Online and in print, opportunities abound to showcase your writing. Whether you are a seasoned author or are just starting your own blog, you probably find that some days you write with confidence while on others you struggle with self-doubt or suffer from writer's block. Fortunately, any writer can improve with practice.
12 Key Tips for Crafting Excellent Articles
Legendary writing teacher and journalist William Zinsser explains, "Writing is not a special language that belongs to a few sensitive souls who have a 'gift for words.' Writing is the logical arrangement of thought." With this in mind, try these tips - from the philosophical to the tactical - on writing with excellence.
1. Know Your 'Why'
Good to Great author Jim Collins believes in the motivating power of the word 'why.' As a writer, what you write about and how you write it is important. To take your writing to the next level, you must be able to articulate the reason you are writing. When the reader truly gets why you felt compelled to write, it creates a connection. Further, if you have a clear vision on why you want to improve your writing, motivation comes easier.
2. Write for Your Audience
If you're producing a gardening blog post, the style will be different than that of a news article on tax reform. Put yourself in the reader's shoes. What will create a connection and make her want to keep reading? Does the blog have a funny or sassy tone? Is the article geared toward professionals or the more casual reader? Adapt your style to the needs of the audience whether it's a Q&A interview or a story composed in the classic reverse pyramid style.
3. Use (But Don't Overuse) Enticing Descriptions
Many beginning writers quickly learn to spice up a story by including imagery that engages the senses; thus, a hot cup of soup becomes a depiction of the heady aroma emitted from a steaming earthenware mug of Aunt Edna's homemade gumbo studded with baby okra and fresh spring onions. Be warned - this can easily become too much of a good thing. Make sure every descriptive word adds value so your writing doesn't get bogged down.
4. Vary Sentence Length
Think of your favorite song; the verses are interlaced with a chorus, bridge and other elements. Your writing should mimic this. Break up long, descriptive sentences with shorter quips to keep the reader's mind active and engaged. Try it.
5. Make it Flow
Whether you're writing a novel, news story or blog post, the piece should have a beginning, middle and end. Each part should lead the reader into the next. You may notice that many blog posts tend to veer off track, and the cutesy 'but I digress' excuse is just that - an excuse. Give your readers a break and make your words flow in a clear and logical progression.
6. Find a Proofreading Buddy
Ask a friend, neighbor or colleague to proofread your work before taking it public. Even experienced professionals benefit from another set of eyes on a final draft. And don't rely on your computer's spell check function; it can't tell the difference between 'form' and 'from' or 'two,' 'to' and 'too,' and many more common typos.
7. Join a Writer's Group
Google the words 'writer's group' with the name of your town, and you're likely to find at least one cluster of people who love to write, read, teach and learn. Visit a meeting and see if the group may be a good fit for you. Be willing to be vulnerable - bring your writing, ask for feedback, and read the work of other members. Feedback will encourage you on your strong points and highlight areas for improvement. And when you critique the work of others, you better understand how writing is either helped or hurt by grammar use, organization or word choice.
8. Take a Class
While you don't need an English degree, consider enrolling in a writing course. Most community colleges offer a variety of classes with convenient schedules. Before you sign up, make sure you understand the course content so you get the specific knowledge you seek. For example, if you want to improve your business communication skills, don't register for creative writing.
9. Find a New Angle
You may be passionate about refinishing furniture, and dream of offering a story to a popular home improvement magazine or blog. Before you write, do a quick search on the subject and see how many other stories pop up. There may be two thousand hits for furniture refinishing, so find a new angle - perhaps on staining with recycled coffee grounds, or managing a project with seven cats in residence.
10. Revise (and Revise Again)
Once you've researched and written your brilliant blog post or articulate article, you're finished - almost. Revising is one of the most important elements in the writing process. It's where your work will come to life, or go to die. Read through the piece in its entirety. Then go through it line-by-line to adjust grammar, sentence structure, word choice and flow. After the first revision, ask for feedback. Then revise again.
11. Just Write
When faced with a blank sheet of paper or computer screen, it's easy for both experienced and novice writers to get analysis paralysis. Just start writing. Don't worry about how bad it is - and it will probably be bad. Write an entire first draft, and don't stop and revise until you're finished. When you revise, you can adjust where it got off track.
12. Use Your Free Time Wisely
Horror novelist Stephen King recommends that all new writers toss out their TV. While TV can provide some insight on pacing or suspense building, passively watching TV takes away from valuable writing time. What should you do instead? Read examples of really good work!
If you read nothing but news headlines or posts on LinkedIn Pulse, you're not reading the best writing available. Local papers hire green college grads to write the news, and anyone can blog. Feed your brain by picking up an award-winning book and reading it mindfully. You may gain inspiration (as well as some new vocabulary skills).
Striving for Excellence
Writing well is a journey that never ends, even for the most seasoned professional. Suspense author Sue Grafton encourages new writers to practice patiently, saying, "Writing is really hard to master. You learn by failing over and over." Understanding and incorporating these tips are great steps to take as you strive for excellence.