We’re all different in this whirlpool of writing headaches. Some of us struggle with imposter syndrome. Some need more structuring (others less). And some need a harsh dose of reality. In reality, most of us probably need a cocktail mix of everything if we ever hope to produce amazing writing. Below is some of my favourite writing advice that I’ve received (written in my own much-harsher words) from tutors, bloggers, academics, and other writers:
I am a 26-year-old writer still early-on in this industry, with a couple successful freelancing gigs and a handful of writing courses under my belt.
Just Because You Understand It Doesn’t Mean Others Will
My university tutors’ favourite feedback on my writing assignments—that, and scary red ‘?’s scrawled over my work (I was tired OK!?). This comment was often the fault of poor, overly complex sentence structure, or just me going too hard on the creative writing (and forgetting no one else knows what I mean). Generally, preventing bad writing means handing your work to someone else to read, or letting your writing sit for a few days before editing so you can read with a fresh pair of eyes. Ultimately, you want to make the reader’s journey as simple as possible.
The Magazine Isn’t Going to Publish Your Article Just Coz’
We forget that the magazines we’re pitching to are receiving hundreds of emails every day from starry-eyed writers just like us. Something helpful that I learned from my Freelance Writing Stage 1 course with the Australian Writers’ Centre is that just following the submission guidelines alone isn’t enough. You need an amazing pitch and your writing should also match exactly what the publication has previously produced. Even if what you’ve written is gorgeous, it won’t be accepted if it doesn’t fit with the publication.
Nothing Is Perfect On the First Draft
I’m still debating the universal truth of this one, but it definitely applies to me. You’ll probably notice that the closer you get to a writing deadline, the better your first draft starts to look—and that’s a trap. The first draft is never good enough: it just seems that way when your mind doesn't want to keep working. The first draft is for getting your ideas down on the page. It still needs to be reviewed for any necessary redrafting and other revisions. Give yourself time to let your writing sit. Sometimes I like to leave what I'm working on for a few days before launching into redrafts. This is the time to find the typos, the writing that doesn’t sit well, what needs to be cut, and what needs to be added.
Hone, Hone, Hone Your Skills
I’ve been terrible with this one. I previously thought I had studied all I could study and more. Turns out, just like muscle memory, your writing skills can fatigue if not regularly stretched. Take up a creative writing course in your spare time. Attend an editing workshop. Writing isn’t always enough if you have no direction to apply it. Taking up these courses can also be helpful to keep you motivated to write. Nothing says 'write today not tomorrow' like an impending deadline.
Know Your Angle
You should be able to say what your story is about in one sentence. And part of this sentence should include your angle. It’s not enough to say you’re writing an article on, say, gardening. About it what specifically? For what readers? With what relevance? Knowing questions like the above early can save a lot of wasted time when researching, writing and redrafting. It's also going to put your article streets ahead when trying to write up your pitch.