Smack It Up. Flip It. Rub It Down. – Bel Biv Devoe’s Tips To Becoming A Better Writer


Writer’s write. That sentence might seem as if Captain Obvious and Lieutenant Claire. S. Day joined logical forces, but I assure you that the idle hands of any scribe prove this the most tantalizing of self-affirming statements.

The truth is, folks: Writing is so damn hard. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stepped into the ring with my blinking cursor only for  me to be choked into submission in the 2nd Round

Who am I kidding? I cringe at a blank postcard I have to write even though the combination of my horrendous handwriting and the propensity to scribble down my indecipherables in size 18 font means I’m capped at like 3 sentences.

Through the years I have received a lot of writing advice via books, mentors and fortune cookies. At first I wanted to leave you with my “Top 10 Tips To Be A Better Writer” but then I reckoned that you are like me and if you saw 10 tips to help improve your writing, you would immediately stress yourself out over which one you should do first. (Cue: Screaming and running off a cliff.)

So I whittled it down to three. And then I used Bel Biv Devoe’s help to bring them to life, in reverse order. I realize I’m dating myself with this pop reference but I’m going to run with it. I hope these help unlock your mental straightjacket. (If however, you are in an actual straightjacket and can’t seem to write, I believe your solution is much more evident.)


1)    Rub it down; Don’t pre-edit in your head. Edit written words.

Pre-editing feels so good. You get to create your masterpiece without ever having to lift your fingers. You never have to look at words that don’t go together. You never have to fumble with verb agreements or understand what a past participle and a subjunctive isare.

And that is the biggest problem with writing…we try to do most of it in our heads. We think it’s more efficient to cram the final version in our noggin before we spew it on paper, but that is never the case. Our mental literary concoctions always end up looking like an M.C. Escher painting when we try to remember them exactly.

I agree, your actual words won’t look as pretty as they did in your mind, and the constant tap-tap-tap sound of the “delete” key, or the vigorous back and forth of crossing something out will frustrate the hell out of you but real words, real meanings and real messages need to be unearthed with your hands not your head.

You are not Jay-Z. Write your lyrics down. Then rub them down with an eraser.

It always surprises me how much a gimpy first paragraph quickly passes the baton off to three decent paragraphs in no time.

Ok Bassam. So how do I write more?


2)    Flip It; Give yourself a time allotment to write instead of trying to write something in its entirety in one sitting.

This has been the single biggest tool in increasing the amount I write.

Instead of trying to write your manifesto today, flip the thinking and work on your manifesto for 30 uninterrupted minutes.

Writing is trench warfare, not a bullet train. (If you think the battle analogies are much, say hello to Mr. Pressfield, here, here and here.)

You can get a lot more done writing against the clock – knowing that you have a break coming – than if you put the pressure to write your novel by June.

Oh, in case you missed the key to this point, let me bring back the most important word: uninterrupted. No Facebook, no Twitter, no email, no chat windows, no phone, no texts, no TV. I know it’s hard but surprisingly the Laws of Physics don’t cease to exist if we’re not the first to hear about something.

Try to write for 10, 20 or 30 minutes at a time, then take a break. Get words on paper. Concentrate on output instead of impact. You can edit your output later and hammer in your impact.


3)    Smack it up; Use stronger verbs.

I have to give all of this credit to Ash Ambirge on this one. I took her copywriting course and the thing that struck me the most was the “Use Stronger Verbs” sledgehammer to the face bit of advice.

Allow your verbs to paint the scene.

Supplied instead of gave. The rain rapped along the roof as the clouds hammered overhead, instead of: It was raining really hard and the thunder was really loud.

Strong verbs should allow you to reduce adjectives.

Not: He started the race with fiery feet.

But: He shot out of the starting blocks.

Verbs are action and we can visualize action. If your reader can visualize what you’re writing, that means that they can relate to what you’re writing. And if your reader can relate to you, he/she will love you forever and ever.

Just as much as you love me. Right? RIGHT? (cricket…cricket.)


What do you think? What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

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