You Need These 2 Keys to Write Brilliantly (And One is Greater Than the Other)

“I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within.” — Gustave Flaubert

Have you ever stared at your computer screen in frustration, unable to write words that work?

Have you ever thrown your writing out onto the World Wide Web, only to have it get zero attention?

Have you ever doubted your calling as a writer, wondering why you decided to take up this self-immolating task rather than try something a bit less painful, like shark farming?

Why is writing well so dang hard? And how can you get (much, much) better at it?

There Are Two Keys to “Good Writing”

“Good writing excites me, and makes life worth living.” — Harold PinterClick To Tweet

There are two aspects of quality to any art:

Content and Style.

Content refers to the ideas behind the art. In other words, “what you are promoting.”

Craftsmanship refers to the way the ideas are portrayed. Another way of saying this is “how you are promoting [the thing]”

You can classify all writing in one of four ways:

  1. Good content, bad craftsmanship: These are the ideas people need to hear, but because it comes badly “wrapped,” it often gets ignored.
  2. Bad content, good craftsmanship: This is the worst, “fake news” type of writing that catches on quickly but does a great deal of harm as it spreads.
  3. Bad content, bad craftsmanship: This is actually less dangerous than type 2 because even though the content is poor, no one pays it any attention because it has no credibility or attraction.
  4. Good content, good craftsmanship: This is the creme-de-la-creme of writing.

It’s ideal to always stay in Category 4, of course, but if you have to sacrifice one for the other, always focus on creating good content first.

For example: I first learned about WWII hero Desmond Doss when I read a biography written by his wife Frances.

Unfortunately the book was riddled with grammar and punctuation mistakes other issues…because Frances Doss was not a writer by trade.

But the content of Doss’ biography (the story of the first conscientious objector who saved 75+ lives without a single weapon) was so incredible that I couldn’t stop reading.

It is the content, the idea, that matters most.

Are Writers Putting the Cart Before the Horse?

Unfortunately, in this day and age, we seem to be leaning more and more leaning on style and ignoring content.

Fake news abounds, and in many forums, the loudest, most persuasive voices win the day — whether or not their message is worth hearing.

It seems as if you learn how to do any art with skill, people will pay attention to you, no matter what kind of content your art is portraying.

But there is a problem with this.

Because content matters.

You can be an extremely skilled artist, for instance. But if you spend all of your time drawing horrifically ugly pictures of gore and garbage, what good is that?

Likewise, you can study human psychology, headlines, and writing techniques and become extremely good at what you do. But if you use those powers to promote harmful, unhealthy ideas, it would be better if you never wrote a word in the first place.

Craftsmanship is Still Critical

On the other hand, if you have an important message, you can’t rely on the brilliance of the idea alone to get it out to the people who need to hear it — not in this noisy internet age.

First, make sure your content is true and worth spreading, then second, learn how to spread it using the right stylistic strategies.

Without the first (good content) anything you do is worthless.

Without the second (good style) your message will not reach the people it should.

If you want to be a brilliant  writer, you need to become skilled at both, but in the right order. 😉

How to Write Great Content: Don’t Be “True to Yourself”

“Unhealthy introspection is a daily threat to our joy” — Jared MellingerClick To Tweet

So how do you come up with great content?

Some people say you should “write what you know,” “be true to yourself,” etc., etc.

That advice is helpful, to some extent. But remember:

Humans are complex creatures. You are a complex creature.

You have contradictory impulses within you:

  • You want to be good, but you also want to be bad.
  • You want to be seen, but we want to hide.
  • You value one thing, but also value its exact opposite.
  • You want to fit in, but want to stand out.

So trying to stay “true to yourself” can sometimes feel like an exercise in futility.

What, after all, is “yourself?”

Is it your feelings, or your beliefs, or what others say, or your desires…all of which, at times, can contradict each other?

Philosophers have struggled with this question for ages, and I’m not about to come up with an answer in a few minutes.

But here’s a tip for writers:

Don’t focus on writing what is “true to yourself.” Focus on writing what is true, period.

You are constantly growing and changing. Your opinions change, your understanding of the world changes, everything about you changes sooner or later. Even things you firmly believe in now may change in the future.

So stop trying to figure out yourself. Or rather, go ahead and introspect a little now and then, but don’t overdo it.

If you do, and write about it, your writing will likely turn twisted and cramped and confused.

We do not live in a relativistic world. We can’t completely define our own reality.

We have misunderstandings all the time, of course, but there is always a Truth underneath seemingly confusing situations.

Yes, some things are mere opinion — you can write about your favorite foods, people can disagree with you, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But if you want to be the most powerful of brilliant writers, focus on writing about objective truths.

There’s a reason, after all, that there are only a few basic storylines, and pretty much every story in the world is some variation of those basic plots. Truth doesn’t change.

Write about true stories — yours or others’, proven strategies that really help people (not just vague theories), interesting facts that matter (not mere opinions).

You may be wrong (that’s why you need to keep learning and researching and growing) or people may disagree with you, but that’s okay. Just apologize, rewrite, and keep going. It’s a learning process.

Writing Craftsmanship: Popularity is a Double-Edged Sword

'Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value. '— Albert EinsteinClick To Tweet

Good craftsmanship helps writing become popular. So if you want to be a popular writer, you will need to spend some time working on style. Study the current popular writers and soak in their words. Look at their headlines, their structure, their word choice. Take their classes. Read their best works. Absorb their voice.

But be careful.

It’s not bad to be popular. But it is also not a perfectly good thing, either.

Being a popular writer means that:

  • You have more people paying attention to your ideas and words.
  • You are more able tomake a living off your writing so that you can spend time focusing on your writing.
  • You have more influence over your world/society.

…which all sound like good things, but only if:

  • You have the character and ability to handle that kind of public scrutiny.
  • You won’t let popularity distract you from your main goal or pervert you/your writing. (We all want to be liked, we all care what others think about us. If you think you aren’t greatly affected by other people’s opinions, be very, very careful)

Learning the tips and tricks of writing in an appealing style can help you become popular, regardless of your content.

But that’s not always helpful — for you or for others.

People who work hard to achieve success end up doing better than people who accidentally hit success overnight, because the process of working for success changes a person.

It helps you develop maturity, sound ethics, a healthy perspective, all traits which help them to deal with the increased pressure that comes with success and fame.

So if you are a popular writer with all the benefits that come with that, congratulations — stay humble, stay wise, stay the course that led you there.

And if you are not yet a popular writer, you can be if you work hard at it. But for now, be grateful that you aren’t yet, because you probably aren’t ready yet.

But you can be, in time.

The Great Responsibility of Writers

'Each of us must work for his own improvement and, at the same time, share a general responsibility for all humanity, our particular duty being to aid those to whom we think we can be most useful.' — Marie CurieClick To Tweet

As a writer, you must know that your words have incredible power. Every book or article you write has the potential to change someone’s life permanently.

The scary thing is, you don’t know which book or article is going to do the trick.

So every article you write must be…not perfect, but must reflect the honest, positive influence you want to have on the world.

Remember this, always:

Your writing should serve and benefit people —both yourself AND others.Click To Tweet

Why Do You Write?

'Very few people…can articulate WHY they do WHAT they do. By WHY I mean your purpose, cause, or belief…WHY do you get out of bed every morning? And WHY should anyone care? '— Simon SinekClick To Tweet

If you see writing as just a for-fun hobby to dabble in, and not show others, then this article isn’t for you.

But if you see writing as an incredibly powerful tool and want to use it to change things for the better — your life, other people’s lives, the world — then the above tips may be important for you to consider.

We all write for different reasons. My two main reasons for writing is to:

  1. Change/heal the world — or at least the people in my corner of it
  2. Change/heal myself

I first started writing online when I had friends going through challenging life situations. I wanted to help them by promoting positive stories online.

Later, when I was forced to face new challenges, writing became therapy, a way to figure out what’s going on inside and outside, a way to remind myself of goodness in the midst of darkness.

Now, I have firmly returned to writing and my two original goals, which build off one another.

Now, it’s your turn: What are your goals for writing?

Try articulating it, in writing, and put it somewhere so that you can remind yourself of it daily, as you write.

Writing is Difficult, Thank God

'Quit or be exceptional. Average is for losers.' — Seth GodinClick To Tweet

Writing well is difficult.

  • Learning to find and recognize good ideas is difficult.
  • Figuring out how to promote your ideas properly is difficult.
  • Coming up with ideas to write about regularly is difficult.
  • Putting those ideas into words is difficult.
  • Finding people who are willing to help you spread your ideas is difficult.

But thank God it is difficult.

This way, only those who are truly dedicated to the art, only those who have a burning message to share, will do the hard work and have the persistence to actually write.

Everyone else will quit.

Granted, that’s not an absolute (very few things are).

  • There will always be people out there, passionate about harmful things, who will try to use the power of writing for nefarious purposes.
  • There will always be people who perhaps mean well, but may be mistaken about what ideas are actually worth spreading.

Your job as a writer is to be a champion truth and good ideas, to prevent those who are mistaken or who are deliberately promoting bad ideas from getting the upper hand.

So it’s a wonderful thing that writing is hard, and many people quit. Because that gives you the opportunity to shine.

If your heart is in the right place, you are writing for the right reasons, and you are willing to learn, you’ll grow stronger and better as a writer and as a human. Your words will make a real positive difference in other people’s lives. Your writing will change the world for good, and you will be a truly Brilliant writer.

Ready to be a Brilliant Writer?

I’ve created The Brilliant Writer Checklist to help you clarify your message, reach more readers, and change the world with your words. Get your free copy here:

5 thoughts on “You Need These 2 Keys to Write Brilliantly (And One is Greater Than the Other)”


    Thanks for writing this inspirational and instructive post. Since words are powerful, writing should never be pursued as a casual and perfunctory hobby.

  2. Hi Mukundarajan,

    I think there is a place for people who want to pursue writing as a hobby. It’s okay not to take it too seriously, but you should know that is the case, starting out. If you want to be serious, you can’t act like a hobbyist writer. But if you want to be a hobbyist writer, and only write for yourself and your family/friends, don’t expect to get the kind of results that professionals get 🙂 Either is fine, just know what the consequences are. And above all, whether you are being serious or just writing as a hobby, whether you have an audience of 2 million or an audience of 2…write what edifies and helps people–yourself and others. That’s my mission, anyway!

  3. Sarah. Your post is inspiring, for writers and those who don’t, won’t or can’t. I love to write, paint, play music and pursue every moment alive with the same passion. Success or failure aren’t measured by content and craftsmanship alone, only or otherwise. Life is shared first or not at all.

  4. This is probably one of the most inspiring articles about writing I have ever read! Thank you, Sarah, for creating such a well-thought-out piece of gem – so full of nuggets, ‘brilliant’ advice, and good teaching.

    My kind regards

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