One simple rule to becoming a professional writer

OXFORD, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 08:  A student reads...
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If you want to be a professional writer, you must learn how to write.

The statement above is profoundly simple and straightforward; and yet, that very statement, and what I am about to say in regards to it, will still offend and even hurt some people. They will feel that I am not offering advice, not offering constructive criticism, but trying to bring them down by saying they are terrible writers.

They may very well be terrible writers. That’s what this is all about.

There are plenty of people looking to make a living writing, and the web has become an enabler. Writing for the web requires good SEO skills (among other things), and SEO can be tricky to master, especially as the rules are changing all the time. But if you’re looking to make a living writing, then you need to learn writing skills the same way a cook needs to learn cooking skills.

Writing is not a simple process. No matter how passionate you are about writing, you can’t just put out whatever first comes to your mind and hit publish. Famous writers – and not so famous, but still professional writers – spend hours pouring over their work, perfecting and tweaking it to get the message just right. What you see published in books, magazines, newspapers, and the stellar stuff you read on the web, isn’t the product of simple inspiration. It’s the product of hard work and the use of skills.

I have a lot of writing friends and acquaintances, and they are all very dear to me in their own way. Many of them, however, are passionate but not yet skilled. They often make very common writing mistakes that could simply be fixed by self-editing and self-education. Some of the mistakes I see include:

  • Misuse and overuse of punctuation
  • Sentences that are constantly too short, or too long
  • Overused and cliche phrases
  • Poor grammar
  • Lack of direction, leading to an overall confusing piece

These aren’t signs of a bad writer so much as they’re signs of an unskilled (or lazy) writer. I’ll repeat a point I say often: writing isn’t magic. Grab some reading material on writing, style, and grammar, and learn. Don’t zip through it; take one thing at a time, and consciously apply it to your writing. And always, always take the time to edit what you write. Read it out loud to yourself and see how it sounds. Pass it by a writing friend for honest feedback.

If you want to be a professional, then you have to act and think professional. That starts with learning and perfecting the skill sets needed to perform your job: in this case, writing. Don’t bring yourself down by being hasty, lazy, or down on yourself. Do it right.

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3 Responses to One simple rule to becoming a professional writer

  1. Heartigan says:

    You make a very valid point. One thing I’ve learned is that one of the best sources of learning how to write is simply to read a lot, preferably texts connected to the kind of writing you want to do. Stephen King recommends spending about six hours every day on writing and reading to become a skilled writer.

    http://heartigan.wordpress.com/

  2. Sara Broers says:

    Your article has some fabulous points in it! By reading a lot, a writer can and will become better. I have to agree that reading it out loud to yourself is one of the best pieces of advice I have ever received. Nice article.

  3. Melody Jones says:

    This is well stated. I like the point you make regarding the web acting as an enabler. There is some fantastically poor writing out there.

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