Ready to hear about the not-so-typical writing tips? Time and time again, you have heard little nuggets of advice, such as:
- Adverbs are evil. (Choose a better verb.)
- Adjectives are a bit better. (Just don’t go crazy with them.)
- Clichés, however, are horrible. (Use your own words, thank you very much.)
- Write in the active voice. (Only soulless monsters write in the passive voice.)
Though great tips, they’ve been covered many times, and professionals who write frequently already have these in their standard practice. If you’re looking to elevate your writing as an intermediate or advanced wordsmith, keep reading.
1. Start in the middle.
Staring at a blinking cursor? It happens to all of us. Sometimes words come easily, and sometimes we get stuck in a seemingly never-ending spiral of OMG I can’t think of anything.
First, watch your internal monologue. Don’t confuse I’m not feeling particularly inspired right now with I’m a terrible writer, this is torture and I should have become a pharmacist like Mom suggested. It’s easy to psyche yourself out; don’t fall for it.
Then, start writing. Get words on the page—it doesn’t matter if you start in the middle of your piece or start at the end. Don’t try to finesse anything at this stage. Once you begin, your main points will reveal themselves buried a few paragraphs down. Then, you just need to lop off that copy that got you going.
2. Stop being wishy-washy.
When you’re done writing, go back through your copy eyeing timid words and phrases. Strike out any instance of “just”—as in, “I’m just writing to say” or “I just want you to know”—you don’t need to qualify what you’re saying. It’s OK to have an opinion. Other common offenses are:
- In my opinion
- I believe
- I think
These are needless filler, and they diminish your voice. Use decisive language.
3. Read it out loud.
Does it sound natural? The goal is to make sure you’re writing the way people talk, minus the fluff added in everyday conversation. Don’t try to get fancy with your word choice. For example, don’t write:
- Accordingly if you mean so
- Commence if you mean start
- Utilize if you mean use
- In close proximity to if you mean near
- Facilitate if you mean help
Good writing is simple, clear and concise. As Mark Twain said, “Don’t use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do.”
4. Walk away.
It’s one thing to struggle with a point you’re trying to make; it’s another to get so mired in whatever you’re trying to write that you muck it up all the more.
When you’re stuck down this rabbit hole—the one that looks like, I know this was only supposed to be 500 words and now it’s 1,200 and I don’t think I’m even making sense and it’s due tomorrow and I hate this piece of content with every fiber of my being— there’s really only one thing to do: Jump ship. You’re only making matters worse right now, I promise.
Take a break. Move your focus elsewhere. Walk your dog, play gin rummy, have dinner, meditate, argue politics, bake cookies—just stop writing. No one ever reached this stage and created anything great from it. Step away from your computer, and come back after some time has passed.
5. For the love of God, get an editor.
Of course, I am an editor, so you might not want to take it from me. Take it from these pros:
“Pay for an editor. Not just to fix the typos, but to actually make your ramblings into something that people will choose to read.” —Seth Godin
“Editing turns something great into something even greater.” —Neil Patel
“Use an editor. Editors are not optional. Period.” —Ann Handley
Megan Krause is managing editor at ClearVoice. She’s also #DearMegan—ask her your burning grammar and writing questions @ClearVoice. Follow her on Twitter. This article was previously published on PR Daily in August 2016.