The most daunting moment for any writer is staring at the blank page on your word processor, watching the flicker of the cursor throbbing and taunting the emptiness. We’ve all been there. We have all also produced a piece of writing which makes us wonder if we even count on the country’s literacy scale.
But, there’s good news; you can raise your chin against the violence of the cursor and the mimicking of the grammar-checker. If you’ve felt this way, you’re a true writer, and hope is not lost. I’ve compiled a list of the Top Ten Tips to get you started writing, and get you through the finish line.
- Know Your Topic
If you already have an assigned topic, your objective should be to narrow your focus. For example, if you were asked to write a blog about fashion, you could start narrowing based on personal expertise: Are you into fall fashion? Do you love the color red? Should Crocs make a comeback? Once you’ve honed in, you can start making a list of what should be included. If you’re starting carte blanche, see tips two and three, then come back to tip one.
- Know Your Audience
Who is going to be reading the meanderings you place into the world? By understanding who your audience is, you can make proper decisions on diction and tone. Not sure what I mean? Think about how you would address the President versus your old college drinking buddy. If you can’t see the difference, you may consider searching for a blog on modern civilization.
- Know Your Purpose
Once you have determined your audience and know the appropriate tone, ask yourself what your audience wants to know. Are you informing people about your topic? Are you trying to persuade someone to do or buy something? Are you making small children cry? This should guide you to a final goal, and you can work backwards from there. Where do you want your audience to be by the time they finish reading your writing?
- Create an Outline
I know it seems like extra work, but this is such an important tool for organizing your thoughts. Your readers are like Google Bots searching for rationale amongst a sea of words; give them a sitemap by creating a list of your ideas first.
- Familiarize, Don’t Plagiarize
Drawing inspiration from other writers is essential to gaining a good writing technique. After all, we were readers before we were writers. It’s perfectly fine to read many different texts to gauge your topic, or help you focus, but don’t get caught into the web of plagiarizing. Plagiarism consists of taking another person’s work, copyrighted or not, and calling it your own. This can be done consciously, such as a direct copy-and-paste, or taking an idea and paraphrasing it. If you’re feeling so stuck that you don’t believe you have anything to contribute, then consider changing topics or focus. You can also cite whichever work you’re referring to in order to attribute appropriate credit, but you don’t want your whole piece just to be citations.
- Give Them a Grabber They Can’t Resist
Do you know what engages readers to actually read? The first sentence does. The concept seems obvious enough, yet sometimes we’re too wrapped-up in getting everything down, we forget that we actually want people to read all of our craziness. Spend time crafting that first sentence. Sometimes a question is a good grabber, sometimes a relatable message, sometimes some really powerful active verbs. Avoid quotes, though; they are old hat, but if it gets you away from that cursed cursor, then write it and revise it later.
- Use Active Voice
Now that you’ve started writing, let’s make sure it’s grammatically sound. There are some circumstances where passive voice is acceptable, such as in science journals (see point number two), but generally speaking, people prefer to read active voice. Passive voice is when you leave your verb at the end of the sentence. For example: Josie was attacked. We know that Josie didn’t attack herself (or so we hope); Josie is the “object” of the verb because she is not doing the action. Instead, your writing should read: Grizzly bears attacked Josie. Josie is still the “object” of the verb, but now we have a subject, Grizzly bears, doing the action. Grammarly posted an amazing example of this using zombies some time ago.
- Verbs Are Your Friends
The easiest way to enthrall readers is to adjust your verbiage. You can say “She walked around the block,” or you can say “She sauntered around the block.” See the difference? If you’re not very confident of your vocabulary, most word processors offer a thesaurus right in the program. Be careful, though, while words may be listed as synonyms, they don’t all have the same connotation: “He talked to his neighbor” is not quite the same as “He gossiped to his neighbor.”
I can’t emphasize this point enough! Revising is not the same as editing. Editing is when you check for spelling and grammar errors, which you must do after you’ve revised. I like to think of it this way: RE-VISION is “seeing” your writing in a new way. After you’ve given birth to your bundle of words, step away from them. Yes, I repeat, step away from the monitor. Give your brain a break. Come back to your writing and then read it out loud. OUT LOUD. How does it sound? This is how it will sound to your readers. Making the changes necessary for a smooth, comprehensible reading of your text is revising. Remember: Hard writing makes easy reading.
- Edit Like You Have a Red Pen and No Coffee
Editing is the top coat in the manicures of writing. It may not appear necessary at first, until you chip your nail. Give your writing the glossy coat it deserves by ensuring you’ve polished everything up nicely. If you can’t do it, give it to someone who will read it and check for you. Listen, grammar saves lives: “Let’s eat, Grandma!” compared against “Let’s eat Grandma.”
About the Author: Kristen Fusaro-Pizzo is a high-school English teacher in New York City, and she is founder and co-owner of Candle Moments. She spends her free time scaling large buildings, chasing puppies, grading papers, and crafting candles. Follow Kristen on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest.