Most jobs involve some element of writing - whether it's sending emails to clients, producing reports for the boss, or creating content for the company website. If you're not a professional writer, this can be daunting and a lot of people end up procrastinating. A project that should take a few hours ends up dragging on and on for weeks.
I'm a professional writer, and I can tell you this: when you write for a living, you don't have the luxury of letting a project get the better of you! There's nothing mystical or especially hard about good writing: anyone can improve their writing.
Here are my five top tips on how to write like a professional:
- 1. Don't Procrastinate, DUH!
Writing is a high-energy task, and there's always something easier you could be doing - whether it's surfing the net, making a coffee, or deciding that you really need to clean the fluff out of your computer keyboard. All of these activities are just ways to procrastinate.
- 2. Use the Writing Process
Did you notice that I mentioned how writers plan, outline and research? This is part of the writing process, which professional writers tend to follow (whether they consciously know it or not). The writing process breaks down into:
- - Pre-writing (planning and research)
- - Writing (the first draft) - this is where many non-professionals get stuck!
- - Rewriting (subsequent drafts)
- - Editing (including proofreading)
- - Publishing (or emailing, printing, etc)
Although you can go back and forth between the stages, you shouldn't try to merge them. Nothing kills your first draft momentum faster than stopping to research a new bit of information, then starting to rewrite everything you've already written.So what do you do if you're drafting your big report and you realize you don't have an important figure to hand? Simple - put a note to yourself saying Insert annual $$ total here or similar. Highlight it in yellow so that you don't forget to look it up later. (Or use the comments feature in your word processing program to put a note in the margin.) Once you've finished the draft, go through to find all the notes, and research them all as a batch.
- 3. Ask For Feedback
I've belonged to writers' circles for a decade and I've noticed something that distinguishes amateur would-be writers from professionals (whether they're published or not): professional writers are concerned with making their writing as good as possible - not with their own egos.
Don't be afraid to ask for feedback - perhaps from a colleague, from a fellow student, or from a writers' circle. This is one of the fastest ways to improve. If the feedback is sometimes negative, don't take it personally: see it as a great opportunity to make your piece of writing even better.
- 4. Proofread Your Work
Now, most professional writers (myself included) would admit that they occasionally slip up on this one - that's why professional editors and proofreaders exist! Nevertheless, if you don't have the luxury of an editor (and most writers don't), you need to do your own proofreading.That means checking your work for spelling and grammar mistakes, as well as typos. It's a good idea to get into the habit of reading through emails before sending them: a typo-ridden email doesn't create a good first impression for a new client.(I'm always reluctant to mention proofreading in blog posts, as some eagle-eyed reader will invariably delight in pointing out a typo! If you find one in this post, I obviously put it there deliberately to test your proofreading skills... ;-))
- 5. Keep Learning
Finally, professional writers are also students of writing. They practice their craft on a daily or very regular basis. They almost always enjoy reading - and often learn new words and new writing techniques from what they read. Many professional writers keep a swipe file, where they save quotes and clippings that they found particularly effective.Some easy ways to learn about writing are:
- - Look up the definition of any unfamiliar words you come across when reading
- - Read a book about a particular aspect of writing: there are books on everything from writing romance novels to writing advertising copy
- - Take a writing course or class
- - Read blogs about writing (I'm fond of Daily Writing Tips)
Professional writers rarely procrastinate. (The ones who do? They're those starving in a garret writers you've heard about...) Writers know that the initial reluctance will start to fade as soon as they start to plan, outline and research the project. They know that even on the biggest projects, such as books, a little effort each day will pay off, and that it's possible to write even when you think you can't.
If you're a professional writer, what tips would you add? If you have to write as part of your job and hate it, what methods make writing easier for you?