The great folk singer Bob Dylan once said: “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” You may not need a weatherman, but a good writer always knows which way the wind blows. Journalists, creative writers, copywriters, essayists, academics, researchers know how to write about contemporary issues in a succinct and engaging manner.
This isn’t as lofty as it may sound; you don’t need to be a Pulitzer Prize winner to be a strong writer. Similar to keeping physically fit, to keep “writing-fit,” you need to regularly practice and hone those writing skills and take on new challenges that allow you to explore writing in new, exciting ways.
Here are some simple tips that will help strengthen and keep your writing fresh and contemporary.
Keep a blog
In the past decade, the Internet has blossomed to become one of the most accessible and useful resources for writers. Keeping a regular blog on a favorite topic—let’s say, a blog about cooking or a blog on running—is an easy way for you to write on a daily basis and to build up your writing and research skills. Nowadays, you don’t need to be a CSS or HTML expert to use attractive blog platforms (for example, try your hand at WordPress.com or Tumblr). You can have a sleek, sophisticated-looking blog in less than half an hour. As an added bonus, you may also receive regular feedback — and compliments — from an audience-at-large.
Spend some time each week reading what others are saying about the craft, as well as the business of writing. Being a strong fiction writer versus being a skilled copywriter demands two different set skills, and popular niche websites like Copyblogger, The Write Practice, ProCopyTips and K.M. Weiland include everything from writing prompts to practical advice related to the workplace. Whether you’re a creative writer or copywriter, these blogs will give you a good sense of how good writing is being defined by a larger writing and reading public.
Show your work
You won’t be able to say much about your writing without someone telling you what they think about your work. Rather than just trusting your instinct or the opinions of friends or family, go out on a limb. Show your work to another writer, a mentor, a professor or a professional colleague whom you trust and respect.
Take a writing course. Create a writing group.
Even the best writers need to brush up their skills. If you’re a professional writer looking to build new skills or review a set of skills you already have (let’s say, you are a copywriter looking to create a more sophisticated copy ad portfolio), taking a class every once in a while never hurts. Check out the writing classes offered at your local college or community-writing center. Mediabistro, an extensive online resource for writing professionals, also provides a wide range of courses for novice and experienced writers alike. A class not only helps you strengthen your writing skills, but it also gives you a group of writers and an instructor who will give you critical feedback on your work.
Another option is to form a writing group with three to four other writers. Set a realistic schedule, whether this means meeting once a week or once a month. Almost every writer will tell you having a trusted community to share work with is critical in keeping them accountable and “in the loop.”
Know your social media
Although this might not seem instantly important or obvious, keeping abreast with social media as a writer is important for several reasons. Most major publishers and news sources have a Twitter and Facebook account. Increasingly, innovative and well-circulated writing is being done exclusively via the Web. Think Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings; the Huffington Post; the Daily Beast. If being a strong, contemporary writer means having a pulse on what engages the public today, it also means keeping updated with the way the world communicates. You don’t need to regularly tweet or post Facebook statuses, but keeping connected with social media can help you become a more savvy and knowledgeable writer.
Even experienced writers bite their fingernails when it comes to sending out work to their favorite journals or publishers. It’s never easy, but if writing is a labor of love, being published in a forum that you respect is one of the most gratifying experiences you can have as a writer. It not only says that you are a good writer, but it makes your work accessible to a wider audience of readers and in the process, gives you a healthy boost of confidence.