22 Tips for Working Writers

Jennifer Schaffer
Mar 28, 2015 · 3 min read
  1. Meet your deadlines. If you need an extension, ask for it. Your editor will empathize as much as her own deadlines allow.
  2. Don’t be afraid to respectfully fight back on edits. That said, don’t be precious. Pick your battles wisely.
  3. You need to pitch. Pitch multiple stories at a time and pitch often. If you don’t have any stories in mind, ask yourself why you want to be a writer to begin with.
  4. A little sense of humor goes a long way. It’s the internet. We’re not doing open heart surgery here.
  5. Meet with your editors in person. For coffee, drinks, whatever. Building relationships with the people who know your work intimately (right down to the misplaced scare quotes) will improve your writing.
  6. Don’t be rude! Be nice. Your editor is here to help you. We’re on the same team.
  7. Consistency is integrity: never under estimate its worth. Consistent quality, consistently on time, will almost always beat amazing quality delivered haphazardly.
  8. Know your audience. Know your publication’s audience. Aim for the sweet spot at the center of that Venn diagram.
  9. Envy is fantastically unattractive, especially on writers. It’s hideous. If others are achieving what you want, work harder.
  10. The universe does not need another hot take.
  11. Have a reported element to your pieces. Talk to people. See things. Do your research. Nobody is interested in an armchair philosopher’s think piece. Get out into the world.
  12. Don’t put down other websites. It’s bad form. And definitely don’t put down the website that you’re pitching to.
  13. Always be gracious when someone helps you out with your career. Return the favor, take them to dinner, stay in touch.
  14. The flip side of that: when you achieve even a small amount of success, other writers and young students will begin to reach out to you for guidance and help. Don’t resent this! Someone helped you once. You can be selective with who you choose to mentor, but always be kind.
  15. Banish these words from your vocabulary: ‘millennial,’ ‘hipster,’ ‘listicle.’
  16. Humility will go a long way. This isn’t the same thing as insecurity. Actually, it’s the opposite.
  17. Complaining about writer’s block is completely uncouth. A quick tip if you are feeling stuck: free-write three pages, longhand, every morning before you touch your phone or your laptop. Do this for two weeks straight and I promise that block will start to loosen.
  18. Your character matters far more than your brand.
  19. Use the Oxford comma. If your editor scolds you, tell them I told you to. (OK, actually, read the style guide for your publication. Every major site has one; request it if it’s not readily accessible. Your editor will thank you.)
  20. Please, for the love of Sontag, do not submit work you have already published elsewhere and pretend it’s original and new. Your editor will find out. In the post-Lehrer era, we should all know better.
  21. Read books. Lots of them. All the time. Everywhere.
  22. Remember: writing is hard work. It’s also supposed to be fun. No one should become a writer in the interest of wealth and fame. If you’re not enjoying yourself, it’s time to move on. Maybe become a doctor and save some lives, or go teach English in Indonesia. There are so many ways to spend a life.

Jennifer Schaffer is a writer, editor, and human being living in New York. Follow her on Twitter.

Jennifer Schaffer

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American woman & writer in London

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