Unleash your inner raw to captivate your readers
The world is made up of two types of writers: those who jot down words on the page without giving it a second thought, and those who obsess over every sentence they ever publish.
Which one are you?
I have always been the first. Writing is pleasure, editing is torture. I write as I speak, fast and without much thinking. Is it always good? No. But it’s always true.
Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.
— Henry David Thoreau
But the Internet is full of writing advice suggesting you should lean towards the second approach. Write catchy headlines, start with something that grabs the reader’s attention, provide useful information to the reader, finish with an actionable takeaway message. On a microlevel, you can go deeper: use active voice, write short sentences, avoid unnecessary words… The list goes on.
If you follow all these rules, you will create the perfect piece of content. A story that includes every necessary ingredient for a delicious, successful, beautiful end product. But will you?
Imagine this: you must spend the next fifteen minutes reading and you can choose between two stories:
- A story about the benefits of becoming vegan, that follows all the rules but doesn’t “have a soul”
- A story also about the benefits of becoming vegan, that ignores all the rules but has sweat and blood in it. It starts with a tale about the time the author saw a chicken being killed on a farm, and it ends up at the Christmas table, where the turkey was replaced by tofu
Which one will you choose? I choose #2, anytime.
Make the reader feel something
Jack Kerouac wrote his most famous book, “On The Road”, in 3 weeks. A 320 page-long masterpiece only came to life in such a short period because he was the master of “spontaneous prose”. And if you write 320 pages in 3 weeks, and you are the master of spontaneous prose, you really do not have the time to obsess over every word and every sentence.
Yet, “On The Road” is one of the most iconic books ever written! It sent thousands of young people on adventures across the country, ever since its publication, in 1957. To this day, it keeps selling over 100,000 copies every year. Why? It makes readers feel something.
This approach is timeless. It didn’t work only in 1957 before we all had access to the Internet and publishing platforms. Tom Kuegler, a successful writer on Medium with 46K followers, published a story where he explains why “he barely edits his articles”. As he puts it, “I write to make you feel something. I don’t want to be technically immaculate. Reading is a magical experience, not a technical one.”
Writing rawly requires some technique
Let’s not confuse writing spontaneously with writing poorly. Following your instincts while writing, rather than editing yourself constantly, doesn’t mean you will create a good, interesting, well-written story.
If your school teachers were anything like mine, you still remember them saying, at the beginning of every exam, that you should set aside some minutes, in the end, to edit and review. I never reviewed anything. I enjoyed writing, not editing.
After university, I started working as a journalist. There was more at stake there, so I pushed myself to edit my own work. I didn’t like it, but by doing so, I realized that I had typos, committed mistakes, and could improve the structure of my texts.
The interesting thing is, the more you write, the more you will get better at writing. You never reach a level where you can let go of editing altogether. But you start to feel your words more and more and develop some deeper sense of what works and what doesn’t. It’s a muscle that can be trained, like any other.
How you can practice being raw
These are not tips you can follow to write better. Instead, these are tips to strengthen your spontaneous writing muscle. Try applying these guidelines to your next story:
- Define the subject
- Think about the different sections your article will contain
- Write a title — you can do it at the end if it doesn’t come easily at first. But having it beforehand helps to set the tone of the text
- Write the first paragraph — as the advice goes, this is important because, as the title, it helps to set the tone
- Write spontaneously all the sections of your article, in a very high-level way, listing ideas and small sentences that come to your mind
- Write spontaneously the whole article, based on what you wrote before, without editing yourself while you do it. You have the structure already, so it is much easier to create an article with some rhythm. This is essential to make the reader feel something
- Edit for a few minutes in the end. This will allow you to catch the mistakes you committed while writing and remove any possibility of your story to seem sloppy.
You should write however works better for you. No rules, or lack of rules, should ever overrule that. If you write for the pleasure of slowly savoring every word, composing beautiful sentences that give you chills when you read them, do so!
But if overthinking your writing is unpleasant, and you do it for the sake of achieving the perfect article, maybe you need to revisit the notion of “perfect”. Don’t let the form get in the way of what you have to say.
You write to convey a message, right? Then get it out there, loud, clear, and as truthful as it can be. Then, you’ll be perfect.