So…you’re looking for writing tips because you want to be a writer, huh? First of all, thank you for being one of the few to do exactly what your father, friends, and English teachers told you not to do.
Their advice was probably well-intentioned, and in all honesty, probably warranted. That’s because the road to getting paid for placing certain words in a certain order ain’t a smooth one. It can be lonely, dark, and devastating. (Ok, that’s a lie. It will be lonely, dark, and devastating.) The amount of times you’re going to stare at a blank page with nothing in mind to write will astound you. The number of unanswered emails, letters, and applications will crush you. And the countless hours you spend trying to convince yourself you’re going to be a writer will bend you to the point of breaking.
But writers don’t break.
We might bend and budge from time to time, but we sure as hell don’t break. (‘Cause we’re already broken.)
So if you truly want to be a writer, then you have to be prepared to buckle up, bear down, and battle your way through tricky terrains and unforeseen detours. If you’re capable of doing that—if you’re capable of bending without breaking—then you’ll be well on your way to cashing checks for putting words and symbols onto a page.
11 Writing Tips to Help You Become a Writer
#1 Write Something on Your Own Time
This seems like the most obvious tip in the world. It is.
You might think it’s useless. I wish it was. But the amount of times I’ve spoken with or interviewed “aspiring writers” who have nothing to their names besides college papers and site copy from a summer internship is downright scary. If you truly want to be a writer, then you should already have some type of personal or “just for fun” work under your belt. In fact, you should always be working on this type of writing. It’s good for your skills and even better for your soul.
Before I landed a job, I was doing a fashion thing on Instagram with fictitious bios that tested my creative writing chops. At the same time, I was writing a pregame newsletter for the New York Rangers with one of my best friends. (We had over 300 subscribers. No big deal.) And, when I realized how foolish it’d be to apply to copywriter jobs with zero ad work to point towards, I created a 40-page spec portfolio featuring five different brands. It didn’t matter that it sucked. It mattered that it existed.
Until you write something on your own time simply because you want to, you won’t be taken seriously. At least you shouldn’t be, that’s for sure.
#2 Write Dumb
Writing dumb is all about being an idiot with your words. Too many times, writers agonize over small, silly things, and all this does is bring about a frenzy of frustration that leads to crippling writer’s block. Writing dumb helps you bypass this frustration. It demands you to think less and write more, and it calls for the removal of restraint so that the little yappy storyteller inside of you can do their job—however recklessly they choose to do it. It’s a surefire way to get everything you want to communicate on the page, and it all starts with writing some super weird shit without hesitation. So go ahead, treat your next first draft like a rap freestyle.
#3 Read, Read, Read
You can’t write it if you don’t read it. So, whether it’s ad copy, crime novels, or blogs, voracious reading is pretty much required to become a top-tier writer, regardless of your avenue of focus. And to those “writers” who think they can write without reading, well, you can. But you’ll never be as good, dynamic, or interesting as those who do.
#4 Steal, Steal, Steal
You also can’t steal your favorite writing if you’ve never read it. And trust me, there will be times when you want to steal someone else’s work (and there will be just as many times when you need to steal someone else’s work). If you think you’re above stealing, I still highly recommend imitating your favorite writer and their prose, pacing, and style, especially in your early work. In the least, this’ll help you “feel” a personality in your writing, even if it isn’t yours. This should also boost your confidence and convince you that you can, after all, write some good shit.
#5 Write It Like You’d Say It at the Bar
Nobody likes reading something they can’t understand. Leave the pinky-in-the-air vocab for the philosophy paper on post-modernism, and do your best to make your writing reflect the way you speak. And if the way you speak reflects a paper on post-modernism, I don’t know…good luck, I guess. Just always remember this: Writers exist to tell stories and communicate information, not to put their memorization of the Oxford Dictionary on blast.
#6 Rewrite Your Favorite Passages Word-for-Word
I forget who I learned this one from, but it was most likely James Dowd (the guy is full of dumb writing tricks). The idea behind rewriting a favorite passage or two is that you will actually feel the writing come to life as you do it. You’ll feel the author’s rhythm, their energy, their emotion, and as a result, the work will literally move you in ways it never has before. Plus, you’ll become more familiar with the author’s voice & tone, enabling you to write more like them, or in the least understand their style more comprehensively.
#7 Do a Brain Dump
Brain dumps are exactly what they sound like: Poop exploding from your brain. The writing version of this is basically word diarrhea—intense, involuntary, and unbridled writing with no end in sight. The goal is to get anything and everything down on the page for however long your dump lasts, so there’s absolutely no second-guessing or editing allowed. None, nada, zip. This is often when the very worst writing comes out of you. And, oddly enough, the very best, too. When you remove self-consciousness, fear, and inhibition from the equation, you’re free to write some truly amazing material.
#8 Develop a Rhythm and Flow
Your audience won’t read it if it lacks rhythm. There needs to be a gentle bounce and flow to your writing—something that makes it sound like a jazz band or a symphony orchestra to your readers. This is done by mixing short sentences with long ones, building & releasing tension, using parentheticals (they’re kinda like a whisper in the ear), breaking grammar rules, and inserting emotion into your work. A great writing rhythm will make boring stories intense, and a dull one will make intense stories boring. Don’t be the person who writes boring stories. Write intense ones filled with passion and pace that leave your readers wanting, needing, begging for more.
#9 Use Puns Sparingly (or Never)
Puns are really creative…said no one ever. More than anything, their usage is typically a sign of laziness. Sure, puns can (sometimes?) be fun and cute, but more often than not they’re just…not. Like, not at all. Most of the time, they’re used as a crutch to aid writers who can’t think of any other creative way to communicate their message. So, as you sit down to write your next headline, remember: Puns are overplayed, cheesy, and a huge pain in the ass to read.
#10 Don’t Be a Metaphor Maniac
A good metaphor can help you. A shitty one will kill you. Doesn’t matter, unless you’re a songwriter or poet, keep your metaphors to a minimum. The problem with metaphors—besides being hard to pull off effectively—is that they’re distracting. They get in the way of the story and make your reader work too hard. And guess what? Your reader doesn’t want to work hard. They want to be entertained, educated, moved. It’s a cardinal sin to let your writer’s ego get in the way of that. So, if you find your metaphors are doing more bad than good for your narrative, kill them immediately. Or, just get better at writing metaphors.
#11 Avoid Grammar Prescriptivism (aka Don’t Be a Grammar Nazi)
Of all the writing tips, this one might be the most important. People forget that language—the way it’s written, spoken, and stylized—is ever-changing. It’s a fluid thing, something that’s evolved over the course of time and will continue evolving as long as humans are alive. This technically means that nothing is ever 100% correct in language. Now, even the most daring writers would argue that there are some standards and rules to abide by, but the point is this: Push the English language as far as you want to, have fun with your writing, and for God’s sake please write it like you’d say it at the bar. (For example, next time you think it’s wrong to write “wanna” instead of “want to”, stay strong and go with “wanna”. Chances are, that’ll be the most accepted version of the phrase one day.)
Stay Tuned for More Writing Tips
Like these writing tips so much you wish there were more? No sweat, they’re on their way. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be rolling out a few more blogs with additional writing tips so you can continue to develop your skills (those that’ll one day help you pay the bills).
By the way, if you feel so inclined, let me know what your favorite writing tip was. Thanks, friends. Write on.