I switched to freelance writing after leaving the television industry nearly 15 years ago. I began at Stiff Sentences, a company that emphasized collaboration and a commitment to the craft of writing—that focused effort makes us better writers. I continue to apply and refine the tips that I learned and shared there.
1. Never stare at an empty page. While a blank screen (or page) suggests infinite possibilities, I find it can also trigger a sense that the challenge of writing well is beyond me at that particular moment. So I start with something—anything: a headline, key message, even an obviously bad idea. The very act of writing inspires me to think. And that inspires me to write and refine.
2. Start with what you know. Point #1 sometimes leads to a page littered with bits of information in no particular order…another situation that can trigger a sense of doubt. So I write whatever part of the piece (intro, key message, sidebar) I know best. This typically helps me understand what to keep and were to put it.
3. Run with scissors. Sometimes I get lost when creating longer pieces, such as a 20-minute speech. I’ve plugged in so much information that the links between points become blurry; point A could lead to any of points B, C or D. So I print off the whole piece, cut it into arbitrary sections and randomly place one section next to another. New ideas never fail to emerge. This “fresh look” at existing material is also an effective technique in video editing.
4. No more research. Research takes time, inspires new ideas and is absolutely necessary. Too much research, though, can be overwhelming. With many projects (particularly when deadlines are tight), I forcefully shelve my innate curiosity and go with what I’ve got.
5. Refine, refine, refine. Writing is a craft. I strive to get better at it with every project, every idea and every sentence. I re-read and rewrite constantly, keeping in mind audience, genre and communications goals.
What are your top writing tips? Please share them in the “comments” section below.
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