6 writing tips from James Clear to make writing easier
“Don’t write to sound smart. Write to be useful. If you’re useful over a long time period, you will end up looking smart anyway.” — James Clear
If you are aware of his work, you probably know that apart from being a habit-expert, James Clear is also a great writer. His writing is clear, concise and compelling.
Being an admirer of his work, I recently collected notes on his writing process from the tweets he shared over the years. I share my notes here along with my two cents.
Whether you are looking to write a better essay at college, a precise email at work, a shareable blog post or even an intriguing tweet — his advice will definitely help you.
1. What to write about
If you’re new to writing, write about what fascinates you. Curiosity is the intrinsic motivation that keeps us going when external rewards are delayed.
Don’t procrastinate because you haven’t found your niche yet. Start with what genuinely triggers your interests. Niches can be developed over time. In the beginning, give yourself a wider range to choose from. You’ll soon figure out what keeps you hooked, what makes your audience relate to you and what you find easy to write about. Select your niche from the intersection of these three.
For individual pieces of work — such as blog posts, books, or essays — work with only one big idea at a time. Explore the idea from different angles to build new perspectives.
2. How to edit
A) Cut extra words
Good writing is nothing but bad writing edited ruthlessly. Don’t be afraid to shorten the length. Put your reader’s experience above all. Always try to convey the idea in as little words as possible.
If you believe in the idea you’re conveying, don’t exaggerate with unnecessary adverbs and adjectives. Cut extra words like “really”, “very”. (In short, don’t fumble in your writing.)
Complex topics do not require complex writing. While editing, read your piece out loud. Replace fancy words with simple ones. Shorten long sentences. And yes, always check for typos. Always. Lack of attention to detail is a huge turn-off to serious readers.
3. How to build relevancy
A reader will only come back for more when the ideas you convey stick to them. And to make ideas stick, it has to be relatable. Use examples abundantly. Better yet, use stories. Stories engage emotions and build connections. Use them aptly to strengthen your argument.
4. How to get over writer’s block?
Writer’s block generally stems from two primary reasons — Perfection Paralysis and Impostor Syndrome.
- To get over perfection paralysis, ignore quality completely while writing your first draft. Treat it as a conversation with yourself. Conversations are not perfect, but they are great for exploring an idea. First drafts are your opportunity to explore, connect the dots, and think deeply.
- Secondly, if you feel like an impostor, worry that people will not like your writing, use your fear as a motivation to fine tune your writing as much as you can. Use quality examples. Be more precise.
“Don’t let your fear hold you back. Use it to move you forward.” — James Clear
5. How to be ‘great’ from ‘good’
The journey from good to great depends on your ability to fine tune the details. That’s what sets you apart. James suggests two ways to do that.
- By going beyond the obvious. He writes 25 titles for each blog post. That’s a lot, right? While being great isn’t impossible, it isn’t easy either. The ideas that are easy to think about are obvious. Good ideas come once obvious ones are gone. Think harder.
- By always crediting the source. Especially, if you write online. Be generous about giving credit to other people who introduced the idea to you or inspired your thoughts. Go beyond just hyperlinking a few words in a page. Add a footnote or a separate section at the end of your posts where you clearly thank people who inspired the idea in you. A little gratitude goes a long way.
6. How to stick to your writing habit?
Motivation doesn’t last long. We need discipline when motivation fades away. To add accountability, write in public. It makes you responsible enough to show up when you don’t “feel like it”, and pushes you to improve your writing skills. Also, writing in public invites feedback leading to further growth.
Before beginning a new article, at the top of each page, James writes — “What do I want?” It brings him clarity. It forces him to be precise and cut anything he doesn’t want as a reader.
In the end, writing one page wouldn’t make you a better writer. But writing thousands will. Build a habit. Stay consistent. Fall in love with the boredom of practicing it daily. Mastery will follow.