So you’re thinking about writing – for your blog, for your company, for industry publications, or maybe just for fun. Maybe you’ve never considered writing but you’re quickly realising you’re going to have to do it, and do it well, for your career.
If you’ve not done much writing before you may think you’ve just got to wait for the muse to strike you like the poets of old, or you may think you have to be born with some special, innate talent. You don’t have to be Shakespeare to write well. Of course some great writers wait for the muse and some may have innate talent but most of us have to get by working at it. Learning to write is like anything else in life it is a process of trial and error. Anyway you know what they say about genius – it’s 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. So, here are five tips that will help you develop your writing skills whatever or whoever you’re writing for.
1. Take advantage of the world around you, use it for inspiration—your walk to the subway, the stories in your Facebook newsfeed, your interaction with the cashier at Starbucks in the morning etc. As writer Henry Miller once said, “Develop interest in life as you see it; in people, things, literature, music—the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls, and interesting people. Forget yourself.”
2. Take control of your own destiny. Know where you write best. For some people, it’s peace and quiet, while others need music or the chaotic hubbub of co-workers milling about. Different places suit different people and different types of writing. When you have to write for work, you may need to put in your headphones and listen to the crooning of Lana Del Rey, but when you’re blogging, you may prefer curling up on your couch with a glass of wine. Instead of trying to force yourself to write at a specific location, try out a variety of different spaces until you find what works for you. Then, recreate that cozy, creative environment every time you need to write.
3. Read it out loud. This tip is twofold. First, in most cases, you should write like you talk. Even if you, tend to use a casual tone, that’s OK—it will help you sound more realistic and understandable to your readers. Try recording yourself talking for two minutes then transcribing it. You can correct obvious mistakes later. Writing that reflects the way you speak often showcases the most authentic version of yourself. Secondly, once you’ve written something down, actually read it out loud. As silly as you may feel, it’s the best way to make sure what you’ve written makes sense. Anything that doesn’t flow, is confusing, or is missing a word or two will quickly make itself apparent.
4. Take advantage of opportunities to develop your skills and knowledge. Most people baulk at the idea of standing in front of a room full of strangers and baring their soul to the world, but joining a writing workshop can be immensely beneficial – and a lot of fun. Meet up with a friend or colleague who wants to write and share your work. You don’t need to have an unfinished novel hidden away in your desk drawer to join a workshop. These days, content marketing meet-ups and professional development groups are popular. Join one of the many content marketing groups on LinkedIn to meet like-minded writers. Pick a topic, write something, listen to the feedback from the group, and then revise it.
5. Seek and respond to feedback from potential readers. Many times, you are your own worst critic. So, when you’re writing, it’s really important not to judge what you write, at least at first. Even experienced writers don’t often crank out a perfect first draft, so setting your expectations too high from the outset is unrealistic not to mention discouraging. A good exercise in nonjudgmental writing is to set a timer for 10 minutes and just write. Write down what you know, what you feel, or whatever’s on your mind. Don’t try to write too carefully or too intelligently or too accurately. Writing goes much better when you don’t work so hard at it or criticise your every word.
Julia Herdman writes historical fiction. Her debut novel is available on Amazon.