‘Life Hacks.’ We’re so eager to find easier ways to accomplish our goals. Let’s take a step back and think about what we’re looking for when we’re looking for a ‘life hack.’ What I see is a desire to find efficiency. We want to achieve our goals, but with less work. The maximum return with the minimum effort.
In writing, there are ways to be more efficient. I wouldn’t call them ‘hacks,’ but I would call any writer who employs these below-mentioned three practices efficient. If that’s the point, then they’ve successfully ‘hacked’ writing, as far as I can see it.
Spit It Out
Many writers fall into the trap of trying to write like someone they’re not. We abuse our language to pump out grandiose, seemingly literary sentences to describe something that could have been given to the reader in half the time. We’re excited about our grasp of the language and we want to use it in beautiful ways. I get it—I still fall into this trap constantly.
If there is one thing we must remember as writers, it’s that we don’t need to hold our readers’ hands through everything. Your readers are often just as smart as you—they get it. Rather than beefing up our sentences:
‘The robin’s egg-blue curtains drifted ever so softly in the soft sea breeze that floated through the window and reminded Thomas of his mother, who still thought about her very often.’
Let’s cut them down and let the readers take control:
‘The kitchen curtains billowed in the breeze and reminded Thomas of his mother.’
Let the reader decide what the curtains look like in detail. They’ve seen one before. Let them take from their own experience and apply it to what they’re reading. The more we over-explain, the more we chokehold what the reader can personally add to their experiences reading our stories.
When we write succinctly, we give our readers a chance to come up with their own answer and explanations. If we held their hand through the entire thing, they wouldn’t have to do or think anything. Give the reader a chore. Cut the fat from your writing.
Read a Book
I’ve preached this point a couple times on this website—no reading, no writing. You have to read. You have to have an innate desire to read. Anyone can develop this desire at any age, so there are no excuses. Don’t have time to read? Yeah, you do. Take time away from your phone and give it to the last Nobel literature winner.
You can’t be a master carpenter if you’ve never looked into other people’s carpentry. Same goes for writing. If you don’t look at what other experts are doing, you will have no basis for your own creations.
Creating a Habit
The easiest way to be a writer is to write. I cannot stress this point enough. The writer who waits for inspiration before they write is an amateur. Serious writers write when they’ve told themselves to, whether they want or not.
Writing is like any creative or athletic pursuit. If you wanted to be a world-class gymnast, you won’t get there if you only practice or workout on the days you feel like doing so. If you want to be a renowned painter, you have to paint—even when you aren’t at your best. The same is true of writing.
Real writers write every day. Whether it’s a note during a bathroom break or a six-hour session during the weekend, you should always be looking for an opportunity to put pen to paper. The more you do this, the more you make a habit out of it. The more you make a habit out of writing, the better a writer you’ll be.
Whatever you do, never stop writing.