Whether your niche lies in public relations or marketing, communications or digital, your ability to write will make or break many opportunities.
If you haven’t got this core skill, you’ll soon be found out. Luckily, it’s one that can be learned and honed.
I’m not going to patronize you with basics such as spelling and grammar or the need to proofread before you publish; you already know all that. These tips are designed to improve the structure, style and tone of your content.
For some, a distinctive style comes naturally, whereas others have to devote more time and energy to developing their craft. In either case, these practices can enhance your ability to turn around compelling copy under tight deadlines:
1. Sketch out your piece with pen and paper.
No one likes having a cursor blinking accusingly at them. Getting your ideas down on paper lets you think them through before you get started. Your thoughts become more structured and coherent, and you’ll find you’re able to link themes more fluidly.
2. Read an array of genres.
Read broadsheets, and read the tabloids. Read that columnist you love and the one you hate. Read romance, comedy and sci-fi; read history and mythology. Read poetry. Read plays. (Well, preferably watch plays, but reading them is also good.) Read blog posts and tweets and Instagram captions and hashtags. Read the classics. Read short stories. Read biographies. Read kids’ books. Read magazines. Read comics. Read.
3. Play with words.
We’ve all been there: You’re sent a dreary, jargon-heavy email chain or bulky, lifeless piece of text and told to make it accessible, readable, creative or even fun. You approach the task with considerable trepidation. Have a little fun with it. Try writing it out as a haiku, the trailer to a blockbuster movie or a love letter. Why? Stripping a piece of text like that from its format and putting it in a completely different one will force you to distill the message to its core.
4. Become your own editor.
It’s not easy to edit your own work. We are naturally inclined to think the way we wrote it the first time is just fine, thank you very much. Leave a gap between writing your piece and editing it (ideally one that includes a night’s sleep, so you can look at it with fresh eyes). Read your words aloud; this is the easiest way to root out awkward sentence structure or errant punctuation, and make sure your work has a natural flow. It can help to edit other people’s work, too, as it’s easier to spot mistakes in their work than in your own.
5. Overcome writer’s block.
Even the most seemingly mundane writing task requires an abundance of creativity. Unfortunately, writer’s block can hit at any time. Plenty has been written on the topic, but here are some techniques: Spend some time in nature, leaving your phone and other devices behind; listen to a playlist you haven’t heard in ages turned up loud; watch a Disney film or a subtitled movie; spend a few minutes dancing naked in your living room. When you’re done with all that, force yourself to write. It doesn’t have to make sense, and it doesn’t have to be good; it just has to get you back into the flow.
Follow these bonus tips.
- Keep a dream diary, and write in it as soon as you wake up.
- Do a crossword, play Articulate, and find other games and brain teasers that build on how you communicate.
- Up for a challenge? Sign up for NaNoWriMo, and write your first book within a month’s time.
- When you read a sentence and you don’t understand a word, look it up and think about ways of using it.
What do you do to improve as a writer? What tips would you add for people who are struggling? Please offer your ideas in the comments section.