I have gotten complacent in my writing.
After 3 years of writing every day, I have stagnated. This sucks because not only is writing my greatest passion, but it's also the foundation of my personal and business growth. If I improve my writing, I improve everything else.
I believe great writing has the potential to break readers out of their normal patterning of the world and into the sublime.
Poets do this. Great fiction writers do this. But rarely do self-help, industry gurus, or many other non-fiction writers do this.
The question is how can we learn this skill?
After reading Eric Anderson's book Peak, I have come to realize: I and many other educational content creators like me are stagnating in writing because they aren't purposefully practicing.
Purposeful practice is defined in Ander Ericson's fantastic book Peak as a specific, structured form of practice intended to improve performance.
Out of all the aspects of purposeful practice, the most crucial is stepping outside of your comfort zone. If you don't step outside of your comfort zone, you can't improve at any skill. Think of it like progressively overloading in the gym. Without slowly increasing in weight, rep, or quality of form, as you get more muscular and strong, you won't grow.
That's why I'm stagnating in my writing.
I haven't done purposeful practice inside of it for a while. I have gotten complacent. Writing things in the same voice, with the same argumentative style and vocabulary.
The question was, how do I apply purposeful practice to my writing?
Surprisingly the answer came from Benjamin Franklin.
We now know Benjamin Franklin as one of the greatest writers of history writing classics such as Poor Richard's Almanac and The Way To Wealth. But he didn't always used to be like this. According to Ander's Ericson, Benjamin Franklin was a average writer until her purposefully practices using a custom made system.
Benjamin Franklin, in his autobiography, describes his self-devised methods to improve his writing skills, inspired by the quality of writing in The Spectator magazine.
Reproduction Exercise: Franklin would summarize sentences from The Spectator articles, wait a few days, and then try to recreate the articles from these summaries. This wasn't about copying verbatim but creating his own detailed and well-written pieces. Comparing his work with the originals, he learned to express ideas clearly.
Vocabulary Enhancement: To address his limited vocabulary, Franklin transformed Spectator articles into poetry, requiring diverse word usage due to rhythm and rhyme constraints. Later, he would convert these poems back into prose, enhancing his ability to recall a variety of words quickly.
Structure and Logic Improvement: Franklin improved the structure and logic of his writing by writing hints for each sentence on separate papers, mixing them up, and then trying to reorder them logically before rewriting the articles. This helped him understand how to logically organize thoughts in writing.
Through using Benjamin Franklin's system, my writing is improving drastically.
I started by defining my favorite writers: Nicolas Cole, Tim Urban, Matthew Dicks, Dan Koe, and Brandon Sanderson.
Then I saved my favorite pieces from them, read through 2-3 at a time summarizing them along the way in my own words. A few days later I rewrote their pieces in my own words and compared and contrasted them to the original piece.
After doing this process for a few weeks, I started to notice some recurring themes in what I loved about my favorite authors:
Incredible musicality. They mix short and long sentences together to create writing that reads like music. Sometimes they are punchy, sometimes they are airy.
Frequently use analogies and metaphors to help you understand novel ideas.
Vivid language. Stuff that makes people see things in their head.
Rhetorical questioning to spark interest, awe, and wonder
Use images to spark awe, wonder, and curiosity, as well as break text up
Use sources throughout my writing and embed links in footnotes
Tie the introduction back in the conclusion
Make the main idea of the article very clear with its own header, bold, or something else
Use more buts, ands, and therefores.
It's only been a few weeks of doing this practice, but I can already see notable differences in the quality of my writing both in argumentative strength and emotionality. When my video editor Dan read my 2023 annual review he said, "Aidan, this is a GREAT read! Almost like I'm reading your book. Seeing hearing, touching like I was there. Vivid imagery through your words. Wisdom is raining. Experience is pouring. And dang, 2023 sure was a good year we can't ignore!" Another friend from Cornell, Manyu, said "reading this was fucking awesome. And you're fucking awesome. I am proud to call you a friend."
The power of writing my friends.
Franklin's purposeful practice system isn't all I'm doing to improve my writing; here are three other small things I'm doing you can implement as well.
Firstly I'm prioritizing creation over consumption.
Usually, I write a ton in the mornings, but I start consuming more in the afternoons or evenings. This allowed me to read 100+ books in 2023, but that's not going to help me improve my writing as much as just writing more. So I will write for 5 minutes every time I feel like consuming out of the evening to encourage more writing.
Simply writing more should help me implement the things I learn using Benjamin Franklin's system.
Secondly, I'm transforming my book club with my friend Chris into a writing club where we will practice writing short story fiction.
In fiction, you use more imagery, storytelling, and characters. The favorite writers I listed up above all have dabbled with writing fiction despite being predominantly non-fiction writers (except for Brandon Sanderson). They understand the power writing fiction can have on developing your emotional resonance.
I hope to build the same ability.
Third and finally, I need to find a person or group where I can get feedback on my writing.
For all of my writing journey, I haven't had someone I can do it alongside because no one I know loves writing as much as I do. Getting outside feedback is one of the essential parts of improving writing, so I need to find someplace or someone I can do this with.
If you have made it this far in the blog post, you might be a great candidate 🤣. Email email@example.com with why you want to improve your writing, what you write about, and I'll be sure to get back to you.
Using Benjamin Franklin's system for improving his writing, and these three other things, I'm supercharging my writing for my educational content creation. I have stopped my years long stagnation and finally and improving my argumentation strength and emotional resonance. This will help me understand myself better and help me influence others to make positive transformations more effectively.
Check out my FREE College Content Creator Resource List. It includes all of the resources I wish I had when I was getting into content creation 3 years ago. You'll find the best creators to follow for content creation advice, my best curated resources on content creation, and the best resources I have consumed on content creation.