Donald Miller has crafted an impressive background in writing expertise.
He is the author of Blue Like Jazz, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, and most recently, Scary Close. His style is comfortable, conversational, and clear, all the while delivering profound, valuable content.
There are many concrete writing tips we can learn from Donald, but some of his most important advice is aimed at targeting your mindset. You see, writing is a creative pursuit, whether you’re writing a novel, a book about theology, or a book about business strategy. You’re creating content–pulling the right words from the ones milling around your head, organizing those words into sentences someone can actually understand, forming those sentences into a chapter, and fitting the chapter into a cohesive whole. The right mindset is critical to this creative pursuit. Without it, you’ll struggle to create solid content, or might never even finish the writing you set out to do. Let’s look at Donald’s advice.
1. Love Your Reader
According to Donald, some of the most important writing advice he can give is this: Love your reader. More than any writing hacks, how-tos, style tips, or grammar rules, caring about your reader’s best interest will always help your writing turn out better.
Why? Loving your audience affects every area of your writing. If you’re struggling to motivate yourself to write, thinking about your reader will encourage you to put the work in so you can share your message and impact lives. Don't feel like editing? Ask yourself if that rough draft you threw down in an hour is clear, thorough, and a joy for people to read.
Think of your writing not just as a way to market your services or spread your agenda, but as a way to serve others and add value to their lives.
2. Remove That from Your Writing
This tip is a simple one to apply. That often causes your writing to sound weak. It adds wordiness because it forces you to throw in whole phrases where one word is better. It can make your writing sound as if you’re trying a little too hard to sound intelligent.
A simple trick is to write your rough draft, then use the search feature to find all uses of that. Take out any uses you don't need, and remember you can always reword the sentence. (I did this same search before posting this article. I found three!)
3. Use Verbs Instead of Adjectives
Did your high school English teacher ever write, “Show, don't tell,” on your paper?
This is an important rule of thumb in fiction and even in non-fiction writing. In fiction, don't tell the reader the weather was bad, but show the weather by mentioning the rain, dark clouds, and so on. In non-fiction, show by providing application for your reader, making sure you aren't giving them principles without explaining how to put those principles into action.
However, in the quest to make writing descriptive, it’s easy to go too far and end up with flowery descriptions, excessive adverbs, and weak writing. So, Donald recommends turning adjectives into verbs. In other words, use the action of the story to describe the setting, the emotions, the events. Keep the reader engaged by moving the action forward and using verbs to describe, instead of stringing adjective after adjective together.
4. Use Twitter to Test Your Book Idea
Wondering whether anyone will care about your book topic? Put together a list of quotes relating to the content you’re considering, and tweet them over the next few days and weeks. Observe how your audience interacts with the content. Do they favorite the tweet? Share it? Ask questions? Or, do you hear only crickets?
If a tweet generates positive feedback, file it and then compare notes once you’ve released all of your test posts. If you see consistent interaction about a general topic, you know the topic is addressing a need your audience has.
5. Keep Yourself Motivated
A final piece of advice from Donald: remind yourself why you’re doing your work. Anyone working on a project of value “knows the frustration of having to get up every day and push that cart up the hill.”
There will be days when you don't want to move your writing forward–remember everyone goes through this. Remind yourself every day of people who have overcome adversity in order to accomplish the work they know they are called to do. Join a writing group so you have a community of people around you who understand your struggle and how to help you. Cultivate a circle of friends who will encourage you, who work hard themselves and encourage you as you pursue your goals.
Finally, as mentioned earlier, love your reader, and let that love remind you every day why you’re doing this work.
Put Donald’s Advice into Action
Take out that unless you need it to avoid a misreading, and write strong sentences with action-packed verbs. If you’re working on a new book topic, try tweeting out some sentences and observing the response you receive. Cultivate a mindset of love for your reader and continual motivation to get your message out.
These tips will place you on the path to writing in a clear, comfortable, and conversational tone.