• Lucas North

How to stand a fighting chance of becoming a writer

Updated: May 8, 2020

Photo: Delaney Turner/ Unsplash

I DID A MENTORING SESSION THIS WEEK. When I explained to my mentee, who happens to be a part-time pugilist, that writing is like boxing, he listened intently.

He was intrigued to know what writing and boxing could possibly have in common.

I explained: "Well, you need to train hard before stepping into the ring, don't you? You have to train as hard as your opponent trains. Or even harder if you want to beat him. You have to learn to skip so you stay light on your feet when you box. You have to work on your strength and fitness. You have to shadow box to get used to the sport’s choreography. You have to spar with others so real fighting comes naturally to you.”

He knew where I was heading.

The reason he understood was because this was completely relatable to him. I went on to say he had to do all the basics to learn to write well. He had to do the training over and over again to get good at it. Once in that mindset, he was ready to learn and ready to practise…

What follows is what I told him. He’s sure it’ll help. I hope it helps you, too.

What’s the big idea?

Have one big idea. This is your umbrella. Every single word you write will sit snugly beneath this big idea. The big idea for this piece was to share some writing advice. Now I needed to work out how to structure it.

Without structure, your writing will fold in on itself

If you’re driving somewhere, you use a satnav or a map to get you not just from A to B, but directly to all the points between A and B. There are plenty of roads you could slip onto. Well-placed signposts stop you going down those routes so you go directly from A to B.

Writing is similar. Structure helps you write with purpose. It also helps your readers sense your purpose. Your structure is like the signs at the side of a road, or the satnav’s automated voice, advising you which way to go. Of course you can take a detour if you want. If you think it will add interest. Your structure means you always know where you want to end up.

Write a great headline

Give your readers a sense of where you're taking them. Otherwise they're likely to feel lost. If you were writing a short piece about, say, all the types of training you'll do to help you win your next boxing match, summarising that as a headline would be a great place to start:

How I plan to win my next boxing match

That's it! It's that simple. At this stage, you don’t need anything else. You’ve said what your piece is about and, if your readers are intrigued, they'll read on. You've provided the signpost that takes them onto the next step of the journey.

Develop laser focus

Write for someone. An individual. The boxing simile I used was solely directed at my mentee, connected to me via Zoom from his bedroom. The simile worked well because he’s an amateur boxer. It wouldn’t have worked so well if he was interested in fishing or chess or computer programming or anything else. I had him and only him in mind. This is why what I said hit him right between the eyes. Having someone in mind when you write will give you a clear, consistent focus.

Read more

Do you think there are any amateur boxers out there who haven’t watched a Muhammad Ali fight? Or a Floyd Mayweather fight? Or a Sugar Ray Robinson or Manny Pacquiao fight? They’ve probably watched every one of those great boxers' fights. And more. Because those guys are the experts. They’re among the best boxers ever.

Reading great writing is no different. Great writers have won the seal of approval of publishing houses. They’ve won awards. They’ve won the hearts of millions. They’ve convinced Hollywood producers to invest millions of dollars in filmic reproductions of their great works. If you really want to get good at something, get inspiration from the best there's ever been.

Help your readers

You know your stuff. That's how you can write about it. Your readers don't necessarily know your stuff. That's why they want to read about it.

Help them.

Especially if you're writing about abstract ideas or things you think they may not grasp. Do whatever it takes. I use metaphors and similes a lot because I think they help make ideas more concrete (I know the boxing one worked well for my young mentee). They provide a different perspective. And, if you know your reader, in the same way as I knew my audience this week, you can make the trope relevant to them. Your readers will appreciate that you've thought of another way to help them grasp your meaning.

In summary:

  1. Have a big idea

  2. Structure your writing

  3. Write a great headline (or book title or chapter heading or other signpost)

  4. Focus on writing for a single person

  5. Read great writers

  6. Help your readers

Yes, there is a bit more to great writing than what I’ve written here. But these six points are at least some of the essential building blocks. They’ll help you start to choose the right words and put them in the right order to produce writing people really want to read. And producing something other people want to read should be every writer’s ambition.

Agree or disagree? I’d love to know what you think. I’d also love to know your top tips for great writing. Post a comment below. And get in touch if you want any help with your own or your team’s writing.

#writing, #books, #copywriting, #copywriter, #contentwriting, #content, #english

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