09 Apr 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.)
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:
Barnes & Noble