The 100 Best Ways to Becoming a Better Writer. Period.

Crashed Plane

Lists are a dime a dozen. There’s a reason for that.

They work.

Backpacker. Cosmopolitan. Oprah. Men’s Health. Good. Consumer Reports. Wired. You name it, magazines employ lists.

And there are no shortage of lists on the web on how to become a better writer. From Brian Clark’s short but elegant 10 Steps to Becoming a Better Writer to James Altucher’s 33 Unusual Tips to Being a Better Writer.

So why another list on becoming a stronger writer? Good question.

First, this list pulls together as many of the common themes out there under one roof. Advice like No. 20 “Write a blog” or No. 65 “Memorize great speeches and poems.”

Next, and more importantly, I’ve added my own. Originals are always good.

No. 33 “Catch hell for something you do at least once a month” or No. 78 “Develop a wicked vocabulary by reading the King James Bible” are good examples.

But the ultimate aim of a top 100 list like this is to inspire you. To entertain you. And to help you become the best writer you can possibly become.

That’s the name of the game.

So here’s to you and your pursuit of mastering the world’s greatest profession. Enjoy.

1. Read everything Rodale publishes.

2. Learn how to serve people.

3. Write over a thousand words a day.

4. Listen to Ira Glass’ This American Life.

5. Steal ideas from America’s hottest magazines.

6. Handwrite a favorite story or sales letter each month.

7. Cultivate a sick sense of humor.

8. Beg a hot shot writer to mentor you.

9. Email the best writers and ask for advice.

10. Write 100 headlines for every article, sales letter or email you write.

11. Absorb the fifth chapter of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style into your bloodstream.

12. Travel to another country. [Canada doesn’t count.]

13. Take public speaking classes.

14. Master the 4 Ps formula. [Promise. Picture. Proof. Push.]

15. Read Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels in the next five years.

16. Relax.

17. Write yourself silly.

18. Join a local critique group.

19. Learn how to properly respond to criticism. [Hint: Be humble.]

20. Write a blog.

21. Ask questions and take surveys. That’s what Facebook  Google+ is for.

22. Learn a new subject every year.

23. Read 100 books every year.

24. Listen to Astor Piazolla when you write. [He’ll make you smarter.]

25. Tell your children wild stories. Turn those stories into books. Hand draw the pictures.

26. Experiment.

27. Pay attention to what people say–and how they say it.

28. Talk to one stranger everyday.

29. Read 42 Fallacies by Michael LaBossiere.

30. Start a magazine with your 9-year-old daughter.

31. Think like a psychologist.

32. Study the human condition.

33. Catch hell for something you do at least once a month. [More often and the anxiety will kill you. Or you’ll turn into a deviant.]

34. Write a book in 30 days every November.

35. Love your spouse and children with abandon. In that order.

36. Devote one or two days a month to behind-closed door solitary writing.

37. Ignore the phone.

38. Cultivate a refined sense for human desires and emotions.

39. Treat every conversation as if it is your last.

40. Ask people why they behave the way they do. [Could fulfill your “catch hell” requirement at the same time.]

41. Volunteer at a humanitarian organization or help in disaster relief once a year.

42. Read everything you write out loud. Preferably to someone else. Over the phone is fine.

43. Make lists. Long lists.

44. Read Robert Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Influence. When you are finished, close the book and read it again.

45. Learn a new language like Russian or Latin.

46. Do something useless.

47. Remain unpredictable.

48. Dress how you want to dress.

49. Become a stand-up comedian.

50. Study Eugene Schwartz’ book Breakthrough Advertising.

51. Protect your solitude.

52. Eat food and drink wine in the company of family, friends and strangers. [They are what really matters.]

53. Ride the bus or commuter train to work.

54. Interview 100 interesting people in a year.

55. Observe what everyone else is doing and do the opposite.

56. Think like P. T. Barnum.

57. Read 10 surprising books.

58. Draw like a child for 15 minutes a day.

59. Bug your favorite magazines or blogs to let you write for them for free. Who cares if they say no.

60. Offer to evaluate someone else’s writing.

61. Take a course in direct response marketing.

62. Test everything you write.

63. Read every single poem Billy Collins ever wrote.

64. Cry often.

65. Memorize great speeches and poems.

66. Rack up rejections.

67. Set deadlines. And meet them.

68. Stay up to 2 or 3 a.m. once or twice a week. In bed by 8 or 9 the rest.

69. Throw yourself at an impossible challenge.

70. Write like someone’s got a gun to your head.

71. Fetishize learning, not failure.

72. Get weird.

73. Never give up on a goal until you’re broken. Circle around and throw yourself at it again once you’ve recovered.

74. Sell insurance, cars or newspapers face-to-face for two months.

75. Keep a journal.

76. Learn how to please people.

77. Learn how to debate properly.

78. Develop a wicked vocabulary by reading the King James Bible.

79. Edit like David Mamet.

80. Turn into an ultra-long distance walker, hiker or runner.

81. Work as a roofer or bricklayer for the summer, carpenter or plumber for the winter.

82. Study astronomy.

83. Teach people what you know in a small group setting.

84. Stare at the wall. Or ceiling. Or sky.

85. Breathe deeply.

86. Read Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life.

87. Find something that will utterly break your heart or crush your spirit at least twice a year. If not more.

88. Cultivate humility.

89. Forgive liberally.

90. Train your mind to think clearly.

91. Set micro and macro goals. [Use David Allen’s GTD for help.]

92. Vow to win the Nobel Prize by Literature by 2064. Create and print out a fake award letter with your name on it to motivate you.

93. Write like mad.

94. Develop character more than competence.

95. Read George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” essay every New Year’s Day.

96. Read about the tortured lives of novelists, screenwriters and dramatist. You’re life will seem okay.

97. Critic successful plays and movies. Adapat what works.

98. Act in a play.

99. Break rules with purpose.

100. Try to reduce everything you want to write [whether it’s 100 or 100,000 words] into one simple sentence. Think high-concept. Then write.

So tell me, which one was your favorite? And what did I miss?

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  1. says

    Bungee jumping?
    I like your sense of humour, it will probably take me 100 years to go through your list and tons of courage to ignore my fear of altitude, I think I will start with Nr. 52.
    Have a good day, Barbara

  2. says

    Bungee jumping to be a better writer? I like that. And indeed, No. 52 is a great place to start. And not so bad if you get stuck there, too. 😉

    Thanks for stopping by. Hope to hear from you soon.

  3. says

    No.70. For some reason I write like someone’s got a gun to my head.

    I would probably argue sometimes I need to be shot but that’s taking it too far.

    Let’s hope it’s a water pistol.

    • says

      I think that sense of urgency, desperation is a good thing. We tend to risk a lot more, thus uncovering a creative breakthrough or killer sales message. It’s that attitude of “write like your life depends upon it.” Even if it’s a water pistol. 😉

  4. says

    Great list with very interesting and peculiar advice!

    One of my favorites has to be the one about stealing ideas from America’s hottest magazines, although I’m from the UK. But it’s something a learned from a copywriter which brings me to the other point that I liked in your list and agree with, to hand write a favorite story or sales letter.

    If you did miss anything Demian then it doesn’t matter because there is more than enough to get going on being better.