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20 Ways to Become a Better Writer

20 Ways to Become a Better Writer

Two years ago, if you were to tell me I’d one day be writing for my favorite magazines and finishing my first screenplay… well, I wouldn’t believe you. That’s because even though I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was six, you couldn’t tell by looking at my former lifestyle.

At the time, it was filled with so many things not related to writing I barely had the focus to write a shopping list. A shopping list. I still don’t understand how it happened, or why the most important thing to me was always shuffled to the bottom of my priority list.

All I know is this: if you want to become a better writer, the longer it takes you to get started, the stronger your resistance will be to get started at all. You’re the only one who can shuffle your writing goals to the top of the pile where they belong. It won’t happen overnight – for me, it was a gradual progression, shifting from my old lifestyle to my new one – but it will happen.

Below are 20 lessons I’ve learned along the way that will help you become a better writer. All it takes is five minutes to get started. Soon, finding time to write will become an automatic way of thinking, and you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about.

1. Streamline Your Focus

The good news is, there’s never been a better time to be a writer. The bad news is, it can be hard to decide what your niche is going to be. If you find yourself working on blog posts and articles and novels and poetry and eBooks, your head’s going to spin and your words aren’t. You have to decide what area of the writing industry you’re going to start out in, build a solid foundation, and establish yourself.

When you spread yourself over several areas, you’re not going to be able to offer enough creative energy to make an impact in any of them. Step away from the flurry you’re creating and ask yourself: as a writer, what is your ultimate goal? Once I stepped back and asked myself this question, the answer was too clear to ignore. I literally dropped everything that didn’t relate to my ultimate goals, and haven’t looked back. You shouldn’t either.

2. Learn From The Best

The best way to become a better writer is to learn from the best. Once you’ve defined your ultimate goal, find out who the influencers are in your niche. Follow them on social media, study their writing, and get to know the inner workings of what makes them successful. Use this information as an ongoing guide for your own success: learn the ins and outs to craft your own plan.

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If you’re a big fan of a particular writer who teaches an online course that will strengthen your skills, sign up! It took me almost a year to save up the money, but I broke into women’s magazines by learning from a writer I’ve admired since high school. My first article sale more than paid for the initial investment, and better prepared me for the business side of building my clips.

3. Create a Space to Write

While mobile technology has made it possible to write anywhere, anytime, it’s important to have a primary location to write from. Creativity is spontaneous, but fleeting. You want to make sure you have a small slice of consistency in place to capture it for future use.

Fill the space with everything you can think of that inspires and motivates you to become a better writer.

4. Define Clear Writing Goals

Be as specific as possible about your writing goals and break them down into tiny, actionable steps. The smaller your steps, the less overwhelming your overall goals will feel. As you become more comfortable with the process you’ll take bigger strides toward success in your own time, and on your own terms.

5. Never Lose an Idea

One of your first steps to become a better writer should be creating a system to keep track of your ideas. The second an idea comes to you, you want to be able to conveniently write it down. Never assume you’ll remember it later (you rarely will, and you’ll look funny slapping yourself).

This was one of the first items on my agenda. I upgraded my desktop, laptop, and cell phone so I can access my writing files from anywhere. Now, if an idea strikes and I’m standing in line at the grocery store, I can type the idea into my cell and it’s waiting for me in my office when I get home. It’s made all the difference in both my productivity and the number of opportunities I’m able to create for myself.

6. Find Your Voice

How you express yourself on paper (or rather, screen) should be the same as how you express yourself in your everyday life. Unfortunately, when many of us start writing, our words come off sounding stiff and contrived (a.k.a. boooring!).

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To break this cycle, write how you naturally speak. The best way to do this? Write your article, blog post, or presentation in an e-mail. When you write e-mails to your family and friends, you’re as “you” as you can get. Your guard is down and you’re not focusing on how you sound – because of that, your words practically leap off the screen. Once you’re consistently writing in this voice, move back over to your word processing program.

7. Call a Truce With Your Inner Critic

If you’re not careful, your inner critic will become the brick wall that stands between you and your writing career. If you find your inner critic’s interrupting too much – perhaps causing your blog post to take as long as a novel – simply say to them, “Once I’m done my first draft, it’s all yours.” Believe it or not, after stating this arrangement, your inner critic will wait patiently for the words to pour out before picking them apart.

8. Define Your Speed

While it’s good to use the cracks and crevices of your day to accomplish as much writing as you can, this strategy becomes counterintuitive when you accomplish only a fraction of what you’d hoped. Emotionally, your automatic assumption is to feel like a failure, when in fact you just need to accurately define your parameters.

When your ambition overpowers your reason, you end up creating a to-do list fit for a robot, not a person. You don’t take into account potential delays, interruptions, or physical exhaustion. You also don’t take into account the speed at which you write. It’s the emotional equivalent of grocery shopping when you’re starved.

It takes practice to create a list of daily goals you can actually finish. Each day, write down what you hope to accomplish. Keep track of how long each task takes and any delays that happen along the way. On subsequent lists, you’ll start taking into account the speed at which you write, potential delays, and will trim it down to a realistic size you’ll feel confident about.

9. Know Your Worth

Just because you’re lacking experience doesn’t mean you should accept writing jobs that barely pay for your morning coffee. Content farms play on the rush instant gratification that gives us. After all, who wouldn’t want to become a writer “right now” and make money “instantly”? The only way you’ll become a better writer is by seeking out quality opportunities – otherwise, you’ll not only remain inexperienced, but also the inexperienced writer who works for a content farm. Not exactly a shining addition to your resume.

10. Write For Love

On the other side of the same coin, don’t take a writing job just for the money. Write exactly what you want to write about, become the best at doing so, and the money will follow.

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I was once offered a freelance copywriting job that would’ve allowed me to downsize my web design business and focus more on my writing… and I turned it down. While the pay was decent, I didn’t want to be a copywriter. I wanted to write what I love – otherwise, what would be the point of writing at all?

If it’s not a clip you’d be proud to have in your portfolio, don’t write it.

11. Study Your Market

If you want to freelance write for magazines and blogs, learn the entire pitching process from start to finish. If you want to sell eBooks, learn the entire publishing process from the beginning to the end. You don’t want your creativity stifled because you’re learning the business-side of writing as you go along.

On the flip side, you don’t want to spend so much time learning that you become intimidated and procrastinated on execution. Consider your first few ideas of your “testing period.” Learn the first step of the process, then execute it using one of your ideas. Learn the second step, and continue until your first pitch/project is complete. As you practice, you’ll tweak the process and make it your own.

12. Quality Over Quantity

Even though the business side of writing will constantly give you pressure, creativity cannot be rushed. As much as you want to have a new query letter submitted by the end of the week, or your latest eBook done by the end of the month, don’t sacrifice quality for the sake of your deadline. If you need more time, then take it. Never submit mediocrity now when excellence is just around the corner.

13. Have Tricks Up Your Sleeve

There will be days when you won’t feel like getting started, even when you’re working on a writing project you’re madly in love with. Make sure you have a few tricks up your sleeve to help motivate you. Whether it’s a morning routine that triggers you to get started, or bribing yourself with a gift once your goal is reached, do what you have to do to follow through.

14. Go Big

Many people will tell you to start by writing for smaller markets, then work your way up to larger ones. I say, go big or go home. When I broke into the women’s magazine market, I had no clips. Seriously, not one. But I worked really hard on my query letter, researched my article idea thoroughly beforehand, and pitched my first idea like it was my fiftieth. Don’t tell them you deserve a shot, show them you have the chops through your query letter. Even if they don’t accept your initial idea, you’ll end up on their radar, earn their respect, and in time will land an assignment.

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15. Know The Rules, But Make Your Own

All writers have their own strategy when it comes to their creativity. They have their own process for planning, outlining, and executing every piece they write. As you’re reading books and articles on how to become a better writer, it’s important not to use the advice literally, but as a starting point to create your personal process. Your creative process will end up being a fusion of the advice you’ve filtered through and tested, keeping what works and discarding what doesn’t.

16. Learn How to Say No

If you spend all your time being everything to everyone except yourself, you’ll never get your writing career off the ground. As you begin spending less time with your friends and more time on your writing, prepare for them to resist the idea. They’re not meaning to discourage you, they’re just fearful of how their dynamic with you is going to change. Once they realize they’re just as important to your life as they were before you became a writer, the resistance will subside. To get to this point, you have to stand your ground and make the word “no” to your new BFF.

17. Let Your Writing Leave The Nest

When you’ve finished your writing project, set it aside for a few days so you can emotionally detach yourself from it. Not only does this give you the opportunity to breathe before the marketing process begins, but also allows you to start looking at your piece as a product to sell. This shift in mind frame will help you take criticism and feedback from industry professionals more as business advice to improve your craft, and less like your soul is being attacked.

18. Write In Bursts

I don’t know about you, but when I’m sitting at the computer for too long, I become restless. I spend more time staring blankly at the screen than I do writing – it’s as if my mind has flatlined. The hardest thing for me to let go of when I moved from working for someone else to working for myself was how my workday was structured. Working for someone else, I would work for four hours, take a 30-minute break for lunch, then work for another four. When you build your writing credentials to the point where you can go off on your own, don’t take this habit with you.

Instead, work in short, concentrated bursts. Some writers write in 15-minute bursts right up to 90-minute bursts. End your bursts whenever you feel yourself getting restless, take a small break, then go back in for another. The increase in productivity thanks to this small change is impressive!

19. Plan WAY Ahead

Many writers plan their editorial calendars up to a year in advance! It might sound nutty, but it’s surprisingly efficient. Plan your word/page count goals as far in advance as you can, blocking off windows of time to write like you would for a meeting or appointment. Your schedule isn’t just a schedule: it becomes written proof that by a certain date you’ll reach your goal, making you more likely to stick to it.

20. Develop a Consistent Routine

Becoming a writer isn’t just a career choice – it’s a lifestyle choice. The best way to become a better writer is to respect your writing like you would respect another person: make time for it, keep your promises, and most importantly, follow through.

The best thing I ever did for my writing career was stop talking about it – instead of going on endlessly to friends and family about what I wanted my writing career to be, I wrote my way there.

Don’t get me wrong: creating a routine is hard and no two are the same. You’ll go through a gigantic testing period until you get it just right, but as long as you persevere you’ll find your groove. You’ll no longer worry about saying “I’m a writer” to prove your identity – you’ll be too busy writing.

How do you continue to become a better writer? Let us know your tips + tricks in the comments below!

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Krissy Brady

A women's health & wellness writer with a short-term goal to leave women feeling a little more empowered and a little less verklempt.

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Published on September 16, 2020

12 Practical Interview Skills to Help You Land Your Dream Job

12 Practical Interview Skills to Help You Land Your Dream Job

Today, with many companies going remote—at least until there’s a COVID-19 vaccine—technical proficiency is a vital skill for every interviewee to master. You may be asked to interview for a job on Zoom or Microsoft Teams. The way you handle yourself in the online interview (your interview skills) will say much about your ability to work from home efficiently.

Does your workspace look clean or cluttered? Is the area free from noise? Is your home office well lit?

Once hired, you may be asked to organize meetings on Zoom and other platforms. Along with mastering the technology, you will have to learn to follow certain protocols.

Now is the time to get up to speed on your technical skills. Learn which interview skills are needed for the particular job for which you are applying and practice them.

Online learning sites, such as LinkedIn Learning and Udemy, offer courses for free or a nominal membership fee. If you are a DIY type, make use of training videos offered through your particular digital tools.

Additionally, demonstrating that you have these 12 interview skills will help you land your dream job.

1. Organization

When you work in a brick-and-mortar office, some of the organizing is left to others. Your direct supervisor may host a Monday morning quarterback meeting where each worker reports on the progress on their tasks.

When you work from home, much of the organizing will be left up to you. To a much greater extent than before, you will need to develop a schedule and stick to it. Some tasks may be faster to complete from your home office where you don’t have other workers competing for your attention.

Conversely, you may find that some tasks that would have gone quickly in an office seem to take forever from your home computer. Your phone may ring a lot, which can distract you, or you may have kids and a spouse who inadvertently disrupt your schedule.

To do: Set a schedule and stick to it.

To discuss during your interview: Be specific. Point to the interview skill you utilized to create a schedule for a complex work project and followed it.

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2. Flexibility

You set a schedule for the completion of your tasks, but your prospective boss gets their work done between the hours of 2:00 and 8:00 a.m. Your West Coast partners are three hours behind your East Coast partners, and one of your partners lives in England while another lives in Australia.

Feedback and collaboration (see point 3) may need to happen asynchronously. Be the flexible candidate—the person who is willing to occasionally disrupt their schedule for the greater good of the team.

For extra credit: don’t just look up time zones, look up whether they observe Daylight Savings Time.

To do: Be flexible about meeting times.

To discuss during your interview: Highlight a time when you worked on a team where members lived in different time zones. Discuss your processes.

3. Collaboration

As recently as six months ago, before the pandemic raged around the world, collaboration wasn’t quite as essential as it is today. In a remote office setting, collaboration doesn’t just mean working well with others—but actually sharing documents and editing them online on time.

Several cloud-based tools, such as Google Drive, Basecamp, and Trello, enable the type of collaborative teamwork that most companies want today.

To do: Download the correct software and practice using it.

To discuss during your interview: Discuss how you worked remotely with a group. Share how you overcame certain challenges.

4. Poise

Murphy’s Law states, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

When things do go awry, keeping your wits about you will demonstrate your consummate professionalism under fire. This will show your future bosses that you will be able to work well under the pressures of remote work.

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What could go wrong, you ask? You might be muted without realizing it—your Internet connection may not be robust, your headphones may blip out, your cellphone may ring, Zoom could have an outage. The list goes on and on.

To do: Make sure you have the most up-to-date versions of Skype and Zoom uploaded.

To discuss during your interview: Consider highlighting a time when a project did not go as planned. Demonstrate the interview skills that allowed you to rise to the challenge.

5. Communication

Your ability to handle online communication is one of the top critical skills you will need to thrive in today’s remote workplace. Download Slack if you haven’t already. Get used to toggling to a different form of online communication if one of your tools fails.

When it comes to the preferred format for your online interview, demonstrate proficiency by offering several different options. Give your phone number, Google Chat Hangouts name, and Skype ID.

To do: Familiarize yourself with video conference and online chat tools, such as Slack, Fleep, or Workplace by Facebook.

To discuss during your interview: Be prepared to share the online communication tools you’re using and examples of how you use each one.

6. Good Computer Hygiene

Setting up a backup system for your computer files is one of today’s crucial requirements for working in the digital age. Storing documents that can be shared by team members is also an efficient way to work together on presentations, articles, and reports—although studies show nearly one-third of employees avoid them because of the time it takes to find documents.

Be prepared in your interview to indicate your experience utilizing this technology, describing how you organize and store files using cloud-based collaboration tools. How do you keep track of links and tabs? Do you use Dropbox? Google Docs? Confluence? Others?

To do: Take inventory of the cloud-based document sharing and storage systems you know and use.

To discuss during your interview: Describe the document sharing tools and backup systems you utilize—both for personal protection and professional file sharing.

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7. Proper Meeting Etiquette

Today, presenting yourself virtually has its pros and cons. While you only have to show a professional persona from the waist up (make sure to straighten up your office space behind you), you must boost your energy to show that you’re engaged in the discussion.

Make your voice as upbeat as possible. Have your talking points at the ready and be careful not to ramble on, as long virtual meetings easily become tiresome. Use the mute and chat features to avoid interruptions.

To do: Once you know the meeting platform, make sure you have it mastered before your interview.

To discuss during your interview: Offer to share your screen to show an example of a work project— while at the same time demonstrating your prowess with video conferencing tools.

8. Respecting Feedback

In the age of working remotely, there may not be as many systems in place to obtain feedback (such as yearly performance reviews). Workers may need to ask for feedback, while managers may need to give more feedback than usual as the team adjusts to working off-site. Respecting feedback is on top of the interview skills list that you should learn.

Taking a proactive approach with giving and receiving feedback and incorporating it into your work style is a desirable quality that your employers will note.

To do: Reflect on the positive feedback you’ve received from past employers to bolster your confidence.

To discuss during your interview: Share a time when you received feedback that made you grow in the job. If you’re a manager, share a time when you gave feedback to an employee who needed to better their job performance.

9. Project Management

Staying on task with projects has evolved far past a to-do list, with electronic tools that can track time, manage team workloads, and even do the client billing. While your prospective employer may have its preferred project management program, your experience with any of the various options—whether it’s Basecamp, Teamwork, Smartsheet, or another—will be applicable.

To do: Know which project management software is likely to be used by the industry in which you’re interviewing, and familiarize yourself with its features.

To discuss during your interview: Highlight a project management feature that is particularly useful in helping you excel in your work, and explain how you utilize it.

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10. Staying up to Speed

Employers expect their remote workers to be technically proficient so that technology runs smoothly and doesn’t create work disruptions. Bosses count on remote workers to know enough about their systems to manage them without relying on the help of overworked IT staff.

To do: Make sure you have a fast internet connection and have a back-up plan, such as a second computer or other tethered devices.

To discuss during your interview: Note that you are diligent about keeping your computer and software up to date.

11. Attention to Cybersecurity Issues

“Virus” is a loaded term these days. Spreading a computer virus in your company, however, will not only bring productivity to a halt, but it will also make you a pariah. While working from public places using free Wi-Fi (with uneven security provisions) has waned, in pre-pandemic times, coffee shops accounted for 62 percent of Wi-Fi security breaches.

To do: Keep antivirus software updated and don’t download software without verifying its authenticity.

To discuss during your interview: Emphasize your awareness of cybersecurity risks and your care in taking necessary safety measures.

12. Teamwork

Work relationships now mostly happen in virtual settings, yet employers value team-oriented workers.

Being a part of a team gives you a sense of connection and shared purpose. A well-honed team understands how mutual reliance makes the sum of its parts greater than when individuals act on their own, improving the end product.

To do: Take stock of your attributes as a team player and where you can cultivate skills that will enable you to work more collaboratively.

To discuss during your interview: Inquire about the company’s culture and how it encourages a sense of community despite working remotely.

Final Thoughts

Preparing for remote positions available in today’s job market will mean honing your interview skills to highlight your technical abilities as well as your adaptability. By adhering to these To-Do’s and perfecting your online interview skills and charisma, you will rise above the competition and win over any prospective employer.

More Tips to Improve Your Interview Skills

Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

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