A Non-Writer’s Guide to Owning Writing

So you have to write. Maybe it’s a term paper. Maybe it’s a cover letter. Either way, you’ve got to communicate with something other than emojis, dog gifs or your mouth. Staring at a blank page is intimidating for everyone, even people who get paid to write. So, how can you not only write something but write something well? 

Here are some tips to get you started.

  • Tell the Truth

In my opinion, what separates a writer from a non-writer is not a passionate opinion about the Oxford comma, but the willingness to tell the truth.

To do this, you may have to wade through some levels of bullshit that your brain will naturally offer up. You may want to talk about “Why I Had the Best Summer of My Life,” but a better essay will come out of acknowledging the harder truths about your summer. Conflict is at the heart of storytelling. Watch Finding Nemo if you don’t believe me.

Figure out what you truly want to say beneath all the pressure to impress, reassure or entertain. What you’ll find is probably more vulnerable, but that’s what people will connect with.

  • Say Something New and Say It Simply

Writers don’t just repeat popular points of view or “learned ideas” in sexy ways. They surface something new, raw and maybe even provocative. If you’re telling the truth, you probably do have something original to say. After all, your perspective isn’t just valid and worthwhile—it’s unique.

Resist the urge to reiterate your point, hoping at least one way of saying it will make sense. If you’re not used to being listened to (cuz, sexism), you may have developed a habit of repeating yourself. Instead, go the other way. Put words on a page and then think, what can I cut out? Make friends with your delete button.

  1. Write the Way You Actually Talk

You don’t have to be academic, precious, or formal to be a good writer. In fact, don’t try to be those things, unless you’re writing about The Iliad for school or composing cards for Hallmark.

Instead, write with the same words you’d use out loud with a friend. You can even be like Carrie Bradshaw and make up words if you want. And by all means, use contractions. Writing does not sound natural if you do not use contractions! (See?)

  • Think Visually

Does what you have to say lend itself to an unusual format? Should it be broken into sections with catchy headers? How can you add intrigue from a visual standpoint, not just with your words?

When it comes to your prose, try to add sensory imagery where you can. Look at pictures that can remind you of details your brain may have forgotten.

  • When Blocked, Do Research

Some great writers say they procrastinate by doing research into their subject matter when they don’t feel like writing. Use your creative paralysis productively.

Your life can also be research. Do something interesting if you have nothing to write about. When it comes to creative writing, I always say, write about what you know, or what no one knows. So, you know, millennial romance or alien invasions. Community college or dystopian futures. Traveling to Italy or getting stuck in purgatory. That’s better than a forced attempt to share someone else’s experience.

  • Have Fun

The best way to write originally is to tap into that part of your brain devoted to fun. You’ll be more likely to think laterally, to try new phrases and to remember sensory details. Worry less about avoiding clichés and more about inflecting your writing with passion and excitement. It will show. Bonus: Try collaborating with a friend who makes you laugh. That’s one of my favorite ways to write.

I hope these tips helped! Everyone has a story to tell—don’t let the idea that “you’re not a writer” stop you from sharing yours.

Image from Piccsy.com

Becky Lang is a writer, creative director and occasional podcaster living in Minneapolis.

She also likes to draw dogs and female protagonists.