Write Like a Professional: Four Crucial Writing Tips for Beginners
Writing used to scare me. A lot.
Seasoned writers see a “blank canvas waiting to be filled with your words,” a familiar friend and rival to be conquered. All I ever saw was the blinking cursor taunting me. I was too worried about the order of my words. Was I getting my point across? Have I rambled on too long? Is this even worth writing in the first place?
I initially got into writing articles for my high school newspaper. In those days I naively expected it to be like the creative writing I had been doing for years. I didn’t learn to differentiate the two writing styles until I majored in journalism a year later.
Writing professional articles was a whole new beast compared to school papers and short stories — one that I wasn’t sure I could conquer. Admittedly, my first reaction was to ignore the obvious hole in my skill set, but it didn’t take long for my lack of knowledge to begin gnawing at me. I was only stalling the inevitable. I would have to learn eventually or it was going to loom over me forever, keeping me from new opportunities and experiences.
The first thing I did was take writing courses and, more importantly, take notes during those courses. The second thing I did was practice what I learned; no point in taking notes if I wasn’t ever going to use them.
Now I want to share some of the ones I found most helpful when I was a novice writer.
1. Write for your reader
I put this first because I truly believe it’s the most important lesson you can learn. Once you begin to write for your reader, you start to understand how important it is to be concise and clear. It took me a long time to accept that extraneous details don’t make your writing more interesting; it makes it more cluttered. Unless you’re writing creative non-fiction or fiction, you need to be extremely critical of every detail you add. Stick to what the reader needs to hear, not what you want to say.
Jot down your intended message beforehand. Practice being consciously aware of what you’re writing and whether or not it serves the reader. Knowing what you want the reader to get out of your writing and what specifically conveys your message will help you stay on track. When you’re finished, review your work and delete anything that stands out as extraneous or tangentially related. Sometimes it’s difficult to cut a useless line you’re particularly proud of, but in the end, your writing will be clearer.
2. Save Everything
Simply put, it’s important to save everything you write, even the aforementioned useless line. I have documents of old writing that I occasionally comb through in search of the exact phrase I’m looking for. Just because it wasn’t right for one article doesn’t mean it isn’t right for any article.
Saving your unpublished work also serves as a time capsule. It’s part of the writing experience to have days where you feel self-conscious about what you’re doing. Self-doubt begins to creep in and suddenly you think every word you’ve written for your current project is complete and utter garbage. Personally, nothing is more encouraging than going through my writing from months or even years ago and seeing progress. It’s a great way to remind yourself you’ve improved and you’re not as bad as you think.
3. Keep it Simple
Going back to writing for your reader, another suggestion is to keep your writing simple. My parents used to say we needed to “Get in. Get out. Go home” when referring to quick outings. Now I use the phrase to guide my writing. Get your message across as plainly as possible.
Get in. Get out. Go home.
If you have to read a sentence multiple times to understand the meaning, that’s a sign your message is going to get lost. Look at your word choice. I’m sure you’ll be able to swap a few out for something simpler.
Once you’ve gotten accustomed to simplicity, you can begin to play around with your word choice, but it’s easier to add to your writing than it is to take it apart.
Complex writing can also be a barrier. I don’t expect every person who reads this to be an English major or remember all the parts of speech. I purposefully used “word choice” over “diction” because it’s easier to understand.
4. Connect the Dots
As the writer, you have information that the reader doesn’t. When you publish your article you know exactly what’s in it and why, and it makes sense to your brain. It’s your job to make sure by the end of the article the reader feels the same way.
This is especially important if you’re writing to inform others because you don’t want anyone to come to their own conclusions about your topic. Unless it’s your goal, don’t be ambiguous about anything.
At first, I thought this was a no-brainer, but after looking at some examples of disconnected writing, it’s actually less obvious than most would think. Disconnected writing isn’t just two or more points that don’t quite make sense, it can be anything that requires the reader to ask why or how.
Many residents do their laundry in the morning or at night to lower their energy bills.
Theoretically, this sentence is fine, but the reader doesn’t know why doing your laundry at certain hours of the day affects your energy bill. They’re left to make their own conclusion, which ultimately hurts the clarity of your writing.
As you get more comfortable with conveying your thoughts you’ll be able to play around with sentence structure, certain literary devices, and more. But remember to always keep your reader and your message in mind. It’s the best thing you can do for your writing.