How to Write Anything (ever)

Written by Marisol Dahl


Okay, so we all know the plan.

You know, the plan. The one that our third grade teachers taught us back when we were writing our first paragraphs. You find your topic, brainstorm content, outline and organize, draft and revise.

And then you sit down at your desk, open up a blank Word document, crack your knuckles, and start typing out the best piece of writing man has ever known. You’ve done all your research, you’ve outlined to perfection, the words come magically to you. Your readers are sure to be enchanted. It’s just so easy.

Oh. This doesn’t happen to you? But you’ve followed the plan! What could possibly go wrong?

This happens all too often. A surefire process ends up being a total fail. Instead of a path freeing us from complexity, all it does is keep us frozen in our seats thinking about what terrible writers we are.

Here’s the thing about writing that nobody tells you: it doesn’t have to be hard.

As Dr. Laura Brown writes in the introduction of her book How to Write Anything: A Complete Guide:

I’ve met people who hate to write and I’ve met people who think their writing is no good. But I’ve never met anyone who “can’t write.”

I don’t know about you, but that was pretty refreshing to read.

With over 30 years of experience teaching people how to write, Dr. Brown gets straight to the point about this whole I’m-a-terrible-writer-virus that’s been plaguing us: a new perspective on the writing process.

Sure, research and outlining and revising are still incredibly important steps to the process. But they don’t necessarily have to happen in that order. Instead, Dr. Brown invites us to dive into writing in the way that feels most natural to us. Writing a first draft might happen before coming to a clear understanding of who you’re writing for, or what the true purpose of your piece is. And that’s okay.

Draft before you research. Outline before you brainstorm. Draft, revise, then draft some more. It’s all good.

Dr. Brown’s How to Write Anything champions this message of freedom and flexibility. This easy-to-use reference book is your go-to guide for anything (and I mean anything) you will ever have to write.

Book Giveaway:

We’re so happy to give away a copy of How to Write Anything by Laura Brown to a Life After College reader—it’s one of those books you’ll keep reaching for in years to come.

To enter to win, answer the following question in the comments by Friday, July 18. We will pick a winner and email to let you know!

Comment to be Entered to Win:

What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to writing?

About Marisol Dahl

Marisol DahlMarisol is currently a Sociology and Education Studies major at Yale University. A longtime New Yorker, she started her blog in 2011 as a way to document her college years and beyond. When not running around campus and catching up with her school reading, she enjoys spending time with her family, reading dystopian fiction and volunteering in her community. She can be reached at marisoldahl [at] and on Twitter at @marisoldahl.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

suki July 10, 2014 at 3:11 pm

My greatest struggle when it comes to writing is not correcting myself as I am writing. By editing as I am writing, it slows down the entire process, and it really deters from the writing from “just happening.” I’d love to check out this book, as I can use all the help I can get when it comes to writing.


Rachel Kay July 10, 2014 at 3:46 pm

My biggest struggle is being both succinct yet interesting with what I have to say.


Dan Bagby July 11, 2014 at 3:44 pm

My struggle is not planning enough before I start writing


Brenda July 14, 2014 at 3:24 pm

My biggest struggle is getting past the gremlins in my head that scream, “you don’t have anything meaningful or new to say.”


Natasha Smith July 14, 2014 at 3:50 pm

The hardest part is just getting started. If I don’t write for a few days (or longer), it builds up as this scary thing. When I actually sit down to do it, though, even if whatever comes out is total crap, I know I’m beginning to get somewhere.


Ketevan July 14, 2014 at 3:54 pm

My biggest challenge is probably cutting out all the ideas and focusing on a few at the time.


LL July 14, 2014 at 5:04 pm

The element of writing that creates the greatest challenge is the determination of how best to penetrate the minds of a varied audience.. without alienating any subgroups!


saltygirl July 14, 2014 at 6:24 pm

I have an interesting problem – it’s being too succinct! I don’t feel like I elaborate enough. It’s strange because I’m a lawyer, and I value brevity, but a lot of times I feel like it hurts my arguments.


Katie July 14, 2014 at 6:29 pm

My biggest challenge when writing is dealing with my ‘inner critic’ – sometimes she tries to edit as I write and other times she tries to get ahead of herself and imagine the end result of the piece that I am writing when I am in the early creative stages. Sometimes when I am in that writing trance, and letting all my thoughts flow onto the paper, she pipes up that I am ‘rambling’ and it’s all no good. She challenges me, but I keep writing anyway…and often surprise myself with what I’ve written. And sometimes impress her too :)


Sarah July 14, 2014 at 6:31 pm

My greatest challenge is revision. I can research and get a lot of ideas and even churn out some paragraphs in a stream of consciousness sort of way, but I struggle immensely with finalization and revision. I tend to have judgement in my formulation and second guessing whether it is the best way to say it or not. It’s like cutting hair where you’re afraid of going too crazy with the scissors or wondering if it is perfect as is. For fear of it never being perfect, I’d rather just not touch it.


MacKensie Cornelius July 14, 2014 at 11:14 pm

My biggest struggle is the voice in my head saying, “this isn’t going to be successful, so let’s go do something really productive like dishes”.


Alyssa July 15, 2014 at 1:15 am

My biggest challenge when writing is that my hands can’t keep up with my thoughts. When I come up with new concepts to write about my mind hits the ground running before I get a chance to document the ideas. I often end up trying to back track and ultimately substitute mediocre ideas.


Milena Rangelov July 15, 2014 at 2:20 am

Sometimes I am not inspired and it hardly goes. And when I AM inspired, I can hardly stop. That results in too long posts and texts that no one is going to read. It is both hard to push and to limit myself.


Deborah July 15, 2014 at 3:21 am

My biggest struggle is not the actual writing but the believing in what I’ve written.


Tiffany July 15, 2014 at 10:01 am

My biggest struggle when it comes to writing is showing and not telling.


Vanessa July 15, 2014 at 12:17 pm

My biggest struggle with writing is finishing. I recognize that waiting for inspiration to write is also a fault for any writer but once I have a brilliant idea and go with it, I get to a point where I’ve written what I want to say, but don’t know how to end in a way that let’s the reader know why my ideas are important. I have trouble articulating the “so, what?” to my statement.


Melissa Anzman July 15, 2014 at 4:33 pm

Am I eligible to win this? I haven’t read the fine print. 😉 That being said, my biggest challenge when it comes to writing is usually around picking just one topic – not really with shorter pieces, but definitely when it comes to book ideas. Which topic is best? And can I like it for as long as I need to, to write the book.

Oh, and never ever ever being able to create an outline – I’ve given up on this advice though; it just doesn’t work for me!


Mackenzie Bise July 16, 2014 at 2:25 pm

When writing, I tend to immediately dislike whatever I write, even if there is nothing wrong with it. It tends to get better if I reread later, but not by much!


Holland Behn July 16, 2014 at 5:11 pm

My biggest struggle with writing is that I have so much to say, yet I don’t make every point clear. My writing jumps all over the place, which is one of the reasons I have sort of given blog writing the cold shoulder. I think I am capable of writing something that someone wants to read. Now, being able to write something that can easily be followed is a different story.


Amy W July 18, 2014 at 12:51 pm

My biggest struggle (and always has been) is that I can’t write a concise sentence. I couldn’t even get past that first sentence without parentheses. I want to put a disclaimer on everything and that makes for long, complicated sentences and huge paragraphs. Not great for online writing. I’d love to be able to understand “getting to the point” in a well written way.


KC_Douglas July 18, 2014 at 2:08 pm

My biggest challenge in writing is getting started. Once I’m going, I’m fine but getting the ball rolling is the biggest challenge.


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