As a child, my inner rebel cringed when my father would tell me that I’d make a good proofreader or editor. After years of working in his print shop throughout my childhood and teenage years, I thought I wanted to get as far away from publishing as possible.
Therefore, I entered college as an accounting major. Numbers are the opposite of words, right?
After my first quarter as a freshman, my accounting advisor told me he’d given me a C in accounting 101 in order to “move me along.” I left his office knowing I should cut my losses early and seek another major. Numbers just weren’t my thing.
Fascinated by photography, I thought I’d try my hand at photojournalism. This was back in the days when you had to figure your aperture and shutter settings in your head, and you didn’t have some fancy computer chip telling you what the best exposure was for your subject matter. Turns out, there are numbers in photography. And I didn’t grasp how to make the settings work for the results I sought. Next major.
At this stage in my college career, I began to embrace that I was good with words. But I didn’t fully want to embrace my father’s prophecy, so I went into mass communications—the all-encompassing major for those unsure if they wanted to write, broadcast or spin information. I decided I wanted to spin information, so I specialized in public relations. Turns out, there’s quite a bit of writing in PR. And I was good at it.
Somewhere in my senior year of college or shortly thereafter, when asked my occupation, I told people I was a writer who worked in public relations.
It turns out that, with a degree in mass communications, you can get very fun and interesting jobs in publishing, writing, editing, broadcasting, voiceovers, copyediting, marketing and these days, social media.
Also, it turns out that my dad’s prophecy came true—one of the largest portions of my job is editing. And he was right. I am good at it, and I enjoy it—though I’m probably pretty annoying at times to those I edit. Ha!
Fully embracing my ability to write and edit, I will leave you with a few guidelines I use when writing.
- To get unstuck in my writing, I write what I’m thinking about. An exercise that has helped me is writing stream-of-consciousness. Sometimes this exercise starts out with tapping out pure nonsense on my computer. However, once the nonsense has been released, I usually find myself writing something that’s meaningful. If I stick with the stream-of-consciousness writing for a few minutes, I soon find that I’m writing on a topic that is meaningful, the words are flowing, and I’m no longer stuck. This has proved true innumerable times.
- Clear up my writing. Or, as I learned in college, write for a fifth-grade reading level. This isn’t to say that you are to “dumb down” your writing. Writing clearly makes your content accessible to all levels of readers and to those who don’t like to read.Sometimes, writing clearly means to keep paragraphs short and sentences succinct, or to-the-point. You can continue to include “big” words, while clarifying those words. (In the previous sentence, I used succinct and then gave an alternate description of what I meant by that word when I included to-the-point.)
- Proofread my work. Some writers think their job is done when the words run out. Not true—and not a good practice—in my opinion. A writer’s job is to express thoughts clearly, and that includes making sure punctuation and grammar are in tact. Reread what you’ve written at least two times before publishing or turning it in; at best, reread it twice and ask a friend to read it for punctuation, grammar and context. If you’re writing a news story, research your facts exhaustively.
- Remove my ego and rewrite. This applies to those who freelance or write for a client’s approval. Not everything you write is going to hit the mark for the person with final approval. Don’t take it personally. Rewrite or edit your copy according to the guidelines they give you. Sometimes, this will help you grow in your skills.
- Read other writers’ experiences with writing. Anne Lamott, Jeff Goins, Stephen King, Julia Cameron and others have written books or articles about the creative process of writing. Find blogs or books that you connect with, read them, and highlight the good parts.
What are some tips you mobilize when sitting down to write? What gets you unstuck or inspires you to put words to paper?