The more I write, the more I become convinced that writing is one-tenth talent and about nine-tenths craft. On other days the craft share inches up toward 99 percent, easy. But no matter what kind of work you do, no matter the reason why you’re writing (because you’re a writer, or you have to, or…), and no matter what the venue is, some rules always apply.
And yes — this is an acrostic blog post. Just be grateful it doesn’t rhyme.
- Write. This is the hardest part of writing: writing. You have to untangle all the school-age stuff and performance anxiety that gets between you and actually doing it, and just do it. It turns out that not doing something is the enemy of getting it done.
- Revise, revise, revise. As many times as you can stand.
- If you doubt it, check it. Don’t let factual errors or incorrect word choices unhinge an entire piece’s credibility. We can’t catch every mistake. But we can catch a hell of a lot if we just pay attention. See “T” and “G” for more information.
- Trust your editor. When someone tells me they have given me copy that’s “print-ready,” I cringe. I’ve worked many a writing/editing job, and I still seek smart editors (even when they’re actually just smart, non-editor clients) who can help me spot and fix my weak points. In fact, I lust after them. Bottom line: If you haven’t revised it 73 times and had it edited by someone with a fine-tuned sense of how people read — never mind grammar, which can always be fixed — then it’s not print-ready. Trust me. Furthermore, editors exist to make you look better, smarter, wiser, cooler, etc. Welcome them. They are your A-team. Your ego is not.
- If it seems long, it is. This is the hardest lesson of all, I swear. I like to “go long.” I learned, after many an editorial dressing-down, that few topics require as many words as you’d LIKE to use. “If I’d had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter” — live by this.
- Now read it backwards. I read this tip recently and it’s turned out to be the best damn thing I’ve ever done. Everyone has a version of this: let it rest for 24 hours. Read it from last sentence to first. Read it out loud. I suggest trying all of these things and more, shaving off bits and pieces of fat on every pass. I’ve cut pieces in halves, thirds, even sixths like this.
- Get a second pair of eyes if you can. I actually prefer working with clients who work with editors or marketing/communications departments, because I like being edited. I didn’t at first — until I realized that no one ever got better at something by avoiding criticism and feedback. Know any NFL or NBA players who work without coaches? U.S. presidents without a Cabinet? Wildly successful CEOs without formal or informal advisors? The act of writing is solitary, but with the exception of a few notable literary footnotes, most writers need people — editors and readers.