How to Improve as a Writer

Showing up is half of the battle, and I’m happy that I’ve built a habit of showing up every day to write. But that doesn’t automatically equate to improvement. Doing something regularly, one runs the risk of taking the process for granted and becoming passive. And as the saying goes: "If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten."

So I’ve been thinking about how to take a more active approach on improving. I hope to apply this framework to other crafts (or what I consider crafts) in the future: cooking and eating well, training and physical fitness, meditating, ..

Here are some thoughts:

First: measure.

You optimize what you measure. It’s important to have on-going measurements which are concrete and which track underlying goals. Deciding on and instrumenting for measurement is non-trivial. In the case of writing, I need to think about which metrics track my goals. Potential candidates are personal stats like time spent writing, or blog statistics such as page views or newsletter subscribes.

Second: seek feedback.

In writing, it is of utmost importance to regularly solicit and incorporate feedback from others. This could manifest as the hiring of a professional editor, or simply asking friends whose writing you respect. I haven’t done this as much, and will do more.

Third: learn from others.

It’s important to leverage the existing knowledge base to inform ones approach. This is why good writers read a lot. Sure, if you are a rigorous experimenter, you should technically be able to build your own unique approach from first principles without relying on the status-quo. Even so, you will likely reach a more inspired endpoint by incorporating ingredients from others. To address this, I’m going to soon focus on building a regular habit of reading.

While writing this, I noticed that these points fit vaguely within the product-development cycle: define your goals, research and generate hypothesis on what will and won’t work, design and execute on an experiment, and measure the results both qualitatively and quantitatively. The challenge with improving at lifestyle crafts (like writing, nutrition, fitness, and meditation) is that the process cannot be too demanding. It needs to be maintained on an on-going basis.

This is a work-in-progress. I will investigate and write a follow-up post in two weeks (on Sunday, July 23rd) as an update.

Please let me know if you have any ideas!