6 pieces of advice for new writers

Dear recent graduate,

You’re probably already annoyed at people welcoming you to the “real world”. After all, aren’t all of our worlds real? Perception is reality and all that. I won’t patronize you by suggesting that your new reality will be more difficult, that work life is more demanding than being at school.

In the real world, we forget how difficult it was not to have an end to the portion of the day where we worked. We forget the frustration of being graded in subjects that we knew weren’t our strong suit, and that we weren’t interested in anyway.

The truth is, for many people, “adult” life does get a little bit easier for a while. Boundaries between work and life become clearer, and you can choose work that you find engaging and rewarding, or at least easy. Of course, adding a mortgage to that student debt, children, jobs that don’t actually end at 5 o’clock, etc does add some stress.

But that’s a tangent, and you, my friend, are not “most people”. You are a writer. Boundaries do not become clearer when you work best outside a 9-5 schedule. Work does not get easier when your marketable skill is your creativity – your soul.

We all have dreams when we leave university or college. Because we are writers, our dreams often revolve around creating great works of art: novels, stories, and poetry.

And we’re incredibly lucky, because even if we can’t pursue our lofty dreams full time, we can often find work that allows us to exercise our creative muscles. The rise of content marketing is a gift to all of us who want to create, and who value the power of the written word.

So as you enter the “real world” and get your first job where you’re paid to write, some of my favourite writers and I have a few pieces of advice:

1) Give yourself permission to write poorly.

In the “real world”, you don’t always have 8 weeks to complete the equivalent of an essay. You might have to pump out 10 blogs and an ebook every week. You don’t have the luxury of writing a perfect first draft. Sometimes, you just need to put pen to paper and start as you mean to go on.

You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. ― Jack London

2) Write like you speak.

Nobody wants to read what you wrote in university. Academic writing has a specific tone of voice, and it’s kind of boring. Do you know what’s interesting? Conversational writing.

On top of that, the average American reads at a Grade 8 reading level. And, research shows that we prefer to read recreationally two grades below our actual reading level. This means that a Grade 6-8 reading level is complex enough for most audiences.*

Always tailor your writing for the brand and audience, but be aware of the fact that unless you’re working for an academic institution, your default writing style is going to have to change.

Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass. ― David Ogilvy

3) But don’t write too much like you speak.

When I write like a speak, my sentences and paragraphs never end. I often speak in flowing, unending streams of thought. Short sentences often feel abrupt to me, so I struggle to revise my work. But, with scannability (yes, that’s a word now) being such a factor in creating engaging web copy, it’s important to bear it in mind.

Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. ― Mark Twain

4) Work hard. No seriously, harder than that.

There’s always someone working harder than you. Always. There’s someone who’s networking right now, who’s working on their novel, who’s writing copy for a charitable organization, who’s blogging. Why are you even still reading this?

If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy. ― Dorothy Parker

5) Find allies.

People want to help you, as long as you ask respectfully and follow through. But asking for and giving favours will not win you allies. Doing great work and building meaningful connections will. People who you can call on for a favour are great, but allies can make your life wonderful and fun.

There are no words to express the abyss between isolation and having one ally. It may be conceded to the mathematician that four is twice two. But two is not twice one; two is two thousand times one. ― G.K. Chesterton

6) Be open to feedback.

You might be great one day. You might be great now, what do I know? But there’s a good chance that you’re not as awesome as you think you are.

I don’t know who you’ll be working with, but you’ll probably have an editor, a manager, maybe a PR specialist, perhaps an inbound marketing specialist. Whoever you have around you, try to learn from them. They all have a unique perspective. As much as you’ll feel like they’re stifling your voice and destroying your writing, they have a reason. It won’t be a bad one – take the time to find out what it is.

I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide. — Harper Lee

Oh, recent graduate, your career is going to be full of joys and disappointments. You’re going to work harder than you ever have before. Welcome to the very illustrious club!

*Confused about what that looks like? Wriber tells me that this post is written at a Grade 5 reading level. I like to think it’s not poorly written! It just uses a variety of sentences that aren’t too complex.