I Read 25 Articles on Becoming a Better Writer — Here’s What I Learned
I’m a new writer. Well, I’m newly writing for exposure and a paycheck. I’ve been writing since I could hold a pencil. The world of Writing for Money is daunting. There’s so much to learn. How to pick an audience, figuring out what they want to read, where to publish your writing, how to promote it, how to cultivate a writing habit that works for you, how to gain traction online. Then, of course, doing it all over again because you did it wrong the first (and maybe second) time. There’s no perfect formula out there to make you a successful writer, but there are a lot of good strategies and tips written by people who have been doing this a while. I’ve done a lot of reading on what it takes to be a writer, here’s what I’ve learned.
Reading 25 articles about bettering your craft gets repetitive. Most of them have the same basic tips with their own experience added in there. I’ve narrowed it down to ten key takeaways so you don’t have to.
Number 10: Call Yourself A Writer
This one isn’t mentioned so directly in every article, but they all tell you to call yourself a writer in so many words. The term “aspiring writer” is not helpful. It implies that you aren’t a writer, you want to be. But wanting something is not the same as being something. I want to be an astronaut and I want a million dollars, but sadly, I’m sitting on my couch in Montana with $22 in my bank account.
Once you change your mindset, the world opens up to you. Call yourself a writer for a week then come back and tell me how you feel. I bet you’ll feel strong, important, and a little narcissistic. That’s okay, but don’t let it go to your head. I’d also bet you see a spike in your productivity. You can’t call yourself a writer and not write, that’s just wrong. Its human nature to label things. We call our significant others our boyfriends and girlfriends for the first time and there’s a shift in the dynamic and intensity of the relationship. We declare a major in school and suddenly our entire identity revolves around what we’re studying. Call yourself a writer, watch the world change.
Number 9: Small Wins For the Win
As a new writer, it’s important not to burn yourself out or get discouraged early on. A lot of potential careers never even see the light of day because someone put too much pressure on themselves. But you, you’ve got this. Start small. Small can mean different things to different people. For me, it’s creating a writing habit that works. Every morning I write three pages before I do anything else. Some people find ten minutes during the day to write. Some people write one blog post a day.
When setting goals for yourself, don’t reach too high. If you set your goals too large too fast, chances are you won’t meet them. Saying you’re going to write 5,000 words a day right out the gate is like running a marathon when you’ve never run more than a mile. A good goal to start with might be just a couple hundred words a day. When that feels too easy, raise the number.
By setting goals you know you can achieve, you’re setting yourself up to succeed. Rather than wanting everything right away, and getting none of it, find pieces of it as you go.
Number 8: Write Even if You Aren’t Inspired
This one’s hard. Most people think writing when you aren’t inspired is forcing words out. And maybe it is, but the negative connotations that come with the word “force” don’t have to apply to a writing habit. Nobody is going to sit next to you and hold your hand, telling you to write more when you want to quit. Well, I might if you paid me. But I probably wouldn’t hold your hand because that would make it harder for you write. I digress. The point is, as a writer you need to learn to be self-sufficient. This career is all about working for yourself. You set your own deadlines, you pick your topics, you find jobs, you do it all.
Waiting for inspiration to strike is a form of procrastination. Writing is a habit that you need to form, and you can’t do that if you’re waiting for a new topic to hit you in the face. Pick something to write about and don’t stop until it’s done.
Number 7: Schedule Your Writing
One way to help you when you aren’t inspired is by scheduling time to write. Like I said, writing is a habit you need to build. Even the most passionate writers, the ones so obsessed with the craft, don’t want to write sometimes. By building time in to your days solely to write, you’re cultivating your habit. Again, that could be 10 minutes, it could be 3 hours. The choice is yours, but remember not to set yourself up for failure.
Number 6: Write Everywhere You Go
I love this one. Nothing makes me feel more like a writer than pulling a notebook and pen out of my purse and jotting some notes down in the middle of a hustle and bustle of a crowd. I write at work, I write at gas stations, I write while watching TV. I’m a big fan of bullet journaling, so you can believe my notebook is a mess. I’ve got daily entries of bullet point outlines of my day, pages of random journaling, a list of post ideas, and my writing schedule all spewed throughout my notebook. While I’m writing posts, I keep my list of ideas open to jot down more. While writing this post, I’ve added two headlines to the list.
I think some people will look at this subheading and say “I don’t have time to write everywhere I go.” Well, you probably do. I don’t sit and write full posts everywhere I go. I take notes. For me, it’s mostly about ideas I have or thoughts I want to later expand on. Some people note interesting conversations they’re a part of or overhear. Some people sit and describe their setting. There are infinite possibilities for you, but just write throughout your day, whatever you want to.
A fun side note: The more fulfilling and exciting your life is, the easier this one gets. Try new things and take some quick notes about them to expand on later.
Number 5: Straight Forward Language is Better than Flowery, Vague Language
What sentence sounds better to you?
We watched dots of light litter the night sky like snowflakes on a black bear, the air felt the way an apple sounds on that first bite, and his skin textured as my fingers grazed his arm.
The stars were coming out one by one, the air was crisp and quiet, and I felt his goosebumps rise as I touched his arm.
I hope you picked the second one, or you might want to reconsider a career in writing, hate to break it to you. Sure, the first sentence is exaggerated, not many people actually write like that. At least not many successful people. But you get the point.
The first sentence is trying to be clever but becomes confusing. You have to think about what the imagery looks likes, taking you out of the story momentarily. Using imagery is important, but can be done subtly. CS Lewis says it’s important to write your sentences so they can only mean one thing, the message you want to get across to your readers.
Number 4: Avoid Distractions While You Work
Okay, I’m really guilty of this. My boyfriend has been out of town this week, so anytime I get a text from him I check it almost immediately, even while I’m writing (we’re still in the honeymoon phase, okay?). Before I deleted my social media apps, I’d find myself “taking a break” and end up scrolling through Instagram for twenty minutes before I realized I was even doing it, and sometimes not even stopping then. Writing is a cognitive task which requires a lot of focus. Your writing career is Tinkerbell. If you don’t give her your attention, she dies. Are you trying to kill your writing career? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Pay her some attention, she deserves it.
The best advice I can give you on this one without driving you to social media rehab is to just put your phone on do not disturb, out of site, out of reach. If you can’t see your screen light up, or hear the pings and vibrations, you’re less likely to think about it. If you write on a personal computer, put that on do not disturb too. It’s too easy to see a text come in on your Mac and in one click you’re typing to your best friend, not to your readers.
Don’t open any new tabs while you work unless they’re for research purposes. No email, no online Instagram, no YouTube. Just focus on your writing and when you’re done then you can surf to your heart’s content (or you could write another article…).
Number 3: Turn All Jealousy Into Fuel
This one is so inspiring to me. We tend to take our negative emotions and shove them away in a box, rather than try to decipher what they’re trying to tell us. Next time you’re scrolling through social media (not while you’re writing I hope), take note of what makes you think “I wish that were me.” Maybe you see a writer you follow just published a new blog post, or got a new high number of readers. If you wish that were you, make it you. Get up and write a new blog post, and make it your best one yet.
Number 2: Don’t Over Edit
Now that you’re ready to write your best post yet, I should tell you about over editing. Perfectionism is not a cute trait. Sitting at your computer, finessing every sentence until it’s “just right” is not what builds writing careers. Writing good articles and publishing regularly does. Of course you want to take pride in your work, and everything you do should resemble you and your passions. But your readers don’t care about perfect. No one is going to read your post on mindfulness and think to themselves, “Wow, that was the most perfect, well written blog post I have ever read.” They’re going to take away the information you gave them. They’re going to bring mindfulness into their lives.
Information you give in blog posts will always be 1000 times more valuable than the sentence structure and grammar.
Number 1: WRITE!
The number one thing I found most in all the articles I read was the author telling me to get off my lazy bum and go write a blog post. So, here we are. I only needed to hear it 25 times. Hopefully you only need to hear it once, from me, right here, right now.
My favorite quote from all these articles is:
All the advice in the world isn’t a substitute for work. — Ayodeji Awosika
So from one new writer to another, here’s what I’ve learned so far. Writing is my passion and how I’d like to spend eternity. If you feel the same way, and I’m sure you do if you made it this far, then lets take this journey together. Write a blog post, let me know how it goes. How did it feel to start, and how about to finish it? What tip was the most useful to you? What would you do different next time?
As a new writer, I’m exited about the possibilities for where my career can take me. I’m happy to share my journey with others in my spot, and those that come after us. I hope experienced writers see this and remember the days of mystery and panic, not knowing what the heck they were doing. We can’t wait to be you when we grow up.