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50+ writing tips and tricks from my network

Booze and coffee, Hemingway, mind maps, and machine dictation are all writing tips from my network.

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There have been some lovely responses to my A time to write article about mindfulness and my writing habits. Ged Caroll wrote about his motivation for writing, and his workflow.

Encouraged by the reactions, I asked my network to share their writing tips and habits via a Google Form. Amateur and professional writers shared their views; authors, bloggers, copywriters, journalists, and teachers all joined the conversation.

Here’s what I got back, along with web links and Twitter profiles. From style to structure, and from editing to forming habits, there’s something here for everyone.

Thank you to everyone that contributed.

Reading and research

Read a lot.
Alex Johnson
@shedworking

Keep an open mind and instrument handy when reading or listening to (new) speakers and ideas. Jot down things that give you ah-ha moments. Process evolving concepts “in the air” from a variety of perspectives; amalgamate (attribute!) and create your unique take. Encapsulate in a post title EARLY on.
Judy Gombita
@jgombita

Read! Not just about the topic you write about but read widely – I am a big believer that if you do not read you cannot write. Read novels, read magazine articles, read government reports, read poetry, read anything; the more you read the better you will write!
Isabelle Seren
@IsabelleserenPR

Writing time

Determine your best time to write – whether it is in the morning or later on. Once you decide what time works for you, make sure to schedule other activities around it. Create a space that allows you to do your best work.
Karen Freberg
@kfreberg

I’m most creative first thing in the morning. The night before I rough out a straw man covering the points I want to cover, and the order. I ruminate overnight then, on waking, I plough through a first draft. The rest is tinkering and style.
Scott Guthrie
@sabguthrie

Don’t rush it. Let things percolate for a while. The words will come when they’re ready.
James Whatley
@whatleydude

You need to find a pattern and method that suits you. Some listen to loud music, some write in bursts and some camp out in cafes. Find what works for you and embrace it without comparing yourself to others.
Mark Grainger
@MarkGrainger

Write it down, all of it

Don’t get it right, get it written. As a journalist, it’s always easier to edit something bad, than write something perfect off the bat.

Sally Whittle
@swhittle

Write now, just get it all down on paper or screen. Edit later. It’s important to just get those words out of your head in the first instance.
Steph Ayre
@stephanie_ayre

Resist the temptation to edit before you finish a first draft. Bash it out – spelling mistakes and all – as quickly as you can. It’s too easy to lose both time and ideas to noodling around and editing minutiae you’ll later delete altogether.
Paul Smith
@paul_a_smith

Keep a record of every thought that pops into your head, no matter how small/trivial – and plan to revisit and review periodically. It’s a useful exercise that enables you to find inspiration for new content and turn around posts packed with information and context in no time at all.
Matt Silver
@MattSilverPR

Put one word in front of the other. Just get your thoughts down in any state to start with. Then edit ruthlessly or better yet, have someone else edit.
Sarah Stimson
@gooorooo

Don’t overthink the first draft, just write it all down ignoring order, coherence and all that stuff. You bring structure to the piece when you edit it.
Brian Mcleish
@BrianMcleish

Just do it, let it flow out then have a good eye to go over it. Don’t overthink it, go with your instinct.
Sarah Mcghie
@mcghiesarah

I was in a slump, and my sister told me, “Everything you write doesn’t have to be brilliant.” Her advice helped me take the pressure off myself to write perfectly.
Sarah Ricard
@skricard

Skip ahead. If you know what needs to happen but you’re bored by the idea of how you get there, just skip to the bit you’re most interested in and fill in the boring bit later. I always find the journey is more satisfying once the destination is decided.
Caroline O’Donoghue
@Czaroline

At school my dad always used to say if you’re stuck just write something, anything it doesn’t matter what. The act of writing will release you. It used to frustrate the hell out of me but it works.
Jon Sellors
@Jonsellors

Writing for yourself versus your reader?

Write with “what’s in it for the reader?” in mind. Why should readers care? What’s most important to them? What do they need to know?
Sue Horner
@SueHorner

Know who you’re writing to, and write to, and not at, that person. Imagine them sitting across from you as you write, and that you’re having a casual conversation.
Linda Dessau
@lindadessau

Often, not always, get your readers thinking of themselves, early on. Here’s a story that I wrote today: >>Do you think skipping a lawyer and representing yourself in divorce court will save money? <<
Brian Kilgore
@BrianAKilgore

Remember you’re writing not to impress the client, editor or the interviewee but the slightly bored person who has precious little spare time and a lot of distractions.

And easy to read is not an insult.
Rob Ashwell
@r_ashwell

A good friend of mine once told me you should always write your blog for you and you alone.

“Imagine no one else is ever going to read it. Do it solely for your own pleasure, and like magic others will almost certainly enjoy it too.”

I try to keep that in mind every time I sit down and write.
Dom Burch
@domburch

Write like you are writing for yourself so that you don’t get overwhelmed by what people might think. Keep it short and sweet, use headings and chunk it so it is easy to read. Leave it and revisit it a few hours later.
Emma Rodgers
@emmarodgers

Give your writing eyes. Or cauliflower ears. Give it something that the reader can see in themselves. I call it ‘Henry the Hoover’ writing. There may be better, more efficient hoovers out there, but it’s Henry who scrubs up all our primary school carpets; and it’s all down to the eyes.
Lisa Davison
@lisadavison92

Editing and proofing

Read out loud what you have written.
Sally Keith
@fulbeck

Every time your brain reaches for a familiar way describing something, like a “bustling market”, “an oasis of calm”, or a “stunning view”, delete it.

Zone in on a little detail instead: What sort of people are in the crowd? What sounds are particularly calming? How do you feel when you look down?
Jo Harris-Cooksley
@joannahc

Read what you’ve written out loud before publishing. When proofing you’ll read what you intended, rather than what you wrote. Saying it aloud forces you to actually read the words on the page. Also recommend investing in beautiful stationery, you’re worth it!
Rachel Miller
@AllthingsIC

Proofread by reading backwards. Always.
Kathleen Dixon Donnelly
@gypsyteacher1

Always take the time to read the final draft out aloud, it makes such a difference to the rhyme and the reason of the finished article.
Kerry Gaffney
@KerryMG

Be a critical editor. If that’s hard, then ask a friend to edit for you. A deleted word can be as powerful as a written one.
Karan Chadda
@kchadda

Emotion and candour as a means of connection

Write from the gut, write from the heart, not from the head. The most compelling, beautiful and authentic words bubble up from deep down.
Jason MacKenzie
@jasonmackenzie

Your best writing will often be the pieces that you feel the most ashamed of, don’t let shame or fear ever stop you sharing them.
Paul Coxon
@thatpaulcoxon

Expertise and passion

Always write about topics you are mostly familiar with, knowledgeable of and passionate about; be ready to have your opinion challenged.
Ella Minty
@EllaMinty

As a blogging newbie, I have a dream to be much more than a blogger one day, I want to become a real source of inspiration. So when it comes to starting to blog, there’s no better advice than to think about where your passion lies. Just blog about what makes you happy and what makes you, you. The rest will follow.
Anastasia Stefanidou
@alinastf

Lean and clean

Write as you speak. Don’t over-complicate it with pompous words to look like an expert. People want to read to understand, learn and enjoy. Write for them. Not for you.
Iliyana Stareva
@IliyanaStareva

Delete the bits you’re especially proud of and start again. Repeat.
Sean Fleming
@flemingsean

Keep it simple. Lose the jargon and don’t use seven words when four will do.
Helen Deverell
@helendeverell

Read a tabloid for a lesson in how to write simply – using mainly short words and sentences isn’t easy but is good practice for the web.
Amy Wardlaw
@amywardlaw

Structure

I start with headlines and subheads, and then fill in the paragraphs. I don’t write it in order either. Sometimes good starts are the hardest bit, so don’t get stuck with them!
Jonathan Beeston
@beeston

“John Lennon is dead…? No,” Paul shouted. Put the most interesting line in the first paragraph. Whatever that is.
Dan Slee
@danslee

I bullet point my main facts first before fleshing out the content into a story full of paragraphs. It means I can often turn paragraphs into #1 #2 etc. making reading easier.
Laura Sutherland
@laurafromaura

Style

Consistency is key. When you don’t feel like writing, write more. Consistency is improvement.
Thijs Ros
@thijsros

Read and seek inspiration from one of the greatest writers in history. Ernest Hemingway didn’t use italics, capitalisation or underline. He didn’t use exclamation marks or ellipses. These are all crutches. Hemingway wrote the truest sentence he knew, and then rewrote it, and rewrote it again.
Sarah Hall
@hallmeister

Avoid exclamation marks. If you felt like using them, that probably means the copy wasn’t strong enough.
Nuno da Silva Jorge
@nunosilvajorge

Shorter sentences and not too many £10 words.
Bob Cushing
@bobtheguru

Discipline and habit

Set yourself (or ask an editor to set you) deadlines and try to stick to them. Oh – and email yourself with ideas for posts and sentences/lines as they come to you. Alcohol, lots of it, can also work.
Rich Leigh
@richleighPR

Say something every day. Even if it’s simply spilling your inner monologue onto a cafe napkin, tweeting a tiny poem, writing a note to yourself for later.

It’s getting started that then enables the planning and production of more directed, deliberate work.

But say something, each day. Today this was mine.
Helen Armfield
@helenarmfield

Get out of bed, clear your head by journaling, and take a cold shower, for as long as you can bear it. Do not check your social media/emails. Drink a protein smoothie and brew a coffee. Get to a computer and write 750 words with notifications off. Daily. Without fail.
David Sawyer
@zudepr

Workflow hacks

Mind maps and Hemingway app.
Ged Carroll
@r_c

I dictate blog posts to Siri or emails to Evernote as a stream of consciousness, and edit later.
Janet Fouts
@jfouts

Run text through Hemingway app before posting. Optimise, of course.
Chris Lee
@CMRLee

When I’m at final draft/proof stage I read my draft on my smartphone, it’s amazing how viewing it on a different platform helps me cut out things that aren’t needed, spot any missed typos and add a bit of polish. Always do this if I’m writing for online as it helps me see the end user’s perspective more clearly.
Nicola Weatherburn
@socialdepict

Photo by Fredrik Rubensson via Flickr with thanks.

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Stephen Waddington

Partner and Chief Engagement Officer, Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice, Newcastle University.

3 Comments

  1. Thanks Wadds and all for a great list. Echoing what Paul Smith says about separating drafting and editing, Sandi Toksvig drew a cracking analogy on Desert Island Discs. She said her Dad taught her that writing is like fishing. First you decide what kind of fish to catch. Then you catch it. Then you fillet it so you can serve the best parts of the fish. Therein lies the distinction between planning, writing and editing. You cannot catch and fillet a fish at the same time – nor can you write and edit. Not an easy habit to break though – and I haven’t managed it yet…

  2. Hey Stephen, nice of you to share how budding as well as professional writers should go about their process of penning. Writers do the same thing, but differently indeed. Writing is much of an art and I believe that what these amazing people have contributed would surely help many budding writers.

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