By: Ryan Kelly
Many pre-meds have feelings of trepidation when they sit down at the keyboard. Some openly claim to be “bad writers,” while others simply struggle to meet their own high standards.
But as professional writer Leo Babauta points out, writing takes time and practice to master:
“I didn’t wake up and suddenly know how to write — I’ve been training for most of my life.”
Think about it: you wouldn’t claim to be a “bad researcher” after a few failed attempts in the lab. Like research, writing isn’t some innate talent. You have to work diligently to improve.
Babauta would know. For the past 25 years, he’s worked as a sportswriter, a reporter, an editor, a freelance magazine writer, a bill writer, a speechwriter, and a professional blogger.
Babauta recognizes the challenges of mastering the craft, and as a result, his tips are not quick, overnight fixes. Instead, they’re a set of rules to live by, certain guidelines to help you develop good habits and strengthen your writing over time. We’ve included some of them here, which we think are particularly helpful for pre-meds:
Writing is much easier when you’re in the swing of things. Writing every day will keep you in rhythm, eliminate your bad habits, and help you avoid writer’s block.
There’s always an excuse when you need one. But you must overcome the urges that push you toward diversion or procrastination. Schedule time in your day that’s dedicated to nothing but writing. Find your ideal conditions and focus on the task at hand.
Pressure makes diamonds, as the old saying goes. For example, you could try a 10- or 15-minute session, removing all distractions. This constraint will help you let go of your fears, allowing the words to flow freely.
To be a good writer, you must understand and value the tools at your disposal--spelling, grammar, structure, syntax, etc.
“You wouldn’t be a carpenter without learning how to hammer and saw, would you?”
Don’t expect your work to be flawless, especially early on. Half the battle is getting through to the end, so don’t be your worst enemy by constantly self-editing. The polishing and tweaking will happen later in the revision process.
This cannot be overstated. Reading lets you listen to the voices of accomplished writers, expands your vocabulary, and provides you with moments of inspiration.
Whether you’re writing a novel or a memo, you should find examples in the genre and use them as models. Examine the narrative or rhetorical moves they make, see which ones work the best, and repurpose them in your own unique way.
You must understand the context in which your writing will be read and processed. Good writers use this knowledge to guide their decisions and appeal to the audience.
Remember: these tips are most useful if you can turn them into ongoing habits. If you’re a pre-med who feels iffy about your writing ability, start embodying these rules now and stay committed to improving over time.
As always, it’s highly recommended.