Writing is one of the most valuable skills we have, but it is also one of the most underutilized. Even those of us who set out to make a living with the written word doesn’t do it justice on most days.
When I first started trying to make a career out of writing, I was sure that I had some talent. There was just no one who seemed willing to pay me for that talent. The rejection letters soon became a fire hazard. For some reason, I still pressed on.
Over the years, I have continued to press my skills in order to be a better writer. My goal was never to change how I wrote, necessarily. It was more about honing and tightening the voice that carried through most of my work.
Define and Hone Your Voice
- Write a newspaper column (or a column for a blog). Many local newspapers have competitions that let local writers get some experience (and a byline) under their belts. The same goes for some blogs. It won’t be great pay (and is some cases with the blogs it won’t be any pay), but it will teach you to work under a deadline and within a word limit.
- Take a class. If you can’t find something at the local college or junior college (which would give you live, personal feedback) then find something online. I’ve taken several courses through ed2go.com and have been thoroughly satisfied with most of them.
- Join a writer’s group. If there isn’t one in your area, then start one. It will give you the chance to have someone NOT related to you critique your work. Toughen up your skin though. Strangers are not as likely to be as gentle as your mother.
- Find some blogging or writer’s forums and participate. These are kind of like the online version of the writer’s groups, but I don’t typically share my work in this format. I use these to ask questions or find other sites that can teach me a better way to write.
- Attend writer’s conferences. There will be local, day-long events at the junior college or university up the road. There will also be weekend-long events. Take every opportunity to meet fellow writers, editors, or publishers. If they are speaking at one of these events, then they are probably willing to answer questions. Ask away. If you are anything like me you will find that the more you learn, the more you need to learn.
- Step out of your genre. If you only write fiction stories, try doing a personal essay for Reader’s Digest. Write a short story based on a famous family member (historical). Write a sports column. The idea is to keep pushing your writing so that it can grow beyond where you already are today.
- Write something EVERY day. It doesn’t have to be a great piece of work, but you do need to be consistent in your writing. I once heard of a writer who always threw away the first two pages that was written. It took him that long to get into the flow. I’m not throwing any of it away, but I do sometimes just write a letter to a friend or a rant about the traffic to get the juices flowing.
- Don’t be afraid (or too proud) to change what you wrote. My novel is on its umpteenth draft, and I don’t even have an editor yet. Play with words. Read it out loud. Cut what you have done and then cut it some more. Make it crisp and fast and alive.
Since I started writing just last year, my writing has become much tighter. Adverbs are NOT my friends. And the more I work the more work I seem to be able to find. Writing is something that must be nurtured, worked, and tended much like an award-winning garden. The more you care for your writing, the more it will be able to care for you.
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