The Yardstick of Writing Improvement

How to measure your writing progress.

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How do you know if you’re a better writer today than you were yesterday?

A reader of this newsletter sent me on a journey to think deeply about this question. In her own words “I am a novice writer and I want to major in creative writing, but I don't know how to start. They are so many books to read, so many online courses, so many advice and all. I honestly don't know how to be a better writer than I was yesterday.”

On paper, it sounds like an easy question. One should be able to measure their writing skill the way athletes measure their speed or singers their vocal dexterity. But in reality, it’s not as easy for writers.

Writing is so broad. It’s intellectual work and to limit the art to a certain metric will be doing yourself a disservice. But the beauty of this is that writing in itself is a way to answer this question. Follow me.

“All the information we have available only increases our stress levels and diminishes available time. We consume much more than we create, we read much more than we think, and it should be the other way around.

We have to make sure we consume the things that truly matter to us, but only so that we have time to create something that matters to someone else.

– Roberto Estreitinho

To gauge our progress, we can start with the people who are at the level we want to be. For me, that’s the likes of David Perell and James Clear. But why do I recognize them as top writers? What is the most recurring pattern among writers like them?

I’ve done my research. All of them do this one thing best. They publish to a standard. Great writers are great publishers. It’s the reason you know them. Hemmingway writes for four hours every day but what truly makes him acclaimed is the quality of his books.

Not all Seth Godin’s books or daily blog bangs yet he’s regarded as one of the very best of his time. Why? He prolifically published his way into writing hall of fame. What was the biggest accelerator of James Clear’s growth?:

The benchmark of writing improvement is the quality of your output.

Your routine is important because of your output.

The content you consume is important because of your output.

Everything else you do will be measured on this —“Will you do whatever it takes to publish?

I write terrible first drafts, but whenever I need to publish, I do whatever it takes to make it as presentable as I can and to offer the most value at that moment.

I hit the mark on some days, other times, I don’t. I know I’m a better writer because, through fair criticism, I can spot the difference between those days and improve on it next time around.

My essays go through multiple feedback loops with my friends. Every research I do is directed towards improving the outlook of the finished product. In turn, my skill improves, but I just want to publish to help people.

If whatever I publish is better in terms of content and value to readers than it was yesterday, I have improved. So if people stopped reaching out to me with good feedback, then its time to call 911.

Because I want more people to find my work appealing, I learn how to use line breaks and images so it’s more aesthetic. I want them to read the full piece so I learn how to write good introductions. I don’t want them to close the page in boredom, so I try to write clearly and inject my personality. It’s so much work but I know my end goal.

If you’re just starting, my biggest advice to you is to put yourself out there first. Forget your skill level. Have a story you want to tell people and then tell it as best as you can. Pride yourself on doing this repeatedly and watch your flower bloom.

Improvement can not happen in a vacuum.

You have a fantastic opportunity here because of the internet. Never before could you get immediate feedback on this scale. Shakespeare will kill Romeo again to have this.

So stop putting pressure on yourself to become a fantastic writer at first. Instead, embrace all your quirkiness at writing and be ruthless in your ambition to become a sensei at publishing.

Good writing is public. You do whatever it takes to get your story out. Let your progress be measured by readers(this doesn’t have to be an audience. It is any sincere person you can give your work to review). You are not a good critic of your work. You can’t see how talented you are. One of the biggest handicaps of creatives is we become too familiar with our own greatness.

If you never run in the Olympics, you’d never know if you have what it takes to win gold.

For online writers, the Olympics is the internet and your readers are the finish line. As runners do everything it takes to get to the line faster, we should do everything it takes as well to shine a light for our readers. The best writers are reader-inclined.

To write is human, to publish is greatness. Every time you publish and work on the feedback you receive, you move one step closer to your peak.

Here comes the trick. Don’t miss this.

Without publishing, you will be overwhelmed with where to improve or how to start. It’s like playing darts blindfolded. Multiple arrows, no target in sight. You can’t guesswork your way to growth.

As Nat Eliason puts it ‘Procrastination is usually a symptom of unclear next steps or insufficiently easy next steps.” The clarity that comes from feedback is everything you need to measure and improve your skill level.

When you put yourself out there and publish, you’ll spot gaps in your craft that you’ll be intentional about enhancing… Armed with this knowledge, you can now “Learn like an athlete.”

What does this mean? When you know exactly what to improve, you can create a plan and only take advise that aligns with your end goal. So you’re not taking any action or consuming content because an internet guy said so, you’re doing it because it presents a path towards that goal.

Whether that’s working with a coach or creating a routine or writing challenge, you take concrete steps to become a better writer.

“So how do I know I’m a better writer today than I was yesterday”? You know you’re improving when the quality of your output today, is better than it was at any time in the past. How you define ‘better’ is up to you. The yardstick for writing improvement is at the tip of your feedback mechanism.

Writing is a subplot. Publish to learn. Get feedback to improve.

I hope I’ve answered the question as best as I can (at this moment)

Till next time,

Keep writing,


PS: You can still jump on a call this week and the next with me! Love to get to know you or help in any way I can. Use the button below to schedule a time. So pumped to speak soon!

Hangout with AO!