My Number One Writing Advice | From a Distance

Saturday, May 9, 2020


Think of this as a workshop on how I write long-ass Instagram captions that no one is obliged to read.

Let's begin.


Most people start workships with an introduction. And then a humble-brag on their accomplishments so attendants can trust their expertise. So I will do just that.

My name's Jo. The first time I labelled myself a "writer" was when I won a writing contest at 18. Prior to that, I'd only written for fun - nothing close to feature articles. But after that win, I got articles published, so I felt slightly more okay with claiming the writer title.

So far, I've completed about two and a half semesters worth of writing courses in uni. (So what I'm trying to say is: I might know things.)

My most constant writing practice, believe it or not, are Instagram captions. Since high school, I've enjoyed writing long paragraphs, attached to scenic pictures and "candid" self portraits. I chronicle thoughts, feelings, phases I'm going through – so my feed is actually a very vivid account of the past 3–4 years of my life.

(I still don't know how I feel about that.)

Moving on!

It wasn't until I moved to Melbourne — a defining life change which made me write more intensely — that people began to respond to the stories I put out. I connected with fellow writing peers – "found my tribe", as one could say – and little by little, the reader circle grew. As I was channeling words into the void, the void began to speak back.

This led to many people, even those who know me in real life, seemingly being impressed and asking me, "How do you do it?"

"How do you think of all those words?"

"How do you ~*find inspiration*~?"

And there is one I hear that's very frequent:

"You inspire me to write but I don't have anything to write about."

Today I address those questions, and provide you with some tips, along with the one writing advice I'd always give to people.




First! It may seem trivial to find enjoyment in writing Instagram captions – but it's what keeps my writer's mind intact. There's a reason why, after all these years, I still put heart and thought into them – into journaling, into this blog, and yes, into spending hours on story-captions.

I call them practice platforms.

What makes a practice platform is: No one tells you to do it. It's only yours. Maybe it's kept private, maybe 100 people read it. None of the stuff I put out on any of these platforms are perfect. Not even on this blog. (And this specific blog post also probably isn't.)

But practice platforms are essentially there for one reason: To keep the storytelling gears running.

Second, and I cannot stress this enough: A major life change doesn't make you a writer. Writing, does.

It's moving, but also heartbreaking, to hear people say that they're inspired to write, but lack of "cool life stories" cuts them short. If you know me in person, in fact, you would know how mundane and predictable I honestly am. (My God, Jo, couldn't you at least try to be a little edgy and mysterious?)

Anyway. Yes, everyone has a story to tell, yadda yadda yadda. But the point is not about finding a grand, interesting thing to write about.

I was already writing when I was 17 – where I had much less stories to tell and frankly, a much smaller worldview than I have today. I never had a near-death experience, or some groundbreaking revelation. I wrote about friends, family, heartbreak, fear of the future. I wrote about the mundane. The stuff we all experience anyway.

Writing isn't a mode of pursuit, but a mode of awareness. Writing is about being brave enough to feel things, and observing what is already there.

Because you could be standing in front of the Taj Mahal, but if you don't take note nor experience that memory to the fullest extent, no good writing could come out of that.





Which leads me to my third and final tip – my number one writing advice. To everyone who wants to know how to "write good", I say to you:

Aim to be honest, not profound.

If you take a close look at the stories on my captions, or these posts I write, you'll find that the stuff I share aren't necessarily new. They're far from innovative, but they still do the job: They resonate.

It's not because I always know what good words to use. It's because I'm not afraid of giving the story life.

This is why I put so much emphasis on being aware. Details add dimension. Without them, your story lacks colour. On the Instagram post above, for example, I spoke about "heavy days" – the days where you find it hard to get up on your feet. I could've played safe and talked about how "dark it feels", or how "difficult life is", but these sounded like words that anyone could say or throw onto a pamphlet.

So I force myself to dig deeper. Wider. So I mention the dirty dishes. The closed curtains. The fetal position my body finds itself in. Now readers aren't just being told, but being shown.

It's always tempting to want to use big words, and make yourself sound better, but try instead: Unglamorous details. Many will teach you about writing good. I think we should prioritise writing honest.

When I wrote the essay about my father, I had never written about him, so I was nervous in that process. I remember thinking I should write it beautifully. Use the perfect metaphors, make it sincere.

But that exhausted me. So I ended up telling the story as plainly as I could.

At the end, I let the piece turn devastating, because it is. I open up about the faded memories I have of him, even if that leaves gaps in the storyline, because that's what my experience is. Long story short, to my surprise, that essay generated the most responses I've had from readers and inner circles.

The story's power often lies in the parts you're most afraid to say.

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Around this time last year, I nearly promised to stop writing. I never managed to. I'm very grateful I never did.

Writing is a beautiful craft, and whether for other people, or yourself, I implore you to have a go at it. And above all, to celebrate your human-ness along the way.

For several good years I've been leaving fingerprints in the form of words, recounting each step I take in trying to make sense of this world, and finding my place in it. And I still hope each time that the world doesn't brush it off the next morning. And I still dare to hope, that at the very least, it'll give them something to remember me by.

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Talk to you soon.

Signed,
Jo

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From a Distance is a blog series documenting life in the social distance. Paper airplanes flown out my window, hoping to reach yours. For connection. Companionship. A little human-ness in this very strange time. My hope is to make you feel a little less lonely. If you are. Whoever you are.

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12 comments

  1. This post resonated with me too. When I was younger I used to write for fun and as I grew I became to explore more, I started to write when I'm blogging and then created an Instagram to pour my feelings when I felt like it. I love reading other peoples Instagram captions your insta is so beautiful!
    https://sputniksweetheartn.blogspot.com/

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    1. Thank you so much Nadi! You always leave such kind notes here I can't tell you how much I appreciate that. xx

      Jo

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  2. this post was great! i've been writing for a few years now and in the beginning, i thought i had to be 'profound' in order to come across a certain way but it just wasn't me at all! i've found my voice now just from writing more and not worrying about how i come across. i think i've also found 'my tribe' on instagram too, and it motivates me even more :)
    ellie x // elliekblog.blogspot.co.uk

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  3. I am so glad I found your blog. This is very helpful especially for an aspiring blogger like me. I always try to do my best in expressing my emotions through writing, but a lot of times I am discouraged because I feel like it's not worth reading anyway. Thanks for inspiring me to just continue writing and writing and be honest with the raw feelings in it. I'm looking forward to more of your content. 💕

    Much love,


    Ann | www.annchoi.me

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    1. Welcome Ann! Thank you for your sweet words.

      I am so glad if this spoke to you, and yes, excited for all the things you'll write once that barrier is broken. <3

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  4. Hi! Thank you for the post. I want to write in English, but it's not my native language, do you have any tips on how to improve my vocabulary and writing skills in general? I feel like you have a wide set of vocabulary and great writing style!

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    1. Hi Kal! Thank you so much for reading.
      I hear you there - English isn't my native language either. I think a great way to have a grasp of it is none other than reading, watching, and listening. :) What you consume is what you put out - so consume all you can! I love reading blog entries, books, articles. On top of that, I watch plenty of Youtube and listen to many podcasts. These eventually build my "language". Hope this helps!

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  5. Writing indeed has made me love life a bit more than before. :") It has made me introspect even more, and made me braver in many ways. It has also allowed me to meet lots of kindred souls, like you! It's always so nice to read your entries, Jo, thank you for your advice. <3

    Anna Jo | http://helloannajo.blogspot.com

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    1. Anna, it's delightful to hear from you.

      I agree so much with the introspection and bravery. Now that I think about it I would've 100% turned out to be a different person had I not become a writer/blogger during these past few years.

      Stay well, dove!

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  6. "Aim to be honest, not profound" Absolutely love that. I never know what to write below an instagram caption yet I can journal on and on because no one reads it. These are great tips to build up the courage to write what one shares. Thank you

    http://honeycombee.com/

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  7. I truly enjoyed reading this! Some great tips here xx

    www.thelisasworld.com

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