I’ve been writing since I was eight years old and along the way, I have picked up a few helpful tips for writers. Some of these tips are from books and articles I’ve read and others are from writing workshops and conferences. Others, I’ve come up with myself while working on newspaper columns, magazine articles and books.
Donny Seagraves’ Tips for Writers
- Never start the first sentence of your first paragraph with the word “the.” Think of a more interesting and original way to begin and you will hook your reader.
- What are you burning with? Whatever it is, that’s what you should write about. In his book, If I Can Write, You Can Write, author Charlie Shedd tells about a day when he was having trouble coming up with writing ideas. His wife asked him, “What are you burning with?” and he immediately knew what he wanted to write about. Another way to put this is to ask yourself, “What is first among my concerns?” “What do I most care about?” “What is number one on my agenda?”
- Don’t be afraid to write a fast, very rough first draft. You have to start somewhere. Writers write. Get your ideas down on paper or on the computer screen. You can always polish your words later.
- Writing is rewriting. Almost nothing you read — in the newspaper — in a magazine — in a book — is a first draft. There is always room for improvement. Work on your writing. Make it as accurate, as clear, as readable as you can. But don’t rewrite all the life out of it.
- Learn the rules of writing before you break them. Before a musician improvises, he or she must know the song. The same is true of writers. Learn the basic structure of feature articles, editorial columns, plays, short stories, etc., then do your improvising and experimenting.
- All writing is related. If you want your nonfiction feature articles to really shine, study the techniques used in fiction writing and use them in your articles. For example, in a profile, use character and setting to make an article come alive and to make the reader feel that he or she really knows the person who is profiled after they finish reading the article.
- If you get a dull assignment, turn it into an interesting feature. How? Find an odd angle. Do some research. Interview an interesting person about a dull subject. That’s better than quoting a dull person on an interesting subject.
- Read your work aloud. You’ll be surprised by what you hear and how much better your writing will be after you read aloud and then fine tune what you’ve written.
- Let your work rest awhile, then go back and read it again and make revisions. Often, you will see things you have missed and that need to be revised, things you were too close to your work to see and hear before.
- Try not to use the same word twice in the same sentence or even in the same paragraph. If it’s an unusual word, try not to use it more than once in the entire article or book. Vary your words.
- Seek feedback from other writers. As a writer, you know what you are trying to say to the reader, but only a reader, other than yourself, can tell you if you conveyed that information. A small, supportive writing group is a good way to get constructive criticism and support. But remember, words are powerful. When you critique the work of other writers, do so in a gentle and constructive manner. My favorite critique technique is like a sandwich. Begin with something you like about the manuscript. Then make suggestions about what you think needs work or needs to be discarded or rewritten. Then close your critique with another positive comment on the manuscript.
- Have another source of income at the beginning of your writing career. A job, an employed spouse, a trust fund — something that will pay your bills while you learn the writing craft and hopefully become established in the field.
- Use the internet for research but make sure your sources are legitimate and reliable. Online access puts the entire world of information at your fingertips. Use that information to enliven and inform your writing.
- If you want to be a writer, be a reader. If you have a feature article assignment, read the features of writers your admire. Then analyze those articles and apply what you’ve learned to your own work. Ditto books. Choose ten of the best books you can find in your chosen genre and read and analyze them before writing your own book.
- Do these three things, if you want to be a writer: 1.) Read, read, read. 2.) Write, write, write. And 3.) Never let other people discourage you if you really want to be published.