How to learn to write by doing

Ben Steenstra
27 Mar 2019 | 5 mins read

Many people dream of writing a book someday and I was no exception. But how do you learn to write and what is involved? As I started to write more, I also started to believe that learning to write is a matter of writing a lot. Put your pen on the paper or your fingers on the keyboard and keep on writing.

However it can only be useful to keep a few tips in mind to save you a lot of setbacks and frustration. And a small lesson in story telling can never hurt either. Everyone has his or her own approach of learning to write and I am not a guru in this area, but I can share with you how I learned writing and still write.

Everyone can learn how to write

Three tips for when you start writing

Writing is telling a story. Even if you can tell so fascinatingly, if the subject is not fun, it becomes difficult for your audience to keep their attention. That is why my first tip is:

  • TIP 1: Choose a subject that you are passionate about and test whether others might also have or can develop a passion for it.

Even if your subject is not that exciting, you can of course always make it interesting. More important than a fascinating topic, however, is the message that you want to convey. What is it that you want the reader to get or remember after reading your book or article?

  • TIP 2: Always keep in mind the main message that you want to convey and find and write about the examples, anecdotes, opinions or facts that reinforce your message.

When you start writing, keep writing until your fingers hurt. The art after that is to scrape until what remains is really good. Sometimes the example is good, but it does not sound nice and sometimes the anecdote, opinion or fact is not very strong, but by the way of telling it reinforces your main message.

  • TIP 3: Dare to delete more than half of what you have written. Of the thousand words you write, perhaps only 500 are needed to make clear to the reader what you mean. Less is always better if you use the best part of what you wrote.

Meaningful profit > I am not alone in the world.

In 2010 I wrote about 230 pages in 2 weeks about how I saw the ideal company for me with the title: “I am not alone in the world”. I actually had no intention of making a book out of it. The reason was that as an entrepreneur I was frustrated that many of my former employees did not fully understand my ideal image of a company. By putting all facets on paper, I hoped that after reading, it would be better understood what revolution I wanted to create. Gradually a book formed in my eyes and when it was finished I had only 1 thought: And now what!?

Delete and write and do it again

I was afraid to let anyone read it, because who was I? Yet I gathered my courage and gave the manuscript to 2 strangers and 2 acquaintances. The days passed and when I received the first feedback 5 days later, It turned out that I still had a long way to go before a readable book would be published. The reader literally had to struggle through the pages to understand something of it. So that was a reason to delete and rewrite!

With the help of Wassili Zafiris and [Aranka van der Pol](), we decided to keep the core message, but to turn the content completely upside down. Every example and anecdote, opinion and fact was put under a magnifying glass and more than half was deleted or replaced by better content.

It can always do better

8 months later there was a second version and this started to form quite a book. Because we were all three busy and the book project was an in-between project, we could only spend a full week on it once in a while. After we met again after a few weeks, we started reading the book from front to back and unanimously came to the same conclusion. This could be better!

Again we decided to test all subjects against the main subject and to omit or replace everything for better content. Chapters were overturned and hundreds of hours of writing were destroyed in an afternoon and then redone again in the following weeks.

Third time's the charm

The third version was a version that made us proud. Not that we were finished, but it had become a legibly clear story. We discussed all the content once more and with little changes the book could be published.

Writing is doing a lot and daring to do it again. If you also want to learn how to write or if you want tips from other professional writers, contact one of the writers on TheONE instantly via Live Video Chat.

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