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How to write like a professional writer

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How to write like a professional writer
May 08, 2019 Wedding Anniversary Wishes 5 comments

I'm a professional writer, and I can tell you this: when you write for a living, you don't have the luxury of letting a project get the better of you!.

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Good writing is about more than just grammar

how to write like a professional writer

I do a lot of copyediting, both of books and advertising collateral. I’ll let you in on a secret that still surprises me, although I’ve seen it hundreds of times now. If you looked at the raw work of most professional writers, you’d be pretty underwhelmed.

Professional writers get work because they hit their deadlines, they stay on message, and they don’t throw too many tantrums. Some pros have a great writing voice or a superb style, but as often as not, that gets in the way. When you know that the best word is “prescient,” it’s hard to swallow when an account manager tells you the client won’t know what it means.

Professional writers rely on editors to fix their clunks. Like good gardeners, sensitive editors don’t hack away—we prune and gently shape. When we’ve done a great job, the page looks just like it did before, only better. It’s the page the writer intended to write.

Editing, like writing, takes time to learn. But here are five fixes I make with nearly every project. Learn to make them yourself and you’ll take your writing to a more professional, marketable, and persuasive level.

1. Sentences can only do one thing at a time.

Have you ever heard a four-year-old run out of breath before she can finish her thought? I edit a lot of sentences that work the same way. You need a noun, you need a verb, you might need an object. Give some serious thought to stopping right there.

Sentences are building blocks, not bungee cords; they’re not meant to be stretched to the limit. I’m not saying you necessarily want a Hemingway-esque series of clipped short sentences, but most writers benefit from dividing their longest sentences into shorter, more muscular ones.

2. Paragraphs can only do one thing at a time.

A paragraph supports a single idea. Construct complex arguments by combining simple ideas that follow logically. Every time you address a new idea, add a line break. Short paragraphs are the most readable; few should be more than three or four sentences long. This is more important if you’re writing for the Web.

3. Look closely at -ing

Nouns ending in -ing are fine. (Strong writing, IT consulting, great fishing.) But constructions like “I am running,” “a forum for building consensus,” or “The new team will be managing” are inherently weak. Rewrite them to “I run,” “a forum to build consensus,” and “the team will manage.” You’re on the right track when the rewrite has fewer words (see below).

(If for some insane reason you want to get all geeky about this, you can read the Wikipedia article on gerunds and present participles. But you don’t have to know the underlying grammatical rules to make this work. Rewrite -ing when you can, and your writing will grow muscles you didn’t know it had.)

4. Omit unnecessary words.

I know we all heard this in high school, but we weren’t listening. (Mostly because it’s hard.) It’s doubly hard when you’re editing your own writing—we put all that work into getting words onto the page, and by god we need a damned good reason to get rid of them.

Here’s your damned good reason: extra words drain life from your work. The fewer words used to express an idea, the more punch it has. Therefore:

The country
daily (usually best rewritten to “every day”)
She knew it was good.

(I just caught one above: four-year-old )

You can nearly always improve sentences by rewriting them in fewer words.

5. Reframe 90% of the passive voice.

French speakers consider an elegantly managed passive voice to be the height of refinement. But here in the good old U.S. (or Australia, Great Britain, etc.), we value action. We do things is inherently more interesting than Things are done by us. Passive voice muddies your writing; when the actor is hidden, the action makes less sense.

Bonus: Use spell-check

There’s no excuse for teh in anything more formal than a Twitter tweet.

Also, “a lot” and “all right” are always spelled as two words. You can trust me, I’m an editor.

Easy reading is damned hard writing.
~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

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10 Secrets of Professional Writers Every Blogger Should Know

how to write like a professional writer

Want to become a better writer?

Even though it may seem difficult to write well, there are a few simple things you can do to dramatically improve your writing in a short time. These principles apply to any genre. Whether you are blogging, writing a novel or working on an essay for school, these 9 tips will bring your writing to a whole new level.

Try one or two out, work on them for a week, and then add others. You will notice a huge improvement in your writing. I promise.

1. Read like a writer.

The best thing you can do to improve your writing is to read! When you open a book, look at it with a writer’s eyes. What did the author do that you want to emulate in your own writing?

A client of mine wanted to write like Hemingway. He bought this book of short stories, and together, we read a story in each of our writing sessions. We break the writing apart, piece by piece, asking questions like, “What did he do here? Why did he use a semicolon here? What types of ideas did he use to open this story?”

After a few weeks of this, his writing noticeably became more straightforward, concise, and powerful. It was a great lesson for both of us.

You can do the same thing with bloggers you love. Read their posts and really pay attention to their writing techniques. Then modify them for your own blog.

2. Be specific

“Be specific…Give things the dignity of their names.”

-Natalie Goldberg

Don’t write “car,” write “Camaro.” Don’t write “flower,” write “gardenia.”

It is amazing how much more powerful writing is when each object is given a specific name and each verb describes an exact action.

Compare the following two sentences:

1. The boy ate lunch.

2. The 10 year old gobbled his tuna sandwich.

Notice how changing “boy” to “10 year old,” “ate” to “gobbled,” and “lunch” to “tuna sandwich” made the sentence come alive?

Look through your own writing. Where can you replace a vague word with a more specific one?

Want more on being specific in your blog posts? Read this.

3. Write from a dog’s eye view

When I taught 3rd grade, I found that many of my students described an event that lasted hours in a single sentence: “We went to the party and had fun.”

“Write from a dog’s eye view,” I urged them. “You are writing like a bird, hovering over the story, instead of seeing it from the inside.”

When you write, approach your topic from a dog’s eye view – a place where you can see each detail intimately.

Instead of “We went to the party and had fun,” you can write, “I picked my cousin Gloria up at 5. She was wearing a yellow dress and red lipstick. Her present for the birthday girl was a dinosaur stuffed animal. Mine was a Hello Kitty purse.” Suddenly a sentence becomes a world you can enter and walk around in.

Keep getting closer and closer to the subject until it slows down. Then your reader can enter it with you.

4. Be surprising

Keep your readers on their toes!

Why did people love The Glass Castle so much?

The first scene, in which the writer, Jeanette, is in a taxi and sees her homeless mom looking through a dumpster, grabs the reader’s attention immediately. This is only a taste of all of the shocking moments to come.

What can you do to surprise your readers? Open with a quote, or with a vivid scene. Take a new twist on an old topic. If you are describing something familiar, do it in way that makes readers rethink their previous conceptions.

Or close your piece with an unexpected insight.

5. Use figurative language

Why not throw in a few similes and metaphors?

They will make your writing as noticeable as a wailing baby in a supermarket.

Or give human characteristics (personification) to a place or idea. –The ancient house groaned all night, wrinkles filling its walls.

6. Get to the point.

Don’t write any more than you have to.

Make your point and then move on.

People want to get to the action. Use descriptive words, but only enough to invite readers into the scene. Strongly state your opinion, offer 2 or 3 strong examples, and then let your reader make up his or her own mind.

Don’t state the obvious; assume that your readers can fill in the blanks.

7. Choose your words carefully.

Words not to use: good, nice, cool, awesome, bad, mean….and any other bland word you can think of.

Go back through your writing and circle boring words. Then use thesaurus.com to come up with better alternatives. Also look for repetition.

Instead of overusing a word, find 3 or 4 synonyms and mix it up a bit.

8. Play with sentence structure.

Go back over your writing and look at the lengths of your sentences. Are they all the same length? If so, consider either shortening some of them into more terse sentences, or joining two into one longer, more flowing sentence. Do you always begin with your subject?

The dog chomped a bone. The bone was stinky. She dropped it and sniffed the grass.

Mix it up a bit:

Noisily, the dog chomped her stinky bone. She dropped it and sniffed the grass, wagging her butt from side to side.

9. Write!

If you want to be a better writer, write more! In Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, he wrote that to excel at anything, you need to do it for at least 10,000 hours! So get writing. Write every day if you can. Let yourself write the worst junk in the world, just keep practicing. And while you’re at it, try some of the other tips!

To recap…

1. Read like a writer.

2. Be specific.

3. Write from a dog’s eye view.

4. Be surprising.

5. Use figurative language.

6. Get to the point.

7. Choose your words carefully.

8. Play with sentence structure.

9. Write!


/13 Comments/by Daniela

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How to Write Articles Like a Professional

how to write like a professional writer

We all know good writing when we see it and we cringe when we see terrible writing.  The worst thing is that the harder people try to write well, the worse their writing usually becomes.

Here are 10 secrets of professional writers are guaranteed to improve your writing.

1. Avoid clichés

But you know that, don’t you? And yet clichés are more systemic and invasive then people imagine. A cliché is any idea or expression that has lost its force through overuse, to the point where it becomes meaningless and drab.

Here are some examples that I have found in recent blogs:

  • In this day and age
  • Never a dull moment
  • Given the green light
  • Rose to great heights
  • Calm before the storm

The problem, and the attraction, with clichés is that they seem to say exactly what we want to say, so it is tempting to hang on to these tried and true expressions.

And yet, they will deaden your prose, make readers mentally sign off and expose you as an amateur.  Everytime.

So avoid overused sayings (yes, I know, like the plague).

2. Write like you speak

Use a conversational tone.  Really. And you don’t have to use complete sentences either.

Think of it this way; if you wouldn’t say it a casual conversation, think twice before you write it.  A blog is a friendly chat that will inform and entertain your audience. It is not a lecture, an academic thesis or the opportunity to harangue your readers from your soapbox.

3. Talk to your reader like a friend

In real life you would use words like “you” and “I” so use them in your blog too, just like you would if you were chatting at a barbeque. This lesson comes hard to those who have spent a lot of time in academic writing (in fact most good writing lessons come hard to this group), but good writers love using you and I these days because it speaks directly to the reader.

4. Use anecdotes and case studies

These are little stories are the spice of blog. Facts only go so far and no one wants to read too many of them. People like stories about people and anecdotes humanize your information and make the reader care about the issue.

5. Parallelism

 This sounds technical but it just means a balance within sentences that have the same grammatical structure. Before you skip to the next point consider that according to Wikipedia using parallelism improves writing style and readability and makes sentences easier to process.

This is a typical example that I found in a blog.

James likes to play soccer and hockey. He also likes to play a bit of tennis too.”

It reads better to say:

James enjoys soccer, hockey and tennis.

6. Getting down and dirty

Use adjectives sparingly.

When I ask my gen y students how they recognise good writing they often look perplexed (but then again, they tend to look perplexed most of the time). Finally a tentative hand will go up and a brave student will suggest that good writing is “descriptive”.  And by descriptive they mean lots of describing words – or adjectives.

And a lot of people believe this.

But in a harsh kink of fate this leads to exactly the worst kind of writing –the dreaded flowery prose.

Mark Twain said it best.

“When you see an adjective, kill it.”

This is what he actually said in a letter to D.W Bowser, 3/20/1880

I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. …. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them–then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.

7. But there’s more

There is another part of speech that will make your readers want to put their head in a vice. The dreaded adverb. In his acclaimed book, On Writing author Stephen King describes “the road to hell as being paved with adverbs”.

Adverbs clutter your sentences and are considered a pitiable substitute for good writing.

To put it simply adverbs prop up poor verbs. Considering that verbs are the V8 engine of your sentence, using weak non-specific ones means you need an adverb to help it along, a bit like a Zimmer frame, and not a good look.

The famous example from every writing text is:

The man walked wearily and laboriously up the hill

The better way to write it is:

The man trudged up the hill

So, for example use the better verb skulked, instead of a phrase like “moved suspiciously”.  Think about using phrases such as “teased mercilessly” when you could use taunted, or “ran quickly” when you could use dashed or sprinted.

You get the point. Use specific verbs and nouns and use adverbs and adjectives sparingly. It sounds technical but with a small amount of thought you will supercharge you sentences and make your writing a pleasure to read.

8. Exclamation marks!

OMG! I know I don’t need to tell you this but exclamation marks can give your writing a gushing, effusive quality!  They are mostly used ironically these days so unless you are an enthusiastic teenager, use with care.

9. Tighten up

Make your writing “tighter” and more powerful by removing the extra words or phrases that don’t contribute to the meaning of your sentence.  Look at your sentence; can you remove some words to make it more succinct? Less is better. Always.

10. Rant or reason?

If you want people to take you seriously develop evidence-based opinions. Why do you think as you do? Try to be able to back up your opinions with facts, research or statistics. Otherwise you may as well just get on a soapbox at the local park and rant.

Take home writing tip:

Think like a wise man, but express yourself like the common people. (W.B.Yeats)

Want more information about writing well for blogs?

Check out these experts:

Guest Author: Margaret Pincus works in digital communications and also teaches writing/journalism at Griffith University. She blogs at bloghappy.com.au

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My book – Blogging the Smart Way “How to Create and Market a Killer Blog with Social Media” – will show you how.

It is now available to download. I show you how to create and build a blog that rocks and grow tribes, fans and followers on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. It also includes dozens of tips to create contagious content that begs to be shared and tempts people to link to your website and blog.

I also reveal the tactics I used to grow my Twitter followers to over 120,000.

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I'm a professional writer, and I can tell you this: when you write for a living, you don't have the luxury of letting a project get the better of you!.

how to write like a professional writer
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