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From an Engineer to an Author, I Find These Writing Tips Really Helpful

From an Engineer to an Author, I Find These Writing Tips Really Helpful

Writing well is one of those things that’s seen to be hard to do or only a skill possessed by people with a natural talent. Trying to convey stories and thoughts in a constructive and flowing manner can leave many people feeling frustration and lack of real ability.

But I’m here to tell you that, as a fan of life hacks, I believe anyone can become a great writer with the right knowledge.

Making the transition from engineer to writer over the past 10 years, I’ve come across many of the common issues people encounter when they write and discovered the writing tips to allow them to write 10 times better.

We Aren’t Really Taught How to Write Well in School

Don’t feel disheartened if writing doesn’t come naturally to you. In this online age, more of us have the opportunity to put our ideas out there but struggle to know where to start when we sit down to do it.

One reason is we aren’t really taught how to write well in school. Much of the emphasis is put on grammar rules and fluency instead of developing the ability to write appealing and influential work.

Writing is also the part of language skill learning that requires creativity compared to speaking, listening, and reading, making it a more challenging skill to develop. Speaking, for example, has a creative aspect but it doesn’t have the same need for precision as writing where even a single connective should be considered carefully in order to create a coherent and well-written piece of work.

The Common Difficulties People Have When Writing

For anyone who’s sat down to write something profound or even just to get their points across in an effective manner will have experienced those common feelings of writer’s block. These usually manifest as:

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  • Having no ideas to write
  • Not knowing where to start
  • Not knowing how to organise any ideas you do have
  • Not knowing how to write words in an appealing way
  • Taking too long to finish a piece of writing and getting demotivated

When we experience these, our writing often suffers becoming fragmented, simple and shallow. The flow can become messy and hard to follow and in danger of even being boring and ordinary.

The Hacks You Need to Follow to Unlock Your Writing Potential

There are several things to keep in mind when you sit down to write and by following these hacks, you can steer your writing to that of flow, appeal and coherency.

Don’t Google General Ideas on Your Topic

Trying to think of ideas can be the first hurdle for many people. If you have a particular topic (for example “how to think positively”) and you feel stuck for ideas, don’t automatically search google with your general topic. Instead, try to narrow down the scope first because google will only spit out very generic and clichéd tips that people have written time and time again.

Instead, ask yourself certain questions that will elicit the answer from within.

  • Why do we need to think positively?
  • What happens to our brains when we think positively?
  • What’s the difference between people who think positively and people who think negatively?
  • What are the mindsets we need to change before we can think positively?
  • What are some daily habits we can build to think more positively?

Brainstorming helps narrow down your topic and create different points to elaborate in your writing. Readers of your work will then feel that you’re really making good points.

Don’t Dwell on the Beginning, Focus on the Body

When we read things, the headline is what gets our attention which leads us to the main body of the writing. As a writer, this is the other way around.

When writing, the key is to write the main content first and then tune the headline accordingly. But this should also be applied to the introduction – focus on the main content and points first so you know the heart of what you’re writing about and then think about the beginning in relation to it.

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Design the Flow Like Designing a Drama: The Model AIDA

Getting your words to flow can be one of the hardest challenges. There’s a marketing and advertising model called AIDA which stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, Action.

This strategy can also be applied to writing to create a good sense of structure and flow in order to get readers interested instead of merely throwing information at them. So keep this in mind when creating your content.

Avoid Perfectionism

Being a perfectionist could be a massive disadvantage when it comes to your writing.

We all want our work to be perfect but this can lead to the temptation to rewrite paragraphs once you start the next one which can be detrimental to the overall piece. This creates a lack of time and while your introduction may be spot on, the rest of your writing can end up disappointing your readers.

Editing is an important part of the process but leave this until the end when you can see the big picture rather than doing it as you go.

The key is getting your ideas down in an organised manner.  Worry about any changes once these are down.  Don’t get so attached to your first draft – as Hemingway famously said “the first draft of everything is shit.”

Replace Vague Words with Concrete Ones

Try avoiding bland and general words in your writing. Instead, think about more descriptive words that make your piece sound more attractive. If you write ‘good’ ask yourself how good? Could it be wonderful, exceptional or excellent? Could ‘bad’ be atrocious, lousy, inadequate? Or could ‘a lot’ be a massive amount, tons or plentiful?

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Using more descriptive and imaginative words will help engage the reader and give your writing more life.

Remove Fillers and Redundant Words

When we speak, we naturally use filler words like: ‘some kind of’, ‘sort of’, ‘to start with’, ‘due to the fact that’, ‘I believe’, ‘in terms of’ and ‘in order to’.

While it’s common to use these types of fillers and redundant words, they can actually decrease your credibility because they make the reader feel that you’re adding no meaning to a sentence and can give the impression your logic is lacking.

For example: All of the people rushed to get the train can be better read as All the people rushed to get the train.

In the process of starting my company, I hired three new members of staff would be better written as When I started my company, I hired three new members of staff.

Fillers and redundant words make your writing conversational but if you’re creating more informative content, avoid fillers at all costs.

Always Choose Simpler Words Over Convoluted Ones

With all kinds of writing whether formal or informal, it’s a good idea to avoid long and more difficult words.

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You may think using simple words is a no-no especially when, at school, we’re often taught to write as descriptive as possible. But while this may be good for story-telling, other forms of writing tend to have the intention of getting a message across and simple words are more effective.

For example: “use” instead “utilise”, “to” instead of “in order to”, “help” instead of “facilitate”, “start” instead of “commence”.

Remember, brilliant writing is simple writing.

Design Punchlines: One Word Sentences or One Line Paragraphs

Look.

Have I got your attention now? That’s the beauty of using a single word in a paragraph. This technique is a great hook for the reader to increase their intrigue. Use this to create a sense of importance in what you’re about to write next but just make sure not to overdo it – use it only once in once piece of writing.

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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1 11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits 2 How Your Attitude Determines Your Success 3 How to Ask for Help When You Need It Most 4 How Much Do You Need to Give Up to Start Over? 5 Is It Really Better to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone?

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Last Updated on March 21, 2019

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

“What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

1. Start Small

The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

Do less today to do more in a year.

2. Stay Small

There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

Why?

Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

Peter Drucker said,

“What you track is what you do.”

So track it to do it — it really helps.

But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

5. Measure Once, Do Twice

Peter Drucker also said,

“What you measure is what you improve.”

So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

For reading, it’s 20 pages.
For writing, it’s 500 words.
For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

6. All Days Make a Difference

Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

Will two? They won’t.

Will three? They won’t.

Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

What happened? Which one made you fit?

The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

7. They Are Never Fully Automated

Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

10. Punish Yourself

Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

11. Reward Yourself

When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

In the End, It Matters

What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

“Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

Keep going.

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More Resources to Help You Build Habits

Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
[2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
[3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
[4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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