One of my electronic subscription delights/ indulgences is Eric Barker’s Barking up the Wrong Tree. His blog incorporates science- yes, evidence!- to discuss ways to improve our personal and professional lives. Those who know my love for incorporating evidence into clinical care won’t be a bit surprised by the fact that I swooned when I first found his blog. I can have evidence-based life hacks? Does it GET better than that?
Last week the lead topic, which was from his November 9th blog, was entitled, “How to be a better writer“. I admit that this is something I wrestle with consistently, a bit for myself, but more often in my role as a research mentor and senior author on manuscripts. I’ve realized that I was an “accidental” set-up for someone who doesn’t struggle greatly with writing. I love reading books (Tip #5), and that’s been the case since very early in my childhood. I also had a 7th grade English teacher who started class every day with 15 minutes of required writing in our Big Chief tablets. There were no rules about the content, structure, or anything else, but we were expected to have our backsides in chairs writing, 5 days a week. That’s the one bit that didn’t make it into the tips, but that seems implicit in them, is that to become a better writer you simply have to write. A lot. You have to learn to tune out that inner critic that will tell you your ideas aren’t valuable and write fearlessly; that’s been the biggest piece of making this blog work is ignoring the voice telling me, “That’s dumb!” and convincing myself to forge ahead and put material out into the blogosphere. For me it’s also personally helpful to view my writing as a creative act, which sometimes feels rebellious in my structured scientific professional world. Honestly, if I had to boil it down to two things, my advice on becoming a better writer?
1. Read everything you can get your hands on. You don’t have to read it as a critic. Read for the experience of reading and learning how other people use language. Read fiction, read nonfiction, read magazines, read it all. You’ll develop ideas of what’s good, what’s not so good, and what is aspirational for you.
2. Write early, write often. It might take the form of getting yourself a Big Chief (yes, the still sell them) and blocking out 15 minutes in your schedule 3-5 days a week. It might take the form of starting a blog and committing to posting twice a week with special exceptions for travel and clinical chaos. Whatever it takes to get yourself in that chair, putting words on paper or on the screen…do it. You won’t get better without practice.
I know there are plenty of manuscripts for my friends to prepare with the recent acceptances for the Academic Surgical Congress and the American Burn Association. Let’s consider them a practical application in your quest to become a better writer.
Want more writing tips? Here’s a curated list from Brainpickings.
(And yes, I know I violated Tip #3 by burying the lead. Sorry for that, but I felt you needed the backstory- and information about Barker’s awesome blog/ newsletter. Go subscribe!)