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What Writing 4,000,000 Words in Three Years Taught Me About the Art of Storytelling

Perhaps — more than anything — that writing is a window to a person’s soul.

Oren Cohen
Oren Cohen
Photo: iStock

Photo: iStock

In January 2017, I finished my first official writing workshop. Several months of weekly classes and lots of white nights doing homework about storytelling, essay-writing, poetry, philosophy, marketing, and much more.

The following month I bought a subscription to Grammarly Premium to never disrespect my words again.

Although I’ve been writing words on the internet since 2005, it wasn’t until 2017 — after I “graduated” — that I shifted my mindset to say, “I’m a writer.”

It was an incredible journey, and still is. A writer’s journey is only complete when they die, and then their readers take their words with them into the unknown future that awaits us all.

I don’t intend to paint myself as an expert. However, I did learn a thing or two after being on this journey for a few years.

In this piece, I aim to share those lessons with you, hoping it may help you on your own creative journey.

Enjoy!

Courses Are Useful But Not Mandatory

Photo: Licensed by the author from  iStock .

Photo: Licensed by the author from iStock.

Many writers take a writing course in their lives. In fact, it’s better to make mistakes and learn from them.

What people usually cannot understand is that “Good writing” doesn’t exist — it’s subjective. “Bad Writing” — unfortunately, does exist.

If the world was binary, anything which isn’t “Bad Writing” would be “Good writing” but that’s not true.

“Bad Writing” is littered with unintentional grammar mistakes. It is hard to read sentences and many other afflictions that occur when a writer doesn’t take the time to read their piece aloud.

From time to time, I look back at my failed attempts at NaNoWriMo and cringe at the quality of my writing back then.

In my defense, those were drafts. My blog posts, those that I published on my late WordPress blog, did not fare better.

Courses help speed up the process at which you realize your mistakes and help remedy some afflictions that make bad writing what it is.

They will help you transform your writing from “Bad” to “less bad”.
But in no way courses are mandatory to become a “less bad” writer.

Ditch the term “Good writer” — it doesn’t exist. The readers that resonate with you call you an outstanding writer — fabulous even. Not everyone will love how you weave words together, just as some don’t like Green or Blue.

Writing courses are not mandatory, but they will speed up the process at which you become “less bad” and your audience discovers you.

Once you become “less bad,” we need to understand how to make it easy for your audience to discover you.

Meet Your Audience Where They Live

Photo: Licensed by the author on  iStock .

Photo: Licensed by the author on iStock.

I wrote literally about a million words on my personal blog as I just started on my journey. Nobody came. As a junior writer, I thought that reflected the quality of my writing — a grim trip to put yourself through when you’re trying to create fresh pieces.

When my technical knowledge grew exponentially (Software Engineering degree), I realized how to check my site’s visitors. The truth came out. Not that people were not resonating with my writing — they just didn’t see it. I had many bot visitors to my website, but humans? Probably counted on one hand.

After that epiphany, I realized I had to look for my readers where they live. I didn’t think of reasonable places like Medium, Wattpad, and similar websites where people publish and read “less bad” writing daily. Instead, I went to Social Media.

While it’s sound reasoning to find your readers by being social, you need to attract readers. I prefer to scour Wattpad for delightful Fiction stories. Medium is a jack of all trades platform. You might find any reader here for your audience.

The readers who want to stay in touch with you will follow you on Social Media. If you want a more personal relationship, allow them to sign up for your email list.

Now, let’s talk about how to help them resonate with you once they discover you.

Let Writing Reflect Your Soul

Photo: Licensed by the author on  iStock .

Photo: Licensed by the author on iStock.

One of the more common afflictions of “bad “ writing is to “hide behind your words.”

I used to do that all the time in the past days of writing. You don’t want to say something embarrassing, so you beat around the bush without mentioning it explicitly. You also don’t want to show you’ve failed because then why should people follow or read you, right?

What we cannot understand before our writing puberty is that people prefer to read someone who failed. They prefer to learn how they grew and learned from failure than to read about a questionable flawless success story.

People resonate with you because you let them get to know you. You were vulnerable and opened up about something sensitive about yourself.

I wrote online about the lessons I learned from suffering a painful cyst in my back in a cringe-worthy essay of reflection. On other occasions, I talked about my struggles with debt and how I felt it was an obstacle in my life that was (and still is) hard to remove.

Looking back, I would never have been able to do that when I just started writing. In simple words: I was too scared.

Yup, too scared to realize someone I know would have read those words and think less of me. But in hindsight, wasn’t I talking about struggles that many people deal with worldwide? Fine, consider what you will of me, familiar face. This is who I am. I’m not hiding it — I just don’t need to flash it wherever I go.

Own who you are without discrimination against yourself — that’s where the best stories come from and the best connections with the people who read you.

Let your soul shine through your words and see the people react by shining theirs.

Understand Your Role in People’s Lives

Photo by  Ben White  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

When I just started writing, many of my pieces sounded like I’m explaining to you why you are not doing something right. I was the expert, and you were at fault.

I knew nothing about the readers back then. I didn’t even know how to attract the readers I was aiming for.

In a writer’s journey, we all understand that the title of a piece is as important as the piece itself. Writing the right title attracts the right audience.

For example, in this piece, I aim for junior and curious writers who want to know what my journey had taught me about our shared practice.

And when these people come to read what I write, I’m being humble about it and sharing a personal experience with them. I think X because Y happened to me.

That’s where storytelling comes in. You use it for so many things. You use it to let people get to know you; you use it to transfer an idea; you use it to teach.

I wrote about vulnerable subjects like personal finance issues, using a personal story to teach something that I agree with. You might disagree with me, and you might also take the story in a different direction.

I wrote the story, but once it’s out there -it becomes ours, not mine.

Be humble about the position they have given you. That’s the lesson my journey had taught me so far. When you genuinely care about people — they will reward you beyond words.

Accept The Curse of Learning

Photo by  Annie Spratt  on  Unsplash

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I try not to look back on pieces I wrote more than a year ago. I always cringe a little.

But sometimes it’s good to feel that cringe, to realize you’ve grown.

I published a short story on the internet over four years ago in a Blogger site. The site itself is already down, but recently I found that story in my Dropbox.

Holy Moly. The problems with my writing back then were too many to count.

This is our curse. You will always want to go back and fix things. But you need to think about the future.

I missed three NaNoWriMos because I couldn’t skip editing until reaching the finish line. You need to suppress those emotions of not feeling inadequate or not good enough. Don’t go back to edit previous work, move on to work on fresh ideas.

Once in a while, it’s good to revisit an old idea and build on it once you’ve grown to know more about the subject. That’s fine, and I did that many times with varying degrees of success.

I think this quote sums it up pretty well:

Photo:  AZQuotes.com

Photo: AZQuotes.com

Let the past stay in the past, your work will only get better in time as you practice. Now, it’s time for the last and most important lesson of all.

Dig Deeper Every day

Photo by  Lucas van Oort  on  Unsplash

Many articles would say to junior writers to keep writing every day. I disagree, and I’ll explain why.

When you keep on writing every day, but you’re at the same emotional level every day, you are not progressing.

Writing every day is a side-effect of asking yourself how you can express emotion better today than yesterday.

For example, in my junior years, I would have expressed sadness by bluntly saying someone was sad. Show don’t tell 101 (that’s usually where courses save you some time by giving you these realizations and not discovering them yourself).

As I advanced, I would have “shown” tears. But then I realized that as you grow up as a writer, you imagine these things in your mind’s eye and realize that perhaps when your character is sad, they walk away glassy-eyed and refuse to break down. They might curl on the couch, disconnect, and watch Netflix all day, they might do something else entirely. They don’t have to simply cry. They. Are. Human.

You just need to dig deeper into yourself and excavate those nuggets from within.

Photo: Licensed by the author on  iStock .

Photo: Licensed by the author on iStock.

Hopefully, by now, you realized that no matter what you do with your writing, keep forming those letters into words. My journey might be unique to me, but the fundamental lesson of growing is the same — you become better at writing by doing it. There’s no other way.

Don’t stop. Reach your limits and break them.

writing