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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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Last Updated on April 17, 2019

10 Essential Soft Skills That Will Help Advance Your Career

10 Essential Soft Skills That Will Help Advance Your Career

What’s the secret of professional success? Some of it lies in the mastery of your discipline and all the technical skills you have to carry out your job; but a much bigger part lies in the soft skills list you possess.

Soft skills are your people or relationship skills—how well you get along with others and your ability to communicate and collaborate—as well as the personal characteristics you bring to the job, such as optimism, a can-do attitude and the motivation to work hard. These skills are not always easy to point out, but their absence can cause serious problems and negatively affect the whole work atmosphere.

They say that hard skills will help you get the job, but soft skills will help you get along—and get ahead. With that in mind, here’s the top-10 essential soft skills list to help you advance your career.

1. Communication Skills

Communication skills are hands-down the most sought-after soft skill that bosses want, and this one ability covers a lot of ground.

To communicate well, you have to listen carefully, interpret the context of the conversation, express yourself clearly, persuade others of your point of view, check your body language and use an engaging presentation style that won’t intimidate or bore your audience. That’s a big ask!

Your personality traits can influence the way you communicate with others. For instance, some people get straight to the point and center their arguments around facts and logic; others are cooperative and sensitive to how others feel. Both these approaches are equally valuable but there can be misunderstandings if you don’t understand where the other person is coming from.

Taking a comprehensive personality test can help you understand why you communicate the way you do and where your blind spots are. It can also help you understand other communication styles is so you can tailor your communication to the person you’re dealing with.

After all, connecting with your conversation partner is the hallmark of good communication.

2. Flexibility

Change is an essential part of any business. Companies need employees who are flexible enough to work with new initiatives, open to new ideas, and generally are able to tough it out when things don’t go as planned.

Research has found a link between job performance and flexibility over the long term because there will be times when you have to step outside your routine and rise to fresh challenges that didn’t exist before.

Being flexible doesn’t mean you have to hop into a new task or job role like an expert. Rather, it’s about showing you’re willing to accept new responsibility and learn different things.

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Bosses look for people who are prepared to step outside their comfort zones and are open to alternative solutions when their first idea doesn’t work.

3. Being a Team Player

Working on a team can be challenging but learning to do it well can definitely help you get ahead in your career. Employers look for people who can negotiate, cooperate and manage conflicts with other people to achieve a common goal. That includes the ability to build lasting relationships with customers and clients.

What makes a good team player? Essentially, it’s someone who knows the goal and knows her role. Employers look for evidence that you know your strengths, your responsibilities and how you can best contribute to the team, then put those skills into action by sharing ideas and communicating in a respectful manner. That’s the definition of being a good team player.

This is another area where taking a personality test can help you get ahead. When teams work together, each member brings a unique set of skills and qualities to the group. Research has shown that different combinations of personalities affect how teams collaborate and how productive they are.

Knowing who you are, and how you work on a team, can drive new insights and open the door to better teamwork.

4. Positive Mental Attitude

There are plenty of things you can’t change at work, like the people you work with or the fact that the printer is broken again. The one thing you can change is how much you let these things bother you.

Bosses like people who are calm, rational and upbeat—those who diffuse tensions in the workplace, not get all grouchy and go around slamming doors.

Studies show that people who maintain a sunny disposition have better relationships at work, are happier in their jobs and make better decisions than those who whine and complain. Some suggest that a positive mental attitude can also make you live longer—which means it’s beneficial for every area of your life![1]

It’s not always easy to keep a “glass half full” mentality when work is stressful and the deadlines are piling up. But there are some things you can do to help maintain a positive attitude. Laughing at your unfortunate circumstances keeps the work environment positive, and taking “sanity” breaks can help you keep your cool in high-pressure situations.

Managers look for positive mental attitude in a team member that is ready for a promotion, so it really does pay to keep your cool in challenging situations.

5. A Strong Work Ethic

People with a strong work ethic are committed to the role, persevere when things get tough and are inspired by challenge. These people are ambassadors for the organization, and will always be seen as top talent and ideal candidates.

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If you can exhibit this skill, then expect to be seen as a great candidate, eligible for new opportunities and positions throughout your career.

Since a strong work ethic can mean different things to different people, it helps to show specific examples of your exceptional work ethic during a performance appraisal or interview. For instance, you might talk about:

  • A time when you persisted in the face of challenges and did not shy away from hard work.
  • How you volunteered to help with projects even though these tasks did not form part of your job description.
  • The networking, workplace learning and skills betterment you’ve undertaken, which shows ambition and drive (people with a strong work ethic have those qualities in spades).
  • How you own your mistakes and never, ever point the finger of blame at others.

For help with building a strong work ethic, check out these tips: How to Build a Reliable Work Ethic

6. Public Speaking

Who’s terrified of public speaking? Pretty much everyone, since public speaking is America’s number one fear, ahead of death at number five and loneliness at number seven.

Yet, according to Warren Buffett, mastering this one skill you could increase your personal value by 50 percent.[2] That’s huge!

If you’re not natural at public speaking, you’re in good company. Buffett had to work hard to overcome his stage fright and once dropped out of a public-speaking course before it started—because he was afraid of public speaking! He eventually realized that he needed to build up his confidence by just doing it; over and over in front of small groups.

For a more structured approach, Toastmasters International teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a variety of pathways. Membership of this non-profit looks good on your resume but the real payoff will come when you can put your newfound skills to use on the job or in the interview room.

Or, you can check out this advice: The Ultimate Public Speaking Tips to Hook and Impress Any Audience

7. Integrity

From a manager’s point of view, the two integrity skills that will set you apart are:

  • Always doing what you say you will do
  • Owning an error instead of minimizing or hiding it

…even when no one is around to check up on you.

There are lots of people who have climbed the ladder without scruples, but they are not the people who others trust, respect and support when promotion time comes around.

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Behaving with integrity is a safe and consistent way to enhance your reputation and achieve your professional goals.

8. Managing Your Time

Phone calls, texts, Slack pings, meetings, huddles, side projects, multitasking—we are busier today than any generation before us. There’s no denying the workplace is an incredibly distracting place to be.

A lot of us have traded effectiveness for busyness which we wear as a badge of honor, both as a proxy for productivity and to show our value to the company. But what bosses want, what they really, really want, is someone who actually gets stuff done on time.

Time management is not merely the art of being on time, but of managing your time so you focus on the projects that really matter and add value to the business. This means prioritizing well, sticking to schedules, delegating, and not getting distracted by tasks that are easier to perform or less important. It means planning ahead and learning when it’s appropriate to say no.

Time management can be a tough skill to maintain, but not a difficult one to pick up. Monitor your actions for a few days—how long do your tasks take to finish? What’s interrupting you? What causes you to lose focus? Once you have the answers to these questions, you can set a schedule for yourself to make sure you’re spending your time wisely and this valuable asset is never wasted.

These 20 Quick Time Management Tips to Super Boost Your Productivity are also great to try.

9. Assertiveness

In any workplace, you typically will find people with the following conflict styles:

  • Passive: Those who go out of their way to avoid conflict.
  • Passive-aggressive: Those who express their negative feelings through actions rather than words.
  • Aggressive: Those who respond to conflict in a hostile and rude manner. These people get their opinion heard but they won’t make any friends in the process.
  • Assertive: People who stick up for their rights while still respecting the rights of others.

Managers look for assertiveness above all other styles because it allows decisions to be made without conflict or alienating people.

How do you use this information for yourself?

It starts with understanding your personality so you can anticipate how you will react when conflict arises and address your own shortcomings. Then, you can start influencing the team for top results, and securing your own career advancement in the process.

Learn how to be assertive and gain respect:

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How to Be Assertive and Stand up for Yourself the Smart Way

10. Creative Thinking

LinkedIn recently analyzed over 50,000 skills that employers search for when looking for candidates to find out what skills are currently in demand.[3] Taking the number-one slot on the 2019 soft skills list was creativity: the ability to solve problems and think outside the box.

Creativity is about bringing fresh, and sometimes unorthodox, ideas to the table. This helps companies to innovate, and companies that do not innovate will not survive very long.

How do you showcase your creative thinking skills? The golden rule is to participate.

Be brave and share your ideas during group brainstorming sessions. Volunteer to run a society, networking event or recruitment drive. Ask “what if” questions: “What if we add this information to the client welcome pack?” “What if we eliminate step 3 from the process?”

These activities demonstrate that you’re prepared to go beyond “business as usual” towards creative problem solving—an ability that will serve you every day, all throughout your career.

You can learn to unleash your creativity power:

What Is Creativity? We All Have It, and Need It

Final Thoughts

The good news? Every item on this soft skills list can be learned. Although you may feel lacking in certain areas, taking an inventory of your strengths and weaknesses will allow you to focus in on the areas that you’ll benefit from developing.

So take an inventory of your personality, skills, and talents. This will give you a baseline for your communication style, attitude to change, conscientiousness and more. You can then identify your weak areas and develop strategies for improving your team-building, assertiveness and conflict skills.

The better news? The effort is worth it. Developing your soft skills opens the door to a new job or a promotion, and helps you succeed once you get there.

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Featured photo credit: Rachael Gorjestani via unsplash.com

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