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If You Want To Quickly Improve Your Writing, Do These 10 Little Things Now

If You Want To Quickly Improve Your Writing, Do These 10 Little Things Now

William Strunk Jr. in the classic book Elements of Style said:

“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”

If you want to write as best as you can, respond clearly and powerfully to your readers’ needs and make every word tell–whether you are writing a short story, blog post, business letter or e-mail–you must watch how you write. It doesn’t matter what your cultural or educational background is, do these little, painless things from today to quickly improve your writing and dramatically enhance effectiveness of your communication.

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1. Read more—as much and as often as you can.

Read authors, bloggers, reporters and any other types of writers you can find. Study their language, sentence and grammar use to learn what works. This will not only improve your vocabulary and use of proper syntax and grammar, but also broaden your world view, excite your imagination, arouse your curiosity and stimulate your creativity. When you read, you expose yourself to interesting topics, experiences, cultures and can tap into the minds of creative thinkers. Besides that, reading is enjoyable and therapeutic. Fit it into your hectic life and it will help you relax and unwind.

2. Write daily—at least 15 minutes every day.

“The secret of becoming a writer,” Jerry Pournelle says, “is that you have to write.” He is right. It doesn’t matter how much you write, just write every day. Writing everyday is the best way to practice the craft and improve how you think. It also helps you form a writing habit. Find your own pace and write for three hours, half an hour or even just 15 minutes a day. You don’t have to write 40 printed pages a day, but you do need to make sure you write at least 15 minutes each day. If you can’t think of something to write about, keep a personal diary or journal and update it daily.

3. Write in plain English.

No matter how complex or technical your subject is, write your message in the most direct, easy-to-understand and concise way possible. Don’t assault your readers’ intelligence and patience with bloated vocabularies, pretentious jargon and extraneous ideas. Employ familiar, everyday words to facilitate reader enjoyment and comprehension. For instance, instead of writing ‘eliminate,’ write ‘end.’ The word ‘end’ is shorter, punchier and more familiar with people around the world. It reduces chances of confusion and misinterpretation of your intended meaning.

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4. Separate the writing and editing processes.

Separating the writing and editing processes allows you adequate time, space and quiet necessary to complete both tasks successfully. Focus on writing your message down uninhibited at first draft. Address surface level issues of grammar, style and typos later during the editing stage. There is no shame in writing a bad first draft just as long as you set aside plenty of time to edit later. Author Cecil Castellucci says it best: “The best flowers are fertilized by crap.”

5. Open with your main idea.

State your main idea–or at least give a strong hint of your main message–in the first few opening sentences. Don’t keep the reader waiting and guessing for too long about what you are writing about. People are impatient and won’t stick around to read through your ramblings. Similarly, avoid opening your writing with strings of generic sentences. Instead of saying Chicago is a ‘big city,’ open with something unique about Chicago that cannot be said of most other cities. For example, you could say Chicago is the ‘windy city.’ You can’t say that of other cities in the U.S.

6. Vary your sentence length, structures and types.

Varying sentence length, types and structures helps you avoid monotony and allows you to provide emphasis where appropriate. Use short sentences to emphasize an idea and create a punch. Use longer sentences to define, illustrate or explain ideas. Also, blend simple, compound and complex sentences, as well as including occasional commands and question to spice up your writing. Keep in mind that writing is more than just meaning—it’s also about sounds and can be about visual appearance on paper or screen as well.

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7. Use concrete words.

Concrete words are terms for things that can be seen, heard, smelled, tasted or touched, such as table, hot and dancing. Stick to concrete words and avoid abstract terms as much as possible. Abstract words and phrases are not available to the senses and point to personal opinion, such as “great,” “wonderful” and “one of the best.” These abstract terms often represent mere rhetoric. Just because you say something is “great” doesn’t mean everyone else thinks the same way. If you must use abstract words, qualify them with concrete evidence from reliable sources.

8. Trim everything down.

When editing or revising your work, eliminate any unnecessary words and phrases in your text to ensure your words get straight to the point rather than beating about the bush or being boastful, pushy or fluffy. Nothing shouts “armature” than using extraneous, wordy terms and phrases in your writing. Instead of writing ‘owing to the fact that’ or ‘due to the fact that,’ just say ‘since’ or ‘because.’ Similarly, instead of saying, ‘bring the matter to a conclusion’, just say ‘conclude.’ Trimming everything down makes your writing easy to consume and understand. It simply improves readability.

9. Consider the reader’s agenda.

Don’t start to write until you know who exactly you are writing for. Who is your target audience? What problem or need do they have? What gender are they? Where in the world are they located? What is in it for them? Will this solve their problem? It is never enough to only factor in your own agenda when writing. Always weave into your work the audience’s agenda and pack as much value in there for them as possible. If you can do this, the battle is half won. You are already a decent, conscientious writer.

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10.   Break any of these rules.

We write to express ourselves, as much as to inform, educate and entertain. Don’t take yourself or writing too seriously. Relax and have fun expressing yourself. When you are relaxed and having fun, you won’t be dull or unnecessarily clever. You will write naturally without worrying about pleasing everyone. Your readers will get value from your words and enjoy reading them. And, as George Orwell advised in his Rules for Writers, “Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.”

Featured photo credit: Rubin Starset via flickr.com

More by this author

David K. William

David is a publisher and entrepreneur who tries to help professionals grow their business and careers, and gives advice for entrepreneurs.

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Last Updated on November 5, 2020

Why You Have the Fear of Failure (And How to Overcome It)

Why You Have the Fear of Failure (And How to Overcome It)

Nobody enjoys failing. Fear of failure can be so strong that avoiding failure eclipses the motivation to succeed. Insecurity about doing things incorrectly causes many people to unconsciously sabotage their chances for success.

Fear is part of human nature. As an entrepreneur, I faced this same fear. My ego and identity became intertwined with my work, and when things didn’t go as planned, I completely shut down. I overcame this unhealthy relationship with fear, and I believe that you can, too.

Together we’ll examine how you can use failure to your advantage instead of letting it run your life. We’ll also look at how to overcome fear of failure so that you can enjoy success in your work and life.

What Is Fear of Failure?

If you are afraid of failure, it will cause you to avoid potentially harmful situations.

Fear of failure keeps you from trying, creates self-doubt, stalls progress, and may lead you to go against your morals.

What causes a fear of failure? Here are the main reasons why fear of failing exists:

Patterns From Childhood

Hyper-critical adults cause children to internalize damaging mindsets.[1] They establish ultimatums and fear-based rules. This causes children to feel the constant need to ask for permission and reassurance. They carry this need for validation into adulthood.

Perfectionism

Perfectionism is often at the root of a fear of failure.[2] For perfectionists, failure is so terrible and humiliating that they don’t try. Stepping outside your comfort zone becomes terrifying.

Over-Personalization

The ego may lead us to over-identify with failures. It’s hard to look beyond failure at things like the quality of the effort, extenuating circumstances, or growth opportunities.[3]

False Self-Confidence

People with true confidence know they won’t always succeed. A person with fragile self-confidence avoids risks. They’d rather play it safe than try something new.[4]

How the Fear of Failure Holds You Back

Unhealthy Organization Culture

Too many organizations today have cultures of perfection: a set of organizational beliefs that any failure is unacceptable. Only pure, untainted success will do.

Imagine the stress and terror in an organization like that. The constant covering up of the smallest blemishes. The wild finger-pointing as everyone tries to shift the blame for the inevitable messes onto someone else. The lying, cheating, falsification of data, and hiding of problems—until they become crises that defy being hidden any longer.

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Miss out on Valuable Opportunities

If some people fail to reach a complete answer because of the lure of some early success, many more fail because of their ego-driven commitment to what worked in the past. You often see this with senior people, especially those who made their names by introducing some critical change years ago.

They shy away from further innovation, afraid that this time they might fail, diminishing the luster they try to keep around their names from past triumph.

Besides, they reason, the success of something new might even prove that those achievements they made in the past weren’t so great after all. Why take the risk when you can hang on to your reputation by doing nothing?

Such people are so deeply invested in their egos and the glories of their past that they prefer to set aside opportunities for future glory rather than risk even the possibility of failure.

High Achievers Become Losers

Every talent contains an opposite that sometimes turns it into a problem. Successful people like to win and achieve high standards. This can make them so terrified of failure that it ruins their lives. When a positive trait, like achievement, becomes too strong in someone’s life, it’s on the way to becoming a major obstacle.

Achievement is a powerful value for many successful people. They’ve built their lives on it. They achieve at everything they do: school, college, sports, the arts, hobbies, work. Each fresh achievement adds to the power of the value in their lives.

Gradually, failure becomes unthinkable. Maybe they’ve never failed yet in anything that they’ve done, so they have no experience of rising above it. Failure becomes the supreme nightmare: a frightful horror they must avoid at any cost.

The simplest way to do this is never to take a risk, stick rigidly to what you know you can do, protect yourself, work the longest hours, double and triple check everything, and be the most conscientious and conservative person in the universe.

If constant hard work, diligence, brutal working schedules and harrying subordinates won’t ward off the possibility of failing, use every other possible means to to keep it away. Falsify numbers, hide anything negative, conceal errors, avoid customer feedback, constantly shift the blame for errors onto anyone too weak to fight back.

Loss of Creativity

Over-achievers destroy their own peace of mind and the lives of those who work for them. People too attached to “goodness” and morality become self-righteous bigots. Those whose values for building close relationships become unbalanced slide into smothering their friends and family with constant expressions of affection and demands for love in return.

Everyone likes to succeed. The problem comes when fear of failure is dominant, when you can no longer accept the inevitability of making mistakes, nor recognize the importance of trial and error in finding the most creative solution.

The more creative you are, the more errors you are going to make. Deciding to avoid the errors will destroy your creativity, too.

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Balance counts more than you think. Some tartness must season the sweetest dish. A little selfishness is valuable even in the most caring person. And a little failure is essential to preserve everyone’s perspective on success.

We hear a lot about being positive. Maybe we also need to recognize that the negative parts of our lives and experience have just as important a role to play in finding success, in work, and in life.

How to Overcome Fear of Failure (Step-by-Step)

1. Figure out Where the Fear Comes From

Ask yourself what the root cause of your negative belief could be.[5] When you look at the four main causes for a fear of failure, which ones resonate with you?

Write down where you think the fear comes from, and try to understand it as an outsider.

If it helps, imagine you’re trying to help one of your best friends. Perhaps your fear stems from something that happened in your childhood, or a deep-seated insecurity.

Naming the source of the fear takes away some of its power.

2. Reframe Beliefs About Your Goal

Having an all or nothing mentality leaves you with nothing sometimes. Have a clear vision for what you’d like to accomplish but include learning something new in your goal.

If you always aim for improvement and learning, you are much less likely to fail.[6]

At Pixar, people are actually encouraged to “fail early and fail fast.”[7] They encourage experimentation and innovation so that they can stay on the cutting edge. That mindset involves failure, but as long as they achieve their vision of telling great stories, all the stumbling blocks are just opportunities to grow.

3. Learn to Think Positive

In many cases, you believe what you tell yourself. Your internal dialogue affects how you react and behave.

Our society is obsessed with success, but it’s important to recognize that even the most successful people encounter failure.

Walt Disney was once fired from a newspaper because they thought he lacked creativity. He went on to found an animation studio that failed. He never gave up, and now Disney is a household name.

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Steve Jobs was also once fired from Apple before returning as the face of the company for many years. [8]

If Disney and Jobs had believed the negative feedback, they wouldn’t have made it.

It’s up to you to notice your negative self talk and identify triggers[9]. Replace negative thoughts with positive facts about yourself and the situation. You’ll be able to create a new mental scripts that you can reach for when you feel negativity creeping in. The voice inside your head has a great effect on what you do.

How To Be A Positive Thinker: Positivity Exercises, Affirmations, & Quotes

    4. Visualize all Potential Outcomes

    Uncertainty about what will happen next is terrifying. Take time to visualize the possible outcomes of your decision. Think about the best and worst-case scenarios. You’ll feel better if you’ve already had a chance to mentally prepare for what could happen.

    Fear of the unknown might keep you from taking a new job. Weigh the pros and cons, and imagine potential successes and failures in making such a life-altering decision. Knowing how things could turn out might help you get unstuck.

    5. Look at the Worst-Case Scenario

    There are times when the worst case could be absolutely devastating. In many cases, if something bad happens, it won’t be the end of the world.

    It’s important to define how bad the worst case scenario is in the grand scheme of your life. Sometimes, we give situations more power than they deserve. In most cases, a failure is not permanent.

    For example, when you start a new business, it’s bound to be a learning experience. You’ll make decisions that don’t pan out, but often that discomfort is temporary. You can change your strategy and rebound. Even in the worst case scenario, if the perceived failure led to the end of that business, it might be the launching point for something new.

    6. Have a Backup Plan

    It never hurts to have a backup plan. The last thing you want to do is scramble for a solution when the worst has happened. The old adage is solid wisdom:

    “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.”

    Having a backup plan gives you more confidence to move forward and take calculated risks.

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    Perhaps you’ve applied for a grant to fund an initiative at work. In the worst-case scenario, if you don’t get the grant, are there other ways you could get the funds?

    There are usually multiple ways to tackle a problem, so having a backup is a great way to reduce anxiety about possible failure.

    7. Learn From Whatever Happens

    Things may not go the way you planned, but that doesn’t automatically mean you’ve failed. Learn from whatever arises.[10] Even a less than ideal situation can be a great opportunity to make changes and grow.

    “Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.”

    Dig deep enough, and you’re bound to find the silver lining. When you’ve learned that “failure” is an opportunity for growth instead of a death sentence, you conquer the fear of failure.

    For more tips on how to overcome fear of failure, check out the video below:

    Final Thoughts

    To overcome fear of failure, we can start by figuring out where it comes from and reframing the way we feel about failure. When failure is a chance for growth, and you’ve looked at all possible outcomes, it’s easier to overcome fear.

    Stay positive, have a backup plan, and learn from whatever happens. Your failures will be sources of education and inspiration rather than humiliation.

    “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” -Thomas A. Edison

    Failures can be blessings in disguise. Go boldly in the direction of your dreams and long-term goals.

    More Tips for Conquering Fear

    Featured photo credit: Patrick Hendry via unsplash.com

    Reference

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