will probably get faster at writing good material. Even though it takes time to write good material, you will speed up significantly as you practice. These days, I can write a solid blog post in 45 minutes, while it used to take me four hours. A lot of that has to do with the fact that (a) I’ve learned that people don’t need or want to hear everything I’ve got to say, so I write fewer words per post now, and (b) I don’t start writing until I know for sure what my point is.
- When you have a new idea, write it down immediately. I have dozens of blog post ideas saved in the notes app for my phone. Anytime something crosses my mind that might make an interesting topic for my blog, I grab my phone and dictate it into my notes. Otherwise, I’m almost certain to forget it. This habit saves me a great deal of time, because on those days when I need a little inspiration, I’ve already got some tucked away in my phone.
- Be okay with the fact that most people – including most of your friends and family members – aren’t interested in anything you’ve written or will write. I know this is hard to handle, but your favorite cousin is probably more interested in scrolling through her Instagram newsfeed than she is in reading that powerful 800-word post you wrote yesterday. That’s okay. If you’re writing and offering it as a free gift to whomever reads it, you can be at peace with whoever clicks on it. And on that note, as I’ve said before, don’t check your stats. They will turn you into a writing lap dog who will do anything for more clicks.
- Read the books On Writing Well, by William Zinsser, and The Elements of Style, by E.B. White. If people aren’t that interested in what you write in the first place, you’d better believe they’re not going to be interested in poorly-editing writing, no matter how great you felt when you wrote it. Reading and applying the principles you’ll find in On Writing Well and The Elements of Style will require some discipline, but they will take your talent to a new level. As a result, readers will be drawn into your writing, and they won’t even realize why.
- Don’t be afraid to state the obvious. For years, I wrestled with understanding how my salvation was secure, and when I finally got it, it felt like the biggest revelation ever. Twelve years later, that same revelation seemed like common sense to me, and I hardly thought to write about it, but when I did, it got shared over 1,700 times on Facebook. So just keep in mind that what seems obvious to you is probably unclear to many other people who might be blessed to learn something from you the easy way.
This is the part where I’m supposed to say that whatever happens, just have fun. But I’m not going to say that, because a lot of growing into a good writer isn’t fun at all. It’s actually quite a bit of unrewarding hard work that requires discipline, consistency, and prayer. If that sounds like your thing, then start reading some Zinsser and White, because you may have what it takes to keep going for several years.