One of my New Year’s resolutions is to improve the quality of my writing, a skill I’ve struggled with since high school.
A year back, I discovered Quora — a question-and-answer website where questions are crowdsourced to a community of users. It was not only an incredible platform to read insider answers on what it was like to work with Tim Cook or how NASA worked, but it was a platform to democratize questions to any community member as opposed to a select group of experts. Quora was the place I discovered some of my favorite writers like James Altucher and even professors, consultants, and doctors. The interesting part? Many of the writers weren’t experts or doctorates. They were normal Internet users that simply had a unique opinion to share.
On a whim, I began to answer questions on Quora; it turned from spontaneous word vomit about the Patriots and Kobe Bryant to more structured shorts on entrepreneurship, education, career advice. Many of my Quora answers led to ideas for blogs and many also helped my writing get discovered by strangers on the Internet. I made it a New Year’s resolution to write once every other day. Quora gave me energy and also let me into a secret: The only way to break self-doubts while writing is to create value and confidence. How does Quora help you achieve this?
Preset Writing Prompts
With more than 1.5 million questions available on Quora, Quora has begun to streamline questions to users based on their most popular or sought out categories. These answers are often short — no more than two to three paragraphs, with far less pressure to create an emulation of a New York Times editorial. The “Questions for You” tab enables you to answer questions based on your recent answers: My last four answers on Quora were about Bernie Sanders, Swarm, and the NFL — this triggered an algorithm that brought topics I was passionate about to my attention. One of the biggest barriers I hear when it comes to writing consistently is “I have writer’s block” or ‘I have no idea what to write about”. With preset writing prompts, all you have to do is look at a question already proposed to inspire new opinions and ideas. Many of these short answers can be turned into riveting long-form blogs.
Opportunities For Reading and Learning
One of the biggest lessons I learned from one of my favorite authors, James Altucher: “You can’t write without first reading. A lot.” Compared to every question I respond to on Quora, I read about 10–15 answers. With more than 200 people I regularly follow, I read everything from life hacks to thoughts on the Donald Trump presidential campaign. I read high quality answers from experts as well as short answers from Reddit addicts. While I don’t have enough time in the day to read full-length books, my Quora app allows me to shift rather quickly through a number of questions during a commute or before bed. Reading many different answers gives you immediate exposure to different authors, styles of writing, sentence structures and vocabularies. The stream-of-consciousness approach I use in many of my blogs comes from the number of answers I’ve enjoyed reading on Quora. Writing growth cannot be a selfish pursuit — it has to be cultivated through constant exposure and acknowledgement of quality when you see it. It has to be cultivated through learning and compounding upon your preconceptions of ideas. This is where reading becomes essential.
No Permission Needed
My biggest self-doubts as a writer first came from rejections — editors saying that the writing wasn’t good or the idea wasn’t creative enough. While I do concede that some of the writing may have been absolute garbage, rejection is certainly a self-esteem poison. Many times, it made me want to quit writing forever. With Quora, all you need to do to be regarded as a writer is have a Quora account. Nobody needs to approve your post. Nobody needs to validate your writing before you put it out there. The more you answer on a specific topic, the more you begin to build trust amongst a niche group of readers. Because it removes the anonymous veil of Reddit, you can also connect your social profiles and blogs to Quora — real people will notice you in real –time. This is a tremendous boost for confidence.
Having measurable statistics as a first-time writer or a seasoned veteran is a blessing — it allows you to see which of your answers are attracting attention and allows you to clarify what people are enjoying. In a way, it’s a form of multivariate analysis — whenever I find one answer that gets more views than another, I always try to investigate why. Was it the shock value? The vocabulary? The call to action? Finding your niche as a writer is tough — it helps to see evidence of where you’re reaching your audience.
Self-Enforced Grammar Checks
You can’t be a better biker with training wheels and you can’t become a better writer with the proverbial shackles of automatic grammar refinement. While writing in Microsoft Word can lend itself to efficient grammar checks, writing in Quora is almost a liberation. Be comfortable with letting go. You’re free of the risk that your creative sentence may be a fragment or your conversational language is breaking every violation of English grammar. While some may frown at lack of rigid structure, I praise the freedom it gives you to be your own boss. You will grasp grammar better when you read it for yourself and sound it out, instead of blindly lending the beauty of your writing to be eroded by Microsoft Word’s grammar machines. It will condition you to avoid mistakes instead of anticipating them. If all else fails, there is still spell check.
My very first blog post I wrote in college got exactly zero hits. It was all about how to best learn Spanish. I wanted to help people. The zero hits certainly discouraged The best part about Quora’s transactional nature is that every answer you write is in response to a question. Simply by writing or sharing your thoughts, you are helping another human being in real-time as well as others following that same question. Any advice you give, enlightening opinion you share, or story you write is immediately given back to the person who proposed the question in the first place. If your goal with writing is to help or impact people, there is no more evident or encouraging way to know you’ve made an impact than Quora.
Improving your writing is a journey that, like any other form of art, takes practice, iteration, and confidence. Don’t be nervous about strangers or mistakes. Don’t be afraid to let yourself be consumed by the writing of others. I’m still not where I’d love to be but I’m trying to inch the gap closer and plan to write on Quora once every other day. If you’re ready to take the plunge, I invite you to join me on Quora and get started today: www.quora.com.
Kushaan is an IBM Consultant based out of Washington D.C. His interests are rooted in strategy consulting, entrepreneurship, social media, and the intersection of technology with social impact. He enjoys blogging about life, career insights, social technology, and hacking the corporate environment. If you liked this post, follow him on twitter: @kushaanshah or click “Follow” at the top for more posts on Medium.