I Was Never Trained To Be A Writer — Now I Make A Living From Writing

I went to school for Marketing. I took a slew of interesting classes like Market Research, Advertising, and even Consumer Behavior during my time at Messiah College, but none for writing.

It was fun to learn about, I guess, but after school I made the decision to write instead.

After my sister sent me a couple journals to document my Disney College Program experience, I was hooked. Writing was so therapeutic to me and helped guide me during the 8 months I spent far from home.

When I graduated, I decided to be a freelance writer — completelydisregarding the college education I worked so hard to attain.

I thought I could teach myself how to write, and I did, but over the last year I honestly haven’t done much to learn more about the craft I’ve assimilated to.

I Didn’t Know What I Didn’t Know

The above statement simply means that when I started out, I didn’t know what half of the essential writing rules even were.

Normally in a sport like wrestling you know you need to get better in a certain position, but to use an analogy with writing, I didn’t even know what half the positions were!

I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

It’s the definition of ignorance.

Like I said before, I did try to learn. I read Strunk and White, random books on Grammar from the library, and tons of articles written by some of my favorite bloggers.

Finally, I was ready to step into the spotlight and fail myself to success.

I (Slowly) Grew My Audience

Freelancing for me was largely a shot in the dark. I didn’t know how to write effective White Papers, Ebooks, or website copy.

Sooner or later I won clients, though. I faked it until I made it, and had an entire portfolio to show for it.

In late 2015 I began my first blog that’s blossomed into “Finding Tom,” also known as my little piece of the internet.

Of all the writing specialties out there, I found my niche in digital content.

I liked writing blog posts and articles. I enjoyed seeing my writing live on Facebook or the Huffington Post so quickly after typing it.

Digital Writing Is Different From Traditional Writing

It was at this point that I got away from traditional writing rules, and spent more of my time learning about building audiences, email marketing, and Medium.

I learned that you should never go past three lines of straight text in the digital world, because humans love to skim.

I knew what the attention span of my audience was.

When I wrote at the Inquisitr, it was difficult for me to keep people engaged for more than 30 seconds.

I know because I saw the statistics.

So I got away from a lot of that stuff. I started breaking up my writing into fragments and doing two-word sentences. Like this.

I tried to write how I talked. I tried to be funny and whimsical.

Through this I found my voice, and I loved every second of it.

Writing became so insanely fun that I’ve published SOMETHING every day for the past year.

It came at a cost.

I Started Breaking A Lot Of Rules

I don’t know if my writing is even real writing. It is brash, unpolished, and raw at times. I’ve forgotten a lot of what Strunk and White taught me.

Recently I sent in a piece to an editor by the name of Nico Ryan. He was giving away critiques for free, so I wrote up 600 words and sent it over.

He got back to me within a few days, and I was surprised at how many mistakes I made. They were hiding in plain sight. I ended a sentence with a preposition!

*Face palm*

Do Most Traditional Writing Rules Matter Anymore?

That got me thinking. I used a lot of jargon in the piece I sent over to Nico.

I said “lowkey” and “don’t get it twisted” somewhere in there, which was pretty gutsy to put in a piece I’d have professionally critiqued.

Should I have put them in there?

I’m not writing a book, I know that. My audience is college kids for crying out loud.

I just want to read something and be entertained. I don’t want to get lost in words that sound like you’re more educated.
I’ll take “don’t get it twisted” over “don’t confuse the points I’ve so eloquently laid out in front of you” anyday. It’s just more fun. It keeps me engaged.

Why not use jargon every now and then to make a point?

I don’t want my articles to look like a mash-up of Urban Dictionary, but sometimes a wacky word can really shake a piece up and grab attention — especially when your audience is millennials and they’re skimming every article on the internet!

What’s More Important?

Is finding your voice more important than being proper? Should we sacrificeeloquence for entertainment by throwing random crazy words inside our articles?

That’s a tough question to answer.

Yes, the rules of writing are changing — and they’re always changing, by the way, but who’s going to be at theforefront pushing the boundaries?

Should anybody be?

Or should we hold true to the old ways of writing?

Back in the day authors were trying to write the next great American novel, now we’re trying to make the next great American blog.

The formats are different.

Back then readers would open a book with the sole intention of spending thirty plus minutes reading. Now they’re surfing Facebook, looking at cat memes, and living a life condensed by the restraints of their newsfeed.

Every now and then an article with an interesting headline pops up, to which they feel compelled to click away from their dog videos, but the onlyallowance that writers get is about ten good seconds.

We better make it count! So we throw in crazy images, sensationalized claims, and irresistable copy.

It’s like a Super Bowl commercial. It better be OUT THERE to get any attention at all.

I guess that’s what the writing world has come to.

Writing is changing, there’s no doubt, but should we still take the time to learn about the old ways of doing things?

Yes We Should, Because I Am Still Ignorant

I’ve only been writing online for two years. I’ve worked with Editors at Diply, The Inquisitr, and The Huffington Post, so people definitely still care about a well-written post.

At the end of the day, writing is about saying what you mean in as few words as possible. The dashes, commas, semi-colons, and colons all work to provide pauses, weight, and even an aesthetic value to a sentence.

Writing is so beautiful because you’re essentially painting with words.

While the rules are always changing, I think it’s more than important to look back at how things used to be done, and still are being done, by some of the greatest writers to ever live.

You’re paying homage, and when you get down to it they know MUCH more about writing than us, so we best get to learning.

Finding our voice is important, sure, but it’s equally important to know the best practices because, well, sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know.

What do you think about this? I’m anxious to hear your opinion.

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by + 370,107 people.

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