How to take your writing up a notch

If you want your writing to be taken seriously, then you really should pay attention to the details.   When writing a Facebook post about your weekend, having the correct punctuation might not matter.  If you’re posting publicly on your blog, you’ll always find people more concerned over commas than content.  You don’t need to be a professional editor to lift your game – just start with these tips.

Research rules you struggle with.  Can’t remember the difference between your and you’re?  Do you know where to use its, it’s and its’?  Grammar takes a lot of remembering, and most of us have limited space in our heads for rules that can seem a bit pointless.  To save you memorizing everything, there are some great resources online that can explain things better than your English teacher – and you can access them whenever you can’t quite remember.

Don’t repeat the same word if you can help it.  This great tip will help make your writing great, which will greatly impact your ability to produce great writing.  You get it.  Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but in general try not to repeat key words too much within the same paragraph – especially adjectives.  The thesaurus is often handy for giving you different options to express the same idea.

Don’t use words if you’re not completely sure what they mean.  Witnessing a writer badly misuse a word can be awkward for readers, and gives fuel to people who live and breathe to correct the writing of others.  The thesaurus is a great tool – but even though we have so many similar words, they often have different undertones of meaning.  Be careful which option you choose.

Spell check is normally your friend.  Spell check is so readily accessible that you’d be crazy not to make use of it.  If you’re typing directly onto a webpage and can’t access a spell check function, think about copy/pasting it into a Word document or similar.  Don’t blindly accept suggested changes, as sometimes the computer gets it wrong.  Spell check also doesn’t guarantee that you’ve picked up all the errors – using “their” when you meant “there” won’t be a spelling error but is still incorrect.  Though imperfect, it’s often a lot better than nothing!

Referencing.  If you got an idea from another place, say so.  Not only is it the right thing to do, it makes what you’re saying more credible – you’re not the only one saying it, so obviously someone else agrees with you!  Basic writing software like Word have referencing aids, but if it’s just a blog post you don’t really need to go all out – just say where you got it and maybe include a link.

At the end of the day, content should matter more than form – what someone has to say is more important that how they say it.  However, you can establish yourself as a better writer by paying attention to the details.  If people read your work, there will be those who choose to be critical.  By giving your work a quick check before publishing, you’re depriving them of an easy source of ammunition. But the last important step is – ignore pointless criticism!

Ideas For Writing – How To Get Back Into The Groove

Have you ever sat down to write and come up completely blank?  Even the best writers have times where they are feeling uninspired.  Don’t think that you have to wait until you are feeling creative– writing is an action, not a feeling!  If you can’t come up with your next idea, here are a few tips to start the process again.

Have a break.  Pushing yourself to the point of stress is the least effective way to get inspired.  Save your work, step away and go outside for a while.  Putting physical distance between you and your writing helps you refocus – and a few deep breaths of fresh air or some exercise doesn’t hurt either.   Get all the way out of your writing place, and you might find that you return in a much better frame of mind.

Look after your physical needs.  Sometimes society can glorify the over-worked, exhausted person who lives on coffee and donuts – someone who pushes their physical boundaries to achieve results.   If you can’t get creative – do you need sleep?  Have you stepped away from your computer today?  When did you last eat?  We’re talking about real food here.  You are not a machine, and that’s a good thing – machines are not known for being creative.  Look after basic personal maintenance and the higher thinking will come a lot easier.

Get your mind in order.  Sometimes the things that are frustrating your creative efforts are in your own head.  If there is something bothering you, consider writing it down and mentally telling yourself that you can come back to it later.  You might not know exactly where the stress is coming from – maybe try freewriting, which means putting pen to paper and writing everything that comes into your head without filtering it, no matter how silly it sounds.  It takes a while, but often things that are subconsciously affecting your will start to surface.

Get online.  When you have addressed the physical and mental issues preventing you from coming up with writing ideas, the best place to find ideas is on the internet.  This doesn’t mean that you can steal another person’s ideas (that’s plagiarism!), but it’s certainly the best place to find a wide range of thoughts on different issues that you can draw from to make your own material.  Places like Reddit have threads dedicated to writing ideas – they are there to be used, so don’t be shy about borrowing those!

Read the news.  Learning about current events is a great way to remind yourself that you have something to say!  Whether your writing is strictly creative or informative, there is a lot of great material to draw from in the things that are happening around you.  The comments section of online articles is an interesting (and sometimes scary!) place to get alternative views.  What are the effects of certain situations likely to be?  What would happen if things were different?  Answering those types of questions might be what you need to come up with ideas.

Don’t let a temporary lack of inspiration take away your drive to write.  You’re in good company – almost every writer experiences that mental block.  The difference between successful writers and those who stop writing is that one group pushes through and produces pieces anyway.  You will get through those dry patches – just keep going!

Online Opportunities for Beginning Writers

If you have the desire to write, the skills to create a great piece and something to say, there are opportunities to get your work published.  The internet is the best way to get your writing in front of a potentially massive audience.  Here are a few places to look if you would like to take the next step and get your name and your writing accessible to a new pool of readers.

Client-to-Talent websites.  There are sites that exist to connect clients with freelance workers, and there are thousands of jobs for writers and editors.  Whether your preferred genre is writing blog posts, articles, creative writing, or any other area – there are jobs waiting for you, made safe and secure by the third party website.  Try joining sites such as Upwork, Elance or Freelancer for job postings and start earning cash for your writing.

Task-based websites.  Don’t rule out sites like Craigslist – businesses who need writing services often don’t know where to turn, and they often post on sites like this on a regular basis.  Log on, browse what is on offer and make sure you’re prepared to show them what you can do.  Having a portfolio or examples of writing on hand will help you secure these types of jobs, and give your clients confidence that you can produce the kind of work they are looking for.

Online competitions.  Creative writing in particular will often feature competitions that encourage you to enter your work to have it judged by either a panel or the public.  Rewards for winning can be impressive, but be aware that some sites will ask for a non-refundable entry fee.  Do you believe in your writing enough to back it?

Your own blog.  Creating traffic to a blog can be a long, slow process (believe me I know!) – but if you stick with it, the results are rewarding, and it’s all yours!  Basic tips are to specialise as much as possible to set you apart from other writers, post regular content, and to look into affiliate links and advertising to begin to monetize your site.

Favorite websites.  If you like to read a website’s content, perhaps you might also like to create it?  You might be surprised how many websites will accept submissions, whether in return for payment or simply to get your writing in front of their audience.  Even unpaid submissions could still result in an attractive link to your published writing that you can show to other prospective clients.

Getting your work published can sometimes be a slow process.  However, the more links and examples you can provide to an employer, the quicker you build your credibility.  You might need to accept some less attractive work before focussing on your preferred area.  Use that time to hone your skills so that you can apply them for your own purposes later on.

Most of all – be brave, and start making submissions.  It costs nothing to begin except some of your time, and you really might be surprised at how many opportunities are around to get your writing in front of an audience.  Good luck!

How to Get Your Writing Read Online

For a modern writer, the internet can be both their best friend and worst enemy.  You have a potential audience of millions, but also a staggering amount of competition for the same readership.  How do you make sure that your writing stands out?  Here are a few simple tricks to make sure your readers make it to the bottom of the page.

Keep focused. Because of the huge variety of written content online, you really need a focused topic to capture your readers. Instead of writing about fashion, why not think about reviewing local retailers in your area, or focus on ethically sourced active-wear? If someone searches for “fashion”, your writing is unlikely to be at the top of the results.  Having a specific focus will help your audience find you.

Chop everything. Do you tend to write long sentences?  Most sentences with more than one comma can be chopped in half.  Another way to keep your writing snappy is to focus on one main point per paragraph.  Try writing in shorter paragraphs, and consider breaking them up with images and lists that support the main point of the paragraph.

Any interaction is good interaction. When writing for the internet, a thick skin is a considerable asset.  Whether people respond positively, negatively, or completely off topic – a response means that people are reading your work!  While it’s a great idea to use criticism to improve, you don’t need to defend yourself or your writing.  You can’t please everyone – write things that make you happy, and then you’ll know you have at least one fan!

Write with passion. If you stick to topics that you are passionate about and if you have a clear focus for what you want to say, it will be evident in your writing.  Writing with enthusiasm will help encourage interaction with your readers.  You might be able to keep a blog going on a subject that doesn’t interest you - but it’s harder to maintain, and it is unlikely to be your best work.  If you want to read about a topic, there are definitely others who will be interested as well.

Consistency is key. Readers lose interest in writing that isn’t updated regularly.  On the other hand, daily updates are also not usually ideal as they can overload your audience.  A few updates a week is normally the most effective strategy for engaging readers.  Regularly scheduled posts also help you stay on target. If you are feeling inspired with lots of ideas, why not pre-write your posts to have them on hand for when your motivation is running low?

If you’re going to put your time and energy into writing, you should do everything possible to make sure that it gets read.  Adapting your writing to an online audience takes little extra effort and can have huge rewards.  If you have something to say, the chances are that there is someone out there who wants to read it.  Now to complete the most important task – begin writing!

Becoming a writer is easier than you think!

If writing is something you love doing, then you should definitely give it a shot.  There are so many aspiring writers who never get around to doing anything with their passion and talent.  Don’t let yourself fall into that trap – you can start writing today!

Set realistic goals.  What are your writing goals?  Would you like to write as a hobby or as a full-time paid profession?  Would you like to write articles, novels, or something else?  No matter where you would like to end up, make your initial goals realistic.  You are unlikely to earn a full-time wage immediately – how will you fit writing into your current life?  Small steps are better than not moving forward, so come up with some solid ideas on how you will start your journey.

Write what’s in front of you.  The best writing that you can produce will come out of things that you are interested in and feel passionate about.  However, if you get a chance to write something that isn’t particularly enjoyable you don’t necessarily have to turn it down.  Just remember to keep writing on topics that you like and in your preferred style in your own time.

Find your audience.  Knowing who you expect to read your writing will let you tailor to that audience and decide where you will publish the writing you produce.  Find places that publish similar things – if you write children’s books, get in contact with the publishers of your favorite books.  If you prefer to write opinion pieces, look for places that might publish articles in a similar style to yours.

Use the internet.  The internet is your gateway to becoming a successful writer.  Start by browsing the thousands of articles on improving your writing (i.e. follow us on facebook and subscribe to our newsletter), then move on to specific advice on how to publish the kind of writing you want to produce. 

Get feedback.  Social media is also a great place to test the waters – see what kind of pieces your friends and family respond to, and use the comment section on your articles to interact with strangers.  There are also many websites that will pay you to write – when you’re ready, forward some pieces on for consideration and see where it takes you!

Allow room for growth.  Remember that writing successfully is a process, and success is different for everybody.  Your persistence can have unintended benefits.  For example, some writing jobs want to see that you can consistently produce and publish work on a regular basis – the number of subscribers you have won’t necessarily matter.  Some pieces you will love, and some you might not like.  Practicing is always more important than the product – keep going!

To become a good writer, all you really need is something to say and the desire to say it – everything else can be learned with dedication and practice.  If you are considering writing as a career or hobby, the most important thing you can do is get started.  You never know where your writing might take you!

Tips and tricks to bring your writing to the next level

Almost everyone can write, but it is rare to find someone who can write well.  It doesn’t always come easy, but there are steps that you can take to help yourself along the way.  Here are a few practical tricks that anyone can use to move their writing up to the next level.

Create structure.  If you start writing without knowing how it will eventually all fit together, it will often show in your finished product.  With the possible exception of poetry and other free-flowing creative writing, starting with a simple outline will help shape your finished product while letting you focus on what you are really trying to communicate.

Expand on your structure.  Start with one-line headings – for an essay, that might be the title and one theme for each paragraph.  Then expand your ideas using dot points under those themes.  Finally, write the full paragraphs using those dot points, deleting them as you expand each one.  Your writing will have better flow and focus on the heart of the message.

Use your tools.  Most writing software has some great tools that can help with more than just presentation.  Use your thesaurus to avoid repeating the same words - although be careful not to select words if you are not completely sure of the meaning.  Spell check and grammar check are obvious choices, but pay close attention – there’s nothing like a human brain for deciding which option is best.

Write before anything else. When you sit down at your computer there are usually hundreds of distractions competing for your attention.  Make sure your writing comes first – it doesn’t take much browsing the web until your time has gone.  Setting up a space that is free of other distractions will minimize the need for you to leave your task.

Leave and come back. Once you feel the satisfaction of finishing a piece, there is a strong temptation to save it and not look back.  Reading over your writing after a break will give you a much better idea of how the piece flows, as well as allowing you to change aspects like word choices and sentence structures.

Trust your gut. Read through your writing, and learn to trust your instincts.  If you feel that a sentence is a bit clunky or not sending the right message, there is almost always a way to improve it.  Study a writer whose work you admire, and see how they are achieving the effects that appeal to you.

Practice, practice, practice. Every writer has pieces they look back on and cringe.  Don’t let that stop you!  If you wait until you are perfect, you will never improve.  Keep writing, and give yourself permission to learn as you go.

The most important part of writing is simply to write!  If you value the process of creating a piece of writing instead of trying to rush through it, you will end up with a piece that has better flow and more impact.  The only way to improve is to keep trying.  What will your next writing project be?

Why we love stories in 500 words or less

Just 134 words describe the most famous catch in history.....

Just 134 words describe the most famous catch in history.....

         One of the best-known passages from contemporary American literature is the description of Catch 22 that serves as the guiding premise of Joseph Heller’s 1961 novel of the same name. Heller articulated the absurdity of Catch 22 and the entire enterprise of war in just 134 words:

"You mean there's a catch?"

"Sure there's a catch," Doc Daneeka replied. "Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn't really crazy."

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. If he flew them, he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to, he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

        Many memorable passages from literature, history and even religion are accomplished with a remarkable economy of words.  Some Examples:

        Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was only 272 words long, which invites discouraging comparisons to many of today’s political orations. And the tragedy of the Civil War officially came to a close with Robert E. Lee signing the Confederacy’s 107-word Surrender at Appomattox.

       While the U.S. Constitution, complete with original signatures and its 27 Amendments, is 7,591 words long, the preamble is expressed in a trim 52 words. Here they are:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

        What’s more, the Bill of Rights, that most sacred expression of our rights that people of all political stripes like to brandish, is only 482 words long. Look up all ten of them and count for yourself.  

        The U.S. Declaration of War on the Imperial Government of Japan following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December, 1941 was expressed in only 166 words. Nearly four years later, in September, 1945, the Instrument of Surrender signed by the Allied Forces and Japanese aboard the Battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay, ending World War II in the Pacific, was 344 words long (OK, 504 if you count names and signatures).

Goodnight Moon, an entire book in 134 of the loveliest words ever written.

Goodnight Moon, an entire book in 134 of the loveliest words ever written.

        On a less bellicose note, Goodnight Moon, Margaret Wise Brown’s 1947 children’s classic, was only 132 words long. Although she didn’t have children herself, she obviously knew something about their attention spans. Enough, anyway, that Goodnight Moon has sold more than 48 million copies to date, and  continues to sell some 800,000 copies every year.

        The great dream of many writers is to complete a novel. That requires months, even years, of lonely, painstaking attention to 70,000 words or more: plot, character development, dialog, point of view, and all the rest. But there’s much to be said for compressing that same passion into the bright intensity of a 500-word story.

        A bromide that's well known among writers is attributed to a variety of sources including Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain and Winston Churchill, but was probably first written by 17th Century philosopher Blaise Pascal. It’s typically stated like this, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”

       Two final examples to illustrate our point:

       The President of the United States assumes the mantle of leadership by reciting an Oath of Office that’s only 37 words long. And anyone who wishes to pray for him probably has at least a passing familiarity with the 52-word-long Lord’s Prayer.