I have been a writer for over 25 years. During this time, I’ve been a writer, editor and copyeditor. I’ve written articles, books and curriculum. I’ve worked behind the scenes to help others strengthen their writing and get their messages out. I love writing, and I love helping others write effectively.
I’ve recently had several people in varying stages of life approach me about how to start writing and, in particular, how to get published. Publishing has changed a lot during the past decade, but the changes have opened more opportunities for aspiring authors. Some writers I know started out writing on a blog or Instagram and now have multiple published books. And publications are always on the lookout for talented freelance writers. If you’re a would-be author, here are my top five tips for getting started:
1. Find your internal drive.
The reason I believe most aspiring writers never get around to putting words on the page is because their internal motivation isn’t strong enough. Or at least it’s not as strong as the motivation to do other things. I got hooked on writing as a teenager when I discovered I could use my spiritual gift of encouragement to offer people hope through writing. Once I got a taste of this, I continued to write to tell stories that help people and draw them closer to Christ.
2. Make every word count.
Good writing is about communicating something powerfully in the fewest number of words possible. I’m not saying you can’t write a super-long book; just be sure every word is crucial! In the classic writing book, “The Elements of Style,” William Strunk Jr. writes:
“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”
In general, forcing yourself to write succinctly will strengthen your writing. Replace tedious, dull, monotonous adjectives with strong verbs and descriptive nouns. Don’t speak in generalities; use specifics. Don’t indulge in wordiness; make every paragraph, sentence and word serve a purpose.
3. Know your audience.
As a writer, I think of myself as something of a tour guide. If I’m writing for children, my tactics will be different than if I’m writing for adults. The same is true of content. My voice and purpose will be different if I am writing a relationship article for singles versus a fashion article for women. One thing that has allowed me to be a working writer is my ability to adapt to many audiences and match needed styles of writing.
I suggest starting with one or two audiences or publications you wish to write for. Then do your homework. Read a number of their articles so you gain an understanding of their editorial needs. When I was a magazine editor, every time we got new interns, their first assignment was to spend an afternoon reading our publication. In addition, online publications often provide submission guidelines on their websites. I have experienced success being published by pitching relevant, tailored content to such publications.
The second part of knowing your audience is being familiar with what your readers want. When I shift gears to writing for teens — an audience I’m not as in touch with — I check out popular websites and social media accounts followed by teens to see what’s popular. This allows me to write in a way that appeals to my audience.
4. Discover your voice.
Just like you present a “vibe” when you hang out with people in person, your writing voice leaves an impression on your readers. Whether your voice is quirky, direct, vulnerable or upbeat, let it be YOU! Others have told me my writing is warm, honest and relatable, with a touch of humor. As much as I would love to be truly witty or even edgy, that’s simply not my voice. I must leave that style to other writers.
Going back to the “tour guide” analogy, how do you lead your reader through the content you’re presenting? Do you have the tone of an instructor or a BFF? Both options — and many others — are fine. The question is which voice you can effectively execute. The more you write, the more you will discover your authentic voice as an author.
5. Just write!
As I’ve had conversations with many would-be writers over the years, the biggest barrier I observe is that the person simply fails to get around to his or her writing aspirations. “I would love to write a book someday,” she’ll say. Or “Maybe when I’m not as busy at work, I’ll get around to writing.” My advice to you if you find yourself in this boat is: Just start writing! Carve out some dedicated time to put words on the page. Even if you’re just journaling some thoughts that could be turned into a book or article later, write! Your message may be just the thing someone else needs to hear.
I once heard a powerful insight at a Christian writer’s conference. The speaker said: “Everything you write is the intersection of three stories: your story, God’s story and the reader’s story.” Based on this principle, there can never be “too many” writers in the world. We all have stories to tell in ways only we can, based on our experiences, knowledge and insights.
So, what are you waiting for? Tell your story. Start writing.
Copyright 2020 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All rights reserved.