How to be a better writer, part 1. - Jon Acuff
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How to be a better writer, part 1.

I spent four years in college studying journalism.

I then spent 17 years as a full time, professional writer.

I’ve written and published five books, but it wasn’t until this last one that I learned 3 important lessons about writing. (I was going to say, “lessons that could change the way I write forever,” but sometimes the over the top dramatic style you have to write blogs with these days is exhausting.)

Editing

It’s almost embarrassing how obvious these lessons are, but I promise I missed them most of my writing career. Learning them is why my book Do Over is:

1. The hardest book I’ve ever written.
2. The best book I’ve ever written.

I’ve said that first sentence about other books I’ve written, but I’ve never said that second sentence before. Why am I starting now? Because I learned 3 ways to become a better writer. Here’s the first lesson, I’ll share the second two in the weeks to come:

Don’t let your ego be your editor.

I didn’t let Jenny read my last book Start until it came out. I was too scared to hear what she thought. What if she didn’t like some section? What if she encouraged me to rewrite something and I was all out of words? (That’s how writers feel when they finish something, “all out of words.”) I didn’t show her the book until it was too late for her to give me her thoughts. That was a mistake on my part. She read Do Over seven full times and gave me incredible feedback.

Throughout each round she would circle sections and say, “You wrote this story because you want to look like a victim. This is an ego play. This section is you trying to look like a hero. You’re writing this book to help people have great careers, not just to make them think you’re great.”

I would then go pout in our small home office, try to tell her she was wrong but then eventually I’d come around. She was right. My ego tends to write the first draft. And it makes some pretty selfish decisions. It would much rather give you pages of pages of “Look how amazing Jon is” than do the hard work like meeting hundreds of people around the country to see what is really working in their careers, creating something that could help and refining it until it sings. (The photo on this post shows the amount of writing/editing I had to go through to create the book.)

Is ego a bad thing? No, you need confidence to write in the first place. But don’t let ego be your editor. The challenge is that it’s impossible for us to recognize our own egos. We can talk ourselves into anything. Give your manuscript to someone who will call you out.

In a blog post like this it’s really easy to act like the advice you’ve given is easy to live out.

It’s not. The writing lessons I learned during Do Over were really hard for me and every day I still have to fight for them. My ego gets loud when I sit down at a keyboard and is always trying to be an editor.

It’s going to be challenging for you too, but that’s OK. I don’t want you to just be a writer. I want you to be the best writer you can be.

My new book Do Over came out this week. You can pick up a copy anywhere books or sold or at any of these online options. I’m excited for you to see the final result of the writing process Jenny helped me with:
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Google Play
iBooks
IndieBound
Books-A-Million
Christianbook.com
Family Christian
Parable

10 Comments
  • Ken Fite
    Posted at 05:00h, 09 April Reply

    What’s amazing to me is that in the picture, we can compare the before and the after. Our readers see the after, the final product that we’re so proud of. But very few get to see the before and all of the hard work, revisions, and queso-stained rough drafts that included words that we poured our heart and soul into that just weren’t good enough to make the final cut. Thank God for people in our lives like Jenny who are brave enough to tell us the truth and care enough to help us become better at our craft and continue to grow.

    • Jon Acuff
      Posted at 07:09h, 09 April Reply

      Amen to that. I thought it was fun to share that photo because I went through so many revisions with this book. I really wanted it to be great and the editing process was intense. I thought it was neat to show the mountain next to the final result.

  • Kate Johns
    Posted at 08:34h, 09 April Reply

    I’ve been writing every day, okay nearly every day for 8 years. I love it!! To become a better writer: 1. You MUST write everyday.2. You must dedicate at least an hour of each day to write. 3. Decide what you want to write before writing it. 4. Write it in your head first. 5. Write an outline or a few words of what you are going to write.
    Thanks for the writing advice Jon!

  • Traci
    Posted at 08:39h, 09 April Reply

    Thank you for this. Currently my computer is yelling at my ego every time I sit down to write. Did that happen to you? I write really good stuff in my head, but when I sit down to actually get the words down it all goes away. Any hints for how to not be scared of your computer? 🙂

    • Kelly
      Posted at 08:52h, 13 April Reply

      I have this problem. It’s an incredibly frustrating problem, one that I’m still struggling to overcome. (Along with the problem of actually finishing a story.)

      One thing that has helped me–dictating ideas into my smartphone. Especially when the “perfect” wording comes to me, because that’s always when I’m doing something else, usually walking or driving. I hate hearing my own voice, so I tend to use the dictation-to-text option, which is less efficient but also less embarrassing.

      One thing I’ve tried a little but haven’t made a concerted, focused effort with, is writing by hand. Not the whole story, but again, ideas. Brainstorming by hand, I suppose. Then it’s written down for reference, and I have a theory that writing things by hand taps into some of the same brain areas that I get into when I’m walking or driving or taking a shower.

      Good luck!

  • Nathana Clay
    Posted at 20:14h, 09 April Reply

    I feel the same way about my writing. As much as I hate to admit it, when my husband reads my blog posts before I post them, they always turn out better. He catches so much and lets me know what sounds awkward or points that could be made clearer.

  • jill britz
    Posted at 19:27h, 10 April Reply

    What a hard truth. I’m realizing I need to do grunt work on myself before I can write anything worth reading. Otherwise, i just want you to pat my ego. Thanks for this.

    Also, I just listened to your podcast with jeff goins & was so impressed with both your insight & your heart. You have a very kind heart. I was glad to listen.

  • Josue Molina
    Posted at 06:54h, 11 April Reply

    Writing is tough. Aside from the challenge of piecing a story together to make sense, you have to wrangle with so many types of emotions. It’s great to have someone by your side looking out for you. We all need that someone.

  • KC
    Posted at 09:44h, 15 April Reply

    Jenny is one of my favorite things about you, Jon. Mostly because her support of you and her B.S. meter share a striking similarity to my wife, Leanne.

    The unconditional love and unfiltered feedback of a good wife is a rare blessing.

    Keep up the good work!

  • Sean Chandler
    Posted at 11:41h, 17 April Reply

    “sometimes the over the top dramatic style you have to write blogs with these days is exhausting”

    I know that was just an off hand comment, but it’s so true. As an experiment, one time I took something I had written months early, and gave it an over the top dramatic title. The content was the same. There were no significant revisions. Only the title and subheadings were changed. The second version received 10 times as many page views.

    It was nice to know a trick to get more readers, but frustrating to know that to do so I would have to keep coming up with ridiculous titles.

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