Tag Archives: writing tips

Developing Your Writing Style

develop writing style

Sometimes, you can come across a piece of writing in a magazine or a book, and, without looking at the author’s name already know who wrote it. Who else but J.D. Salinger could write such agonizingly existential yet scorchingly judgmental phrases? There’s a reason why Gabriel Garcia Marquez is credited with inventing magical realism. Who but Elizabeth Gilbert makes you feel like you’re reading your best friend’s diary? Would anyone ever mistake Normal Mailer’s work for Toni Morrison’s?

You can pick these voices out from a crowd because they are from writers who have a distinct writing style.

But why does that matter? Why do I need a writing style?

Your writing style is your trademark. Whether you are a blogger, a content writer, an academic or a novelist, developing a style is an important step in your writing life. It not only helps you grow your brand, it also helps you write more and better. If your writing voice is already well-honed, it’s easier for you to jump into a new piece. You start to lose that fear of “how do I begin?” Your writing voice, once it’s developed, serves as your guide.

So, how exactly do you develop a writing style? Here are some tips:

Read a lot of other people’s work

Read a lot of the genre you want to write. Gather a collection of the top writers in that area and read their work. Don’t read for information or entertainment. Dissect their work to determine their style. A blogger who always includes interesting personal experiences that tie to his theme vs. a blogger that tends to quote a lot of stats and news stories. A horror fiction writer who goes right for the gore vs. a horror fiction writer who sets up a creepy psychological landscape. An academic writer who has a conversational tone vs. an academic writer who is more conservative and scholarly in tone.

Keep dissecting and notice more about the tone. Does one writer tend to be humorous while another tends to plummet into political apathy? What are key words and phrases they might tend to us? Are their sentences long and descriptive or short and informative?

Now read your own work

If you’ve already written some pieces, be it blog posts, essays or even books, go through some of your own writing with the same discerning eye. Pick out things you notice about your own style: key phrases, tone, sentence structure and length. Do you get to the point right away or do you take your time building a case? Do you tend to write long descriptive passages or are you focused on action and moving the story forward? What are the things you want to change? What are the things you want to develop more?

Write what you know

This is what most authors do anyway. Your surroundings are often your inspiration. Even fantasy and science fiction sometimes have characters and settings culled from the author’s real life. Writing what you know already takes some of the pressure off of having to imagine a unique story. Write an autobiographical piece about your family. What do you have to say about where you came from, how you grew up? Let loose and don’t hold back. Don’t think about how someone would feel if you wrote that about them. Say exactly what you think.

Having the courage to tell the truth is perhaps half the battle to developing your style. Have you ever read any of David Sedaris’ work? It teems with jaw-dropping anecdotes about his family. Totally no holds barred. Sometimes I cover my mouth in delight and then wonder, “How could he write that about his mother? No, how could he publish that about his mother?” That is his style: caustic humor and brutal honesty. Starting with writing about something familiar is a good way to develop your own writing style.

If you’re writing content, the same holds true. Don’t try to write content about technological gadgets when your background is in Italian Renaissance Art.Write what you know. A writer can write just as eloquently about technology as another writer writes about art. The trick is to be familiar with your subject.

Have the guts to be yourself

Writing takes a lot of courage. You are exposing your thoughts, opinions, fears, emotions and, sometimes, your soul to a group of strangers. Who may actually behave very cruelly in their criticism. In order to survive as a writer, you have to be able to get past your fear of judgement and failure and have the guts to express yourself. In your own way. Not in a way that you think someone would like. In the way that you like.

Like any other endeavor, be it becoming a star athlete, a world class opera singer or a celebrated painter, you must have courage. What if Jackson Pollack thought, “Oh no, I can’t develop this drip paint style. Nobody will like it. Nobody will understand it. I’d better just paint some landscapes.” Don’t be afraid to develop your voice. It’s the unique gift that only you can give.

Freewrite

Doing freewriting exercises can really help uncover your writing style. In freewriting you’re tapping into your brain’s subconscious and letting out anything that comes up. Without filters or worrying about spelling or grammar or if something even makes sense, you’re spilling out a raw form of your writing style. Do a lot of freewrite exercises over the course of a month and see if you can determine a common thread in them that you want to pick out and develop.

Find out who you are

Well, this may sound like a tall order, but when you’re developing a style, it really comes down to defining your vision of the world. Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Are you a hedonist or a pragmatist? Are you a poet or a detective novelist? Writers often write because they feel they have something they want to share. What is it that you essentially want to share?

How To Get Started Writing

how to get started writing

Getting started with a writing project can be one of the most difficult of all the challenges a writer will face. We dither, putter, doddle, delay and flat out procrastinate. Excuses run the gamut from the logical and believable to the outrageous – but somehow still believable if they prevent us from following any desire to fulfill a creative yearning such as writing.

And yet, when we challenge this resistance and make a start we find our fears dissolve in the face of the results we get. Doubt is replaced with confidence and imaginary obstacles recede in the wake of daily action. Once you begin, it’s a whole new ball game. And it’s one that’s a whole lot more fun than the scared little voice would have you believe.

So, to start writing the following 8 ideas will help you get past some of the more common excuses for not beginning.

Know Your Niche

Before you can begin to write, you need some form of direction to give your time and attention to. “I don’t know what to write about” is an often heard phrase among those yet to write. Nonsense. Of course you do. If you’re alive, then you have a myriad of passions, ideas, opinions, likes and dislikes, skills, talents, expertise, experiences and personal history to draw upon for inspiration.
Block out some time and write a list about your personal interests, hobbies and passions and the reasons why they’re important to you.

Expand your list to include your work and educational experience and any related skills or expertise. Then extrapolate your list into relevant niches or genres to find topics to write about. When first beginning, writing about what you know is an effective way to quickly develop confidence. It provides a natural source of creative ideas with no learning curve to go through. And after you’ve developed a level of proficiency you can branch out into unfamiliar territory.

Create Some Space

If you’re going to write, then you need a space dedicated to just that purpose. Why? Because your locale becomes part of your routine, and a huge part of success lies in the habits we develop. These patterns of success include setting up prompts and cues that lead to effective actions, in this case the action of writing. And having a specific location is a big cue.

It doesn’t have to be a large space with all the latest gadgets, but you’ll want somewhere all your own. A place to leave your tools and material at hand the way you want them to be. Having to clear the kitchen table of your writing gear at dinnertime is not conducive to developing flow.
And create your writing space with some physical comfort in mind – a good chair and desk with adequate lighting is a must if you’re in it for the long term.

Develop a Routine

As with having a writing space, developing a routine falls into the category of cultivating success habits (Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit is a great read on this topic). Whatever your schedule may be, incorporate a warm up routine to trigger the writing response. Invoke a prayer to the muses, line up your lucky charms, visualize a successful outcome, chant, dance or whatever gets you focused on the task at hand – writing.

The actions themselves aren’t important, it’s the intention behind them. You’re sending a preparatory signal to your brain, and subconscious, that it’s time to get down to work. Once your warm up is complete, start writing immediately to link the routine with the act of writing.

Schedule Time

Commit to finding time for writing that will be free of distractions. You don’t need hours on end to get into the zone, 10 or 15 minutes a day is sufficient to start with. You may need to get up a bit earlier or wait until the kids are in bed, but do find a time that works for you. Because a set practice time is needed to develop skill and rhythm.

Have a Plan

Whether you’re writing a blog post or a novel, sketching an outline of your main ideas will give a solid foundation to build upon. Jot down the points you want to cover, then flesh them out. Knowing what to write about beforehand prevents overwhelm and getting stuck – you’ll always know what your next writing step is.

Do One More Thing

When you think you’ve finished writing for the day, do one more thing. Write one more sentence, find one more resource or simply review tomorrow’s schedule. By giving just a little bit more effort, you’ll summon the voice of your inner mentor offering congratulations for your dedication. Much better than the voice of the inner critic!

Be Professional

Get out of your jammies, have a plan, schedule the time and show up for work. If you don’t take your own efforts seriously, don’t expect success to shine upon you. Develop the mindset of a professional doing his work for the rewards due a professional (The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is a must-read for a professional mindset).

Make a Start

To get past the hang ups of perfectionism and self-doubt, just write. Don’t expect it to be perfect or even good – write for the garbage can. The point isn’t about finishing the project, but starting it. Fears of failure, not being able to complete your work, rejection etc. will all become a self-fulfilling prophecy if you don’t begin. So write. One sentence or even one word is enough to begin with.
And finally, when first venturing into the writer’s life, keep it simple. As with any new project, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

So give yourself the best opportunities for success by following the above tips to get started writing. Even if you don’t achieve a high level of commercial achievement, you’ll avoid the disappointment of not trying and will instead have the great satisfaction of knowing you followed your heart despite some initial fears.

7 Writing Tips You Will Never Hear in College

Writing Tips College

Most students learn how to write by composing essays, term papers and research projects for history, literature, political science and other classes. Writing classes themselves tend to be filled with people who already love to write and who simply want to find ways to hone their craft more fully.

While there’s nothing wrong with being attracted to the writing life, others simply need to find ways to compose papers that communicate effectively and stand out just enough to score a few extra points. There are plenty of standard tips on how to write more effectively, but here we’ve unearthed seven unconventional tips you won’t likely hear from your professors, but which can easily help you impress them.

1. Play to Your Strengths on Subjects

The old adage of ‘write what you know’ may work for struggling artists, but college students don’t always have that option. When your class is studying the colonization of the Americas, you can’t exactly turn in a paper about how to survive a zombie apocalypse. However, usually students are able to choose which specific story or slice of history their paper will focus on in addition to the type of paper it is. For example, early American history may still be new to you, but you can use your interest in post-apocalyptic movies to write about the challenges, obstacles and life threatening viral outbreaks settlers had to contend with.

2. Find Your Voice

When writing an essay, you’ll typically choose between writing a narrative, descriptive, expository or persuasive paper. In some cases, the tone of the paper may be assigned, but when you have the opportunity to choose the type of paper yourself, once again, play to your strengths. If you grew up arguing with brothers and sisters, a persuasive essay will be an easy approach for you. Conversely, if you’ve been described as having a Vulcan-like personality, an expository essay will allow you to deliver the facts and leave readers with the opportunity to draw their own conclusions. Choosing the right approach and the right topic can make your essay writing experience much easier.

3. Go Old School

The most difficult part of any writing project can be simply getting started. Recent studies in the field of neuroscience have suggested that writing in longhand stimulates different areas of the brain and can even have an impact on editing and even writing style. One study asked participants to write creatively both in longhand and using a keyboard. Participants changed the style in which they wrote with each change. Overall, writing in longhand appears to encourage more creative thinking and brainstorming than typing on a keyboard.

4. Watch the Jargon

Writing on a difficult or complicated subject at the college level lends itself to using plenty of jargon. Although you want to establish that you understand the subject and the field you’re writing in, stuffing an essay with too much jargon can cloud your message and make it hard for readers to understand what you’re saying. You don’t need to impress your professor with a jargon filled paper. Instead, use industry related terms and phrases sparingly and prove that you can discuss this complex issue or intricate topic in a way that makes it accessible and easy to understand for any audience.

5. You Don’t Have to Start at the Beginning

It’s human nature to feel as though we need to start at the beginning but writing doesn’t work that way. Sometimes you’ll know where you want to end up, so beginning with your conclusion gives you the chance to set the stage for your destination, then you just need to get there. Other times, you’ll have the perfect wording for the body of your essay even though you have no idea how you want to begin or where your essay may lead. That’s fine – start with what you know or where you feel more comfortable, the rest will come naturally as you write.

6. Write Drunk, Edit Sober

This bit of advice was originally made famous by Ernest Hemingway, who also warned that “The first version of anything is shit.” The art of writing has long been linked to the love of drinking and, for some, it’s the best way to loosen their tongue and get those creative juices flowing. Drinking lowers inhibitions and silences your critic long enough for you to pound out that all important first draft. Once you’ve gotten the bones of your essay written down, begin tweaking and revising at least a day later.

7. Read Out Loud

Reading through your final draft a few times is pretty standard advice. Reading through that final draft out loud, however, can highlight clumsy phrasing and awkward word choices that would otherwise get glossed over. Read your paper aloud or, better yet, have someone else read it for you. If they stumble over something or pause as they’re reading, chances are you need to tighten up your wording.

How to Write Faster and More Effectively

write better faster
Learning how to write effectively typically means slowing down to take your time, do the research and choose your words carefully. Although writing clearly and effectively is the goal for any writer, learning how to write faster can also be valuable skill. Here we’ll take a look at 10 tips to help speed up your writing and make it more effective overall.

1. Write What You Know

The best way to be able to write more quickly is to write on a topic you are already familiar with. Although this isn’t always an option, seize the opportunity whenever it comes up. Even if your assignment is on something you know nothing about, conduct some initial research to see if you do have a connection to the subject somewhere. For example, if your assignment is writing about the origins of the civil rights movement, use your own experience with discrimination or the experiences of friends and family as a basis to draw parallels to the early days of the civil rights movement with current issues of today. An essay on the impact of team sports can easily be connected to the summer you spent playing ping-pong or your own elementary school T-Ball team.

2. Dictate When Possible

There are a number of software packages that allow users to dictate directly into a word processing program. These programs can take some time to master and they adapt to your pattern of speech as you use them, so don’t expect perfect results your first time out. Instead of cracking it open as you’re beginning your big essay project for the mid-term exams, use it for a few weeks on other projects or just for fun in order to find out how to make it work more effectively. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, you can use it to crank out essays, term papers and even your thesis in no time flat.

3. Don’t Worry About Mistakes on the Rough Draft

As you begin to write the rough draft, don’t worry about proper word choices, grammatical tense agreement or whether or not to use a semi-colon. Instead, simply get the thoughts, ideas and concepts on paper. Ignore that inner critic hissing on your shoulder and keep your hands moving. Try to keep up with the narrative you have in your mind. You can go back to clean things up and tweak verbiage later – getting the ideas you have onto paper will help your paper to develop more quickly.

4. Develop an Outline System That Works For You

Traditional outlines simply don’t work for everyone, but that doesn’t mean that outlines are worthless. Find a system that achieves the same goal but which fits your own writing or creative style. Writing a few sentences and using lists for each paragraph may be the best method for you, or simply jotting down ideas you can rearrange may be more your style. Find what works for you and use it.

5. Watch Your Adverbs

Using adverbs may bulk up your essay, but it also makes your paper less effective. A person isn’t very poor, they’re impoverished. Concentration camps weren’t very bad, they were horrific. The sun isn’t very hot, it’s scorching. Find better descriptions for common adverbs of degree in order to polish your writing.

6. Set a Timer

According to several studies, people work best with focused concentration for about 25 minutes at a time. Gab a kitchen timer, wind it to the 25 minute mark and GO. Write your heart out and don’t stop typing for the full 25 minutes. If you get stumped or hit a wall, move on to another section of the paper or write ‘What I really want to say is…’ and then finish that sentence. Even if you end up scraping half of what you’ve written, this type of focused creativity will not only get you farther into your essay, it can even result in some surprising gems of inspiration.

7. Focus on Writing Alone

When you write, do it alone. Don’t try writing while your friends are over, or while you’re watching a movie with someone. Make the time to sit alone and focus on your writing. Keeping clear of distractions will help you to focus more effectively and, in the end, getting it done will give you more free time.

8. Conduct Timed Research

Research can be the downfall of many students when it’s time to sit down and write. They may start with the best intentions but when conducting research online, it’s easy to click from one page to the next and suddenly find yourself playing a Super Mario emulator. Set a timer for your research, separate from writing time, and stick to it. If you find yourself still gravitating towards pages of distraction, set up a list of blocked websites through parental control software or time management tools such as LeechBlock or Cold Turkey.

9. Set Small Goals

Chopping your writing assignment up into smaller pieces can help boost productivity and speeds along the writing process. Dying for another cup of coffee? Finish this paragraph first. Want to get up and stretch your legs? Just pound out the rest of this outline so you know where to start when the break is over. Thinking of your assignment as a series of smaller milestones will help make it easier – and quicker – to finish.

10. Rewrite As You Edit

Combine your rewriting and editing step into one and clean up your spelling and grammar as you revise your writing. The best way to do this is to read your essay out loud, as if you were simply trying to educate or persuade a friend. Combining this final revision step can easily shave time off your total writing time and reading the essay out loud also ensures everything flows seamlessly.