People often ask me what it takes to be a good writer. The short answer? I don't know. The slightly longer answer? I don't know, and I don't care.
I am much less concerned with good writing than I am with effective writing. What's the difference? One is based on opinion, and the other actually matters.
Everyone has their own idea of what it means to be a “good” writer. Opinions on quality vary, depending on who you ask, but effective writing is hard to argue with. It gets the job done — plain and simple.
So how do you write in a way that effectively communicates your message? Or are you merely trying to be good?
Since this often confuses people, here are seven tips for more effective writing, which you can apply today:
1. Practice your craft
You can't do something well unless you do it badly first — and that begins with practice. I recommend setting aside time (even if it's only 10 minutes) to write each day. You can't get better if you don't show up. Commit to the process and you will be amazed at the results.
I do this with my blog and other pieces I'm working on by writing daily a minimum of 500 words . The more I write, the more I learn about writing — and the more I realize I need to practice.
Set aside time to write each day. You can’t get better if you don’t show up.
Talking about writing isn’t writing. Planning to write isn’t how you get better. The only way to get better is to actually do it.
2. Challenge yourself
Write about topics that interest to you, but don't forget to dabble in new stuff, as well. The more you stretch yourself, the more you grow. You could challenge yourself and join me for a free webinar to learn my three keys for effective writing. Or maybe take up a daily writing challenge.
The point is to never underestimate the importance of learning. I try to learn something new every day by reading books and blogs and listening to podcasts and audiobooks.
Learn something new every day.
I don’t like to go to bed until I've gleaned at least a few bits of wisdom and information from different sources.
3. Be yourself
Don’t model your writing after another writer. And if you do, do it only as a means of learning someone else's technique, so that you can make it your own.
Ultimately, what you want is to discover your original writing voice. And frankly, that's what your audience wants, too. If we wanted to read Hemingway, we would read Hemingway.
Discover your original writing voice.
I still struggle with this, but I'm getting better. One technique I use is to read aloud to myself what I've just written, and if it doesn't sound like me, I rewrite it.
4. Don't write like an idiot
Learn the basics of grammar. Buy an MLA, APA, or another style book (I recommend the AP Stylebook to a lot of copywriters and journalists). Chicago Manual is good for writing a book. Become a student of your craft and dedicate the rest of your life to honing it.
Become a student of your craft and dedicate the rest of your life to honing it.
As Hemingway once wrote, we are all apprentices in a craft nobody masters. The point is not to arrive but to attempt. To aspire to write the best that we know how in the only way we can. So let’s honor the craft and start writing like a pro.
Learning the rules, after all, makes it easier to break them later.
5. Start small
Most would-be writers begin in the wrong place. They begin by wanting to write a book. Don't do that. That’s too big. Too audacious. Too easy to fail at.
Start small, maybe with a blog or a journal (you know, Doogie Howser style). Then write a few articles for some magazines, and after that, consider a book. As you take one step after another towards getting published, you'll find that your confidence builds. So does your competence. You get better faster the more you practice in public.
Don’t your creative journey by trying to write a book. Start small.
That's been my experience, anyway. After four years of writing for websites and magazines, I was finally ready to write a book. Without all that small work, I never would have been ready for something bigger.
6. Don't give up
If writing is your dream, treat it seriously. Stick with it, even after the passion fades, which it likely will. Write every day. Perseverance pays off.
Write every day. Perseverance pays off.
Most days, I don't even want to write, but I show up, anyway. And something mystical happens; the Muse meets me, and inspiration happens when I least expect it. I enjoy something I was dreading because I fulfilled my one commitment as a professional writer, which is to never quit.
After all, that’s the only difference between an amateur and a pro.
7. Learn to pitch your pieces
Many writers expect to write something phenomenal and get published immediately — you know, by osmosis and stuff. But before you write a piece, you should learn to pitch prospective publishers (book, magazine, or website).
Learn the art of asking. You will be doing it your whole career. Better get used to it now.
Learn the art of asking.
A good pitch is short, compelling, and promising. Without learning how to effectively market your writing, even the best writers can be overlooked. You are only one “yes” away from your next big break.
What are some other tips for effective writing that I missed? Share in the comments.