Dear Dalitso

Everyday lessons for tomorrow

Getting Comfortable with Writing

June 4, 2024
Letter #

Dear Dali

Today I had a chat with a friend about writing. The request was ‘may you mentor me to write’. A seemingly very simple and straightforward request yet so complex. Where does one start? Asking them to submit their writings for review or agreeing on a timetable of when to write. But write about what really. I am not a writer. I have never seen myself as one. I have always felt that the title belongs to those who write fiction. The literary luminaries. Instead, I see myself as a researcher who must engage in writing to communicate research findings. Perhaps I was wrong all along. But still, I am very hesitant when it comes to this subject. Maybe I will call myself a student of writing. I have never developed a style of writing. I just write. Here are some of my tips on writing in case you feel the itch to write:

First things first- what are you going to write about? You can only write from a reservoir of other people’s ideas. So read other people’s works. I have always made sure to read more than I write. It helps a lot. You cannot write from a place of ignorance. There are very unexplored subjects, so read and read again, but not to the point where you lose your voice.

Be intentional about what you want to communicate- I have always struggled with getting the message across until I learnt the art of ensuring my objective for writing is captured in the first three sentences of any piece. Everything else builds upon that objective. Subject matters vary but, in many instances, the intention of any writing is to bring information that was not previously available or to correct a previous position. Make sure you have clarity on what you are trying to achieve.

Practice writing- there is no overnight miracle to this. I have seen some colleagues go to writing seminars or breaks and yet still come back with nothing written. Writing does not normally happen. It is about collecting and organising your thoughts. You will probably go through several drafts before you get it right- that is ok. If you do not give up.

Avoid Setting aside time to write- in the past, I would have advised you this way, we are wired differently. Some people are morning people, while others prefer evening. Once you understand your energy cycles, try to block your best hours for writing. It’s difficult to try to write after a busy and noisy day. Set aside some quiet time.

But today I am wiser and say don’t give yourself too much pressure maybe by sitting down and saying now it’s time to write. I suggest that you;

  • Write daily but informally. Don’t sit on a desk and stare at a blank screen. It makes it worse.
  • If you are struggling with starting record yourself as you drive/walk or jog.
  • Use your mobile device to capture your thoughts. Just bullet points.
  • Don’t worry about the order at this stage. Look for great quotes from researchers/authors that you follow and build upon them.

Tell a story- always seek to tell a story. What is it about this piece that will make someone choose to read and why should they finish? Make sure that the language is compelling and succinct. Avoid jargon. Long sentences demonstrate your lack of clarity. Keep it short.

Practice- It turns out writing is indeed a craft that can only be perfected by writing. You get better at doing what you love. So first, one must fall in love with the idea of writing. It is not a chore but a way of connecting with the inner being. I also learnt that I am my first audience. I should learn to love what I write before sharing it with the world. Writing is also a journey into vulnerability.  One is vulnerable when they put their thoughts on the marketplace of ideas. Others will disagree and even call you names. That too is the beauty of writing.

Here is the cheat sheet.

Write a letter to yourself every day. Start with just five sentences immediately after waking up. Keep on adding the sentences. Share your thoughts. What you want to do. Go along. Enjoy your writing experiences.

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