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20 Ways to Become a Better Writer

20 Ways to Become a Better Writer
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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.

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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 July 27, 2021

15 Smart Video Conferencing Etiquette Tips to Follow

15 Smart Video Conferencing Etiquette Tips to Follow
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During the pandemic, video conferencing replaced in-person meetings and has now become the standard option for business meetings. Over the past 17 months, most workers have gotten past the video conferencing learning curve with Zoom or Microsoft Teams (or their platform of choice).

But just as with in-person meetings, attention can wax and wane. Some say we’re just not used to staring at ourselves so much on the screen. Instead of fixating on that, try employing smart video conferencing etiquette, or you may risk indiscretions that will flag you as a slacker.

Put the Pro in Professional

After more than a year of fine-tuning, here are the new rules of video conferencing etiquette.

1. Mute Your Mobile and Other Devices

The first video conference etiquette you need to know is muting your other devices. Just as in the pre-COVID days, someone’s obnoxious ring tone blaring Taylor Swift’s newest single in the middle of a meeting is also an annoyance if it happens during a Zoom meeting and so is the inevitable fumbling to turn off the sound. Even the apologies to the group get tiresome.

Also, when notifications are activated on the computer that you’re using for the meeting, the incoming message takes over the audio and you’ll miss out on snippets of the conversation. Be sure to eliminate this possible faux pas.

2. Dress the Part

While working from home, you may have fallen into the habit of slipping on your comfiest T-shirt each day. Hey, no judgments! But before you log on to your video conference, try to make an effort with your appearance.

Depending on your company culture and the importance of your meeting, consider dressing the part of the professional whom you wish to project. It will help you feel more self-assured, and others will likely take you more seriously.

For women, wear light make-up, put on earrings, and make sure your blouse is crisply pressed. For men, show up freshly shaved. Wearing a crisp collared shirt in a solid color will usually suffice.

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Pro Tip: Stay away from wearing white or black, unless those colors look great on you. Consider wearing light blue or brown instead.

3. Stage Your Workspace

Have you noticed the backdrops of experts interviewed on news shows? Bookshelves and photographs are carefully curated, and no busy-patterned furniture or artwork is in sight.

Take note of what appears behind you when you choose the location of your video conferences. Piles of junk mail on the table or stacks of folded laundry on the couch will convey more about your personal life than you care to share. Make sure you remove clutter from the camera’s eye, and present a tidy, orderly workspace to your colleagues, coworkers, and bosses.

4. Put Some Thought Into Lighting and Perspective

Be aware that in a video conference, your computer camera can actually make you look up to ten pounds heavier depending on where you sit. But you can easily drop those added pounds by moving back from the screen to diminish the wide-angle distortion.

Frame your head on the screen by tilting the screen up or down. Also, it’s best to not place yourself in front of a window or bright light, which makes you appear in shadow. Instead, face the light source, moving it (or yourself) until you have a flattering amount of illumination. You can also purchase some small spotlights that allow you to add light as needed.

Pro Tip: If your lights add too much redness to your skin, consider counter-balancing with a green filter.

Remember That Half of Life Is Showing Up

5. Arrive on Time

In the old days of in-person meetings, it was nearly impossible to slip in late into a meeting unnoticed. In today’s video conferences, logging in late still shows poor form. Instead, strive to arrive five minutes early and get yourself settled.

Once the meeting is underway, the host may be less attentive about late arrivals waiting to be let in. Diverting the host’s attention away from the meeting with a tardy entry request is the ultimate giveaway that you didn’t honor the schedule. If you don’t want a black mark against you, log in on time.

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6. Turn on Your Video

Few people like to see their face on the screen, but buck up and turn on your camera in video conferences. In most cases, it’s better to be a face on a screen than a name in a blank square. Your statements will be more memorable when other meeting attendees can see you.

If you need to turn off the video, either because of a poor connection, some commotion in the room, or a need for a quick break, give a short explanation via the chat feature. Then, go back on video as soon as you’re able.

Pro Tip: Keep your explanation for your departure pithy. “Sorry! Doorbell rang. Back in five” says it all. Be sure to honor what you say in chat and really do return in five minutes.

7. Plan Ahead Before Sharing Your Screen

Don’t be one of those people who makes everyone else wait as you click through folders in search of a document. That’s just poor video conferencing etiquette. If you know you’ll need to share a document or video on your screen, prepare by pulling it out of its folder and onto your desktop. Also, clean up the files and folders on your desktop to reduce clutter and facilitate easy access. Close other programs like chat, calendar notifications, and email. Disable pop-up notifications to ensure there’ll be no unforeseen distractions.

Be sure to remind the host before the meeting that you’ll need them to activate the screen-sharing function. Show courtesy once you’re finished by hitting “stop share” to return to the screen with participants.

Attend to the Pesky Details

8. Make Sure That Meetings Remain Right-Sized

With the easy accessibility of video conferencing, it can be tempting to extend the meeting invitation beyond the core group and include everyone peripherally involved in a project. But just as with in-person meetings, the more people involved, the more unwieldy the meeting becomes.

Use good judgment when asking others to sit through a video conference so that you don’t needlessly take up others’ time and so that participants can be fully engaged.

9. Remember to “Unmute” Before You Speak

Most of us are likely able to count on one hand the number of video conferences when someone didn’t have to be reminded, “You’re on mute!” Forgetting to unmute before speaking has become one of the most common missteps in video conferencing.[1]

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Show everyone your impeccable video-conferencing poise by managing your mute feature with flawless control.

10. Stay on Point to Keep the Meeting Length in Check

As with in-person meetings, an agenda with assigned time limits for discussions remains necessary to keep a meeting focused. Data shows, however, that video conferencing can actually reduce meeting time.[2] Reasons include the elimination of commuting time and the ability to screen share and annotate to keep everyone on task.

Additionally, side conversations are virtually impossible with video conferencing now that you can no longer have back-and-forth exchanges with the person beside you.

Pro Tip: If you’re running the meeting, let attendees know in advance the protocol for the chat feature. Is it okay for them to “chat among themselves” or not? (See point 11, as well.)

Talking Has a Time and a Place

11. Chat Appropriately

Just like side conversations or texting in an in-person meeting, the use of the chat feature during a video conference can be disrespectful unless it’s directed to all participants. Hence, it’s good video conferencing etiquette to mind your use of the chat.

At the start of the meeting, you may want to ask the host if it’s alright for participants to use the chat feature. This allows them to disable it if they choose. Used appropriately, it can be a helpful tool to clarify or amplify an earlier point once the conversation has moved on or to let the group know that you need to sign off early (and why).

12. Use the “Raise Hand” Feature to Avoid Interruptions

The slight lag in many video conferences can result in speaking over another person if you attempt to jump into a conversation. To avoid this awkward interruption, indicate when you have something to add to the discussion with the raise-your-hand feature that signals the host you would like to speak. This effective meeting management device makes video conferencing run more smoothly, especially with a large group, but it must be activated and monitored by the host.

Pro Tip: For meetings of six to ten people, sometimes the old-fashioned raising of your physical hand may be the best option. But it’s up to the meeting host. Ask them what they would prefer, and follow that.

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13. Don’t Record the Session or Take Photos Without Prior Permission

In this case, not sharing is caring. The “sharing culture” made popular through social media has little place in video conferencing. Before recording a meeting or capturing a screenshot of the participants, always ask for consent in advance from the full roster of attendees. Knowing that a video conference will be photographed or recorded could have a bearing on what others are willing to discuss.

Manage Yourself

14. Minimize Distractions

While de-activating audio and video features can keep distractions from affecting the other participants, you will need to manage noise and disruptions on your end to give your full attention to the meeting.

Move out of high-traffic zones in your home, keep your door closed, and ask family members to be considerate.

15. Save Snacking for Later

Save snacking for later—or earlier. Eating while on video conference is a no-no. Munching in front of the group while close to the camera—as you are when video conferencing—subjects the participants to an up-close and (too) personal view of your food consumption process.

However, it’s perfectly fine to sip quietly from a glass of water or cup of coffee or tea. If the meeting threatens to last for more than two hours, you may want to ask the host in advance to schedule a five-minute break at the halfway point.

Final Thoughts

Even though bosses are now beginning to ask workers to spend some of their workdays on-site, up to 80 percent will permit employees to work remotely at least part of the time, which means more video conferencing in your future.[3] Mastering these video conferencing etiquette tips will help you dial in—as well as dial back—your participation and demonstrate your unwavering level of engagement to the team.

Featured photo credit: Chris Montgomery via unsplash.com

Reference

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