- Love writing: If you don’t absolutely love writing, don’t take a job in which you’ll spend more than 75 percent of the time working with, and around, words. As with everything else, writing becomes second nature with practice but if you don’t enjoy it to begin with, there’s no reason for you to get yourself stuck in a job you’re going to hate. Remember, even fields like broadcast journalism, PR and marketing require a significant amount of writing expertise – you may not have to write flowing prose, but you have to be a good writer to discern the mediocre from the awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping, eye-opening, heart-pumping story for the camera, sales pitch or news release. Remember: Good writing compels action.
- Take genuine interest: Whether it be a full-length magazine feature or a short piece in the newspaper, you have to take a genuine interest in the subject. Only then will you be able to have the person, or the gadget, or the place you’re writing about come alive for your readers. Remember, it’s not about you – you’re merely the story-teller, the conduit between the reader and the subject…step back and focus on your subject.
- Decide the focus of the story: Think about what the reader will take away from your story – are you imparting information? Is the purpose of your story to inspire someone to donate? Do you want the reader to buy a product? Is the story one that evokes thoughtful discussions? Or is the purpose simply to give the reader a feel-good moment? Once you know what you want to achieve with your writing, you’ll know the right questions to ask.
- Don’t miss the deadline: Missing deadlines is sacrilege. Publications run on a tight production cycle and you’re a major cog in that wheel. If you miss your deadline, it holds up the art, designing and proofing are pushed back, time-sensitive material that may have had to be included cannot be anymore, you’ve lost a certain amount of professional respect and all in all just messed up the process. That said, there will be times the stars are not aligned for you to meet those deadlines – make sure you talk to your editor and get an extension, or have an evergreen story you can plug in if that hole in the magazine absolutely must be filled by XX date. Yes, these are times when your story might be killed. Meet that deadline!
- Don’t let writer’s block get to you: It happens to all of us – we have great interviews, excellent quotes, wonderful stories waiting to be told and we just don’t know where to start. Maybe you know what the ending will be…perhaps you’ve figured out the middle….just start writing and when you’ve finished your selective rummage through the quotes, step away. Take a walk, exercise, log on to Facebook (or not, if your company discourages visiting or has blocked social networking sites) or simply do something else to take your mind away from your story. When you look at it with a fresh pair of eyes you’ll see it all coming together for you. Don’t be afraid of rewriting – a story often goes through several drafts before it reaches the epitome of perfection.
- Read every day: You not only get a chance to learn something new stylistically or even add to your ever-increasing vocabulary, but your mind actively analyzes and critiques, helping you on your way to becoming a better writer. And when I say read, I don’t mean just scrolling through your friends’ Facebook status messages and tweets.