Great Writing is Not Written…It’s Assembled

Prolific writer Stephen King once said,

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”Click To Tweet

But many people read and write a lot, with minimal results. Perhaps you are one of them. Perhaps you’ve thought to yourself:

Why aren’t people reading what I write? How come all my hard work isn’t working?

What do those successful writers have that I don’t?

The answer: a system.

You see, reading and writing “a lot” is just the foundation of a writing life.

Sure, you can read a lot and write a lot and perhaps eventually you’ll stumble on something that works for you. But are there ways of learning faster, short-cutting your progress so that you can become a good writer sooner?


I recently learned a couple very practical lessons from two established modern writers that were quite helpful to me — and hopefully to you.

The Notecard System

The first tip comes from author Ryan Holiday, who in turn learned and adapted this system from his mentor Robert Greene.

The way this works:

  • Read. A lot.
  • As you read, underline, dog-ear, sticky-note any quotes or ideas that you want to remember or use for your next writing project.
  • Transfer those thoughts onto note cards, and file them by category — you make up the categories. (Make sure you note where you found the quotes so you can attribute them properly).
  • If the quote/info fits multiple categories, make an extra card. You can also color code it.

I have to admit, I don’t completely follow Holiday’s system of organizing quotes with index cards. Rather, I digitize.

I usually read books on a screen, which allows me to highlight using different colors, and also type notes on the book itself.

Then, my method of “transferring” my notes is to write book notes, which I then highlight and add more notes to.

That’s just me, though. You may prefer sticking more closely to Holiday/Greene’s system because you prefer the tactile aspect of organizing idas on note cards. Whatever works.

Okay, now that you’ve gathered material and ideas to write, how do you decide which ones to use?

That brings us to our second writing tip:

When to Write, Discard, or Postpone Your Ideas

This next part of the system comes from Derek Halpern. We all have thousands of ideas a day, but after collecting those ideas and quotes, how do you know which ones to share?

Just ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Is there research on this topic, or did I have a personal breakthrough with it?
  2. Do I have an opinion about this?
  3. What are the key takeaways I want readers to have? Good articles either give readers a clear action to take or include at least a CTA (call to action) such as: leave a comment — what do you think?

If your answer is “yes” to the first two questions, and you know the answer to question #3, start writing.

If your answer is “no” or “not yet,” then either postpone or discard the idea.

Good Writing is Assembled

Nobody pulls perfect writing out of thin air.

“There is nothing new under the sun,” after all, and all ideas are built on previous ones.

That’s why the best writers have a system for assembling their writing, by:

  1. Gathering LOTS of good ideas from various sources, and
  2. Choosing the BEST ideas to develop and transform into an article or book.

Good writing takes work. It takes a process. Even when you’re not aware of the process, there is a process.

So if you don’t have a working process of your own, yet, take a page from these two established writers, and give their systems a try. Feel free to play with them, and alter the parameters to suit your particular situation.

It might be just what you need to trigger your own writing breakthrough.

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