Putting words down isn’t hard. Stringing them together well is a bit harder. Weaving them into useful blog posts, witty copy, or touching stories?
I should know—I’ve tried all these.
Anyone who writes for a living will readily admit that it’s not easy, and not just because manipulating words was hard to begin with. Sometimes you’ll have to write about things you would rather ignore. Sometimes you’ll want to write something you’re passionate about, and end up either deleting everything or ripping out a notebook page to toss.
As an art, writing has a few disciplines that remain consistent all throughout. Whether you’re a blogger, a web content writer, a novelist, or anyone who wants to write for a living, these indispensable tips below can help you become a better pro writer—no matter what writer hat you’re wearing. Of course they aren't easy, but no one ever said being better at anything was going to be easy.
1. Don’t wait for inspiration, chase it.
Sometimes with a baseball bat, or, as Jack London said in his original quote, “with a club.” When you have ho-hum topics and deadlines for them looming over your neck—or worse, no ideas whatsoever—you don’t really have any options here. Not as far as inspiration is concerned.
It’s won’t look as cinematic as a Rocky Balboa training montage (nor as inspiring, probably), but do what you have to do to finish what you need to. Research online. Take a walk to clear your head. Watch people. Hug your dog while researching online.
Then make sure you sit down and churn out those first few sentences. You’ll be surprised at how much smoother it gets once you get going.
2. Don’t correct yourself as you write, just go with it.
Part of the reason why it can be so hard to start writing anything is because we writers can be our own worst critic. This isn’t actually a bad thing, but when you start telling yourself a sentence is no good before you even write it down, you might end up with no sentences on a page. This is especially bad when you’re trying to write something in 140 characters or less.
When you’re ‘free-writing’, there’s nothing to it. As Ernest Hemingway put it, “all you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed”. Don’t worry about whether a certain word doesn’t fit a sentence, or whether you should use a comma or a colon or a double dash. Spill your thoughts on your chosen medium and let it all out.
Without any obstacles to trip and bump on—such as your own editorial voice—you’ll find yourself with enough raw material to express whatever idea you needed to.
Once you’re all thought out, then it’s time to unleash your inner editor.
3. Write everyday.
Whether you’re a blogger, an aspiring novelist, or both, make sure you write every day. It doesn’t have to be a whole story or a finished post, but it does have to be something. One writer is known to write 10 pages a day no matter what. Some of those pages may have been heavily corrected or scrapped entirely, but this dedication has led him to write more than 60 novels—such as the Shining, It, and Carrie. With discipline like that, it’s no wonder Stephen King is so prolific.
Everyone has the same number of hours in a day: you, Barack Obama, Beyonce, and that person next to you in a coffee shop. It’s been said over and over, but if you want to be productive, being disciplined and keeping focused are your two best weapons. Even inborn talent is nothing without those two, so sit down, maybe listen to your favorite music, and write. Just for a while. Every day.
4. Read as much as you write.
“If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or tools) to write. Simple as that.” It couldn’t have been blunter, but Stephen King couldn’t be more right. Reading influences your writing in ways that can’t be accomplished by regular teaching methods.
You can be taught to write correctly as far as grammar and structure are concerned, but it’s almost impossible to be taught inspiration, the magic of language, or the feel of whatever genre you want to write in.
These things are only imparted when you read. There isn’t a musician alive (or dead!) that didn’t listen to music themselves and still call themselves musicians. Anything you read and enjoy reading has a good many advantages for any writer, and I’m listing some of them down for you:
- It influences your style and helps you develop your own
- It widens your vocabulary in an infinitely more fun way that reading a dictionary
- It introduces you to the thought processes of the masters (so they can rub off you)
You can’t hope to sweep someone else with the force of your writing until it’s been done to you—and yes, Stephen King said that too.
If these tips sound like harsh truths (though there are plenty of those in the world of writing), don’t be overwhelmed. Being able to take these tips and deliver is what takes you off the path of an amateur writer and on that of a professional.
Now, if you ever feel like you can’t possibly write professionally because you’re not good enough, so there’s no real point to keep on writing—Richard Bach had something to say about that.
“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”