20 Foolproof Writing Tips For Beginners
Forget public speaking or craftmanship. Neglect your fitness and burn your dinner. None of these skills matter, like mastering the art of writing.
Someone once said that the pen is mightier than the sword. That's a hell of an understatement. Words move armies, launch careers, convey the latest scientific advances, and convince even the miserliest Scrooge to part with their cash.
Everyone should know how to write, from the doctor's receptionist to the local plumber. Not only does it smooth communication – ensuring everyone gets what they want – but it also conveys competence and a good education.
Whether you're penning the next magnum opus or pursuing a career in copywriting, following these writing tips are guaranteed to hone your skills.
20 Writing Tips for Beginners
1. Set clear writing goals.
Some say life is about smelling the roses. But, sooner or later, relaxing gets a little old. You need to set goals. That's especially true in writing. Your goals should reflect your greater ambitions. You could write a certain number of words a day, read a chunk of a book, or learn a single word.
Think about what you want to get out of writing and base your goal around that. Just be a little realistic -constantly disappointing yourself isn't the road to success.
2. Read everything.
Want to write a mind-blowing sci-fi novel? You'd think you should power through the back catalogue of Frank Herbert, Philip K. Dick, and Arthur C. Clarke.
But, if that's all you've ever read, what do you bring to the table? Consider: Herbert's Dune was an ode to ecology, Dick was fascinated with psychedelics and expanded consciousness, and Clarke delivered on robotics and scientific advancements.
Reading outside your normal repertoire is perhaps the most underrated aspect of creativity. Read biology textbooks, political treatises, and historical epics. The more you know, the more you can write about.
3. Use an active voice.
What sounds better: "The ball was thrown by Jack" or "Jack threw the ball." The former treats Jack as a passive participant and the latter as an active antagonist. Using an active voice sounds more confident and self-assured; it's to the point.
There is an exception, however. Medical and scientific writing relies on the passive voice. Personal pronouns tend to be frowned upon in scientific writing, and active voice also engenders a more subjective outlook. In contrast, the passive voice is more distant and objective and stresses what was done, not who did it.
4. Target your audience
No question should haunt writers more than: who? You could write a novel or article for the hell of it. Most people, however, would like someone to read it one day. Consider your target audience as you pen your email, CV, blog posts, or product description.
What information do they want to read? What tone do they expect? What level of knowledge do they already have? What problem of theirs can you solve?
If you can't answer these questions, it's time to rethink.
5. Master the power of psychology.
Manipulating your readers may sound a little devious, but psychology is critical to writing. Want to create suspense in a novel? Perturbing a reader with a character's odd take will likely keep them hooked.
For example, in the film Pulp Fiction, actor John Travolta was supposed to state the obvious after accidentally shooting a passenger in the head. Ever the genius, Travolta put it differently: "Ah man, I shot Marvin in the face." Rich with black comedy and callously nonchalant, it plays with our expectations of the scene. It zigs when we expect it to zag.
Take the beginning of this article: I told you to throw out all other skills and focus on writing. Regardless of whether you agree, it kept you reading; it was a hook.
6. Always format correctly.
Ugly writing never gets read. You could have the next Count of Monte Cristo, but if it's got wonky paragraphs and incorrect indentations, no self-respecting editor will read it.
Formatting is a key content-writing tip. Blog articles and product descriptions should use bullet points, numbered lists, bold words, and other formatting tools judiciously.
7. First drafts aren't perfect.
Writing perfection the first time isn't possible – you're just not that good. Better to get your ideas down on the page and edit them into a cohesive chunk of content.
Like a sculpture that chisels away a broad outline, editing allows you to refine and add details you missed on your first pass.
8. Tell a story.
Regardless of whether you're writing product descriptions, YouTube scripts, or a lecture, employing storytelling techniques keeps your audience engaged.
Humans, for whatever reason, are natural-born storytellers. Our brains are wired to understand the basic story structure: comfort, obstacle, determination, and overcoming.
Whether you prefer Joseph Campbell's hero's journey or Dan Harmon's 'Story Circle,' these techniques help structure your narrative. Don't try to reinvent the wheel; use the wheel to go somewhere new.
9. Get to the point.
Remember Abe Simpson: when telling a story to Bart or Lisa, he wouldn't go from A to B; he'd meander through C, D, E, back to A, and on to X, Y, and Z.
Nobody has time for that. Want to keep your reader hooked? Get to the meat of what you want to say.
10. Cut the fluff.
Imagine if movie scripts read like normal conversations: every film would be ten hours long. Conversations usually don't have a single purpose; writing does.
Don't ramble and cut out any filler words – think like, really, that, and know.
11. Let your work breathe.
Editing freshly written text is hard. Every sentence is so familiar your brain glances over the mistakes. Put it down, leave it at least an hour (ideally a few days), and come back to it an editor.
12. Use a writing tool.
As a professional writer, I use tools to speed up the process. Grammarly is probably the best on the market. Not only do these tools pick up on your grammar and spelling mistakes, but they also advise on sentence structure and tone.
Other tools like Hemingway also help keep your writing simple and straightforward.
13. Learn the rules of punctuation.
Be honest: do you know when you should use a semicolon? Is every comma in your writing on point? Just like you shouldn't use a word you can't define, you should be able to justify every comma, colon, and hyphen.
14. Have something to say.
Writing a story about a dashing hero saving a damsel in distress? Boring! Unless that hero is a Scottish ogre and the damsel is an ass-kicking, cursed Princess.
Don't repeat what's gone before. Even if you're being paid to write another article on, say, Rheumatoid Arthritis, think about what you can do differently – or better.
If you're just doing what everyone else has already done, what's the point?
15. Treat it like a job.
Heard of carpenter's block? How about CEO’s block? Or nurse's block? It's laughable. A diagnosis may stump a doctor, but that doesn't mean they call it quits.
Yet, somehow, writers think they're special, as if a blank page and blank mind are causes for throwing in the towel. If you want to be successful in writing, you need to write no matter what. Good days or bad days. Rain or shine.
Set regular hours and regular goals – or else find yourself another hobby/career.
16. Practise different types of writing.
Here's a content writing tip you don't hear from everyone: write something else. You can't call yourself a master baker if you only cook French baguettes. You're allowed to specialise, but expanding your repertoire is always helpful.
Give scientific writing a try; pen a poem once in a while, or practice brainstorming tabloid headlines. Trying out your writing skills in other styles will naturally improve your primary medium.
17. Listen to the best.
Humility is the secret to success. There's always someone better – and they're usually willing to teach. Whether you're listening to a podcast or attending a local writing class, learning from experts can help you avoid a lot of headaches and heartbreaks.
18. Research before you write.
Heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect? In short: once you've learned a small bit of a skill, you suddenly think you're an expert. It's not so hard, right?
But, as you progress, you slowly realise how little you really know. Soon, you're looking back at yourself and thinking: what an arrogant idiot! That's every writer who spouts off without researching a topic.
If you want readers to take your writing seriously, don't just do a few seconds of research. Check your facts, cite your sources, and use terminology correctly. Like a foreigner learning a few basic phrases, a little research goes a long way.
19. Carry a pen and paper.
Ideas wait for no man. You've got to be ready when inspiration strikes. Always carry a pen and paper to scribble down your thoughts, genius lines, and other brain droppings.
20. Ignore every rule in this list.
Rules are meant to be broken. While I firmly believe this list is filled with good advice, every rule can sometimes be ignored – after all, creativity involves painting outside the lines.
Sometimes the expert is wrong, sometimes fluff and verbosity pay off (see Infinite Jest), and sometimes ignorance leads to a fresh take on an old topic. Think of these rules as guidelines – just make sure you've got a good reason to go off-road.
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