My Top Three Writing Tips — Ask an English Teacher
Struggling with the plight of the empty page? Do you have start-a-story-itis? Then these three tips are for you, and they’re straight from the English teacher’s mouth!
If you’ve read some of my other posts on Medium, you’ll know I recently left a teaching job abroad to pursue writing at home in Canada.
But that job wasn’t a temporary flight of fancy. It was almost a decade of my life. And I actually learned a lot more about writing working in a school, teaching it to children, than I ever have in all my years of writing for myself.
And I want to share some of the things I learned about writing with you.
I know what you’re thinking: she’s really starting with this one? The most frequent bit of advice on any writing website?
Yeah. Yeah, I am.
Because it works.
Reading has been shown to improve our vocabulary over time. It’s a lot more fun to encounter new words in a story that has you gripped. But a word to the wise. How you read is important.
Reading as a writer means you need to read with the intention of learning from the author. Whip out the dictionary app on your phone and look up the words you don’t know, committing them to memory to be used at the first instance it becomes relevant. Make a note of any phrases or metaphoric language you find interesting.
Dog ear the pages, or add post-its to revisit when you need some inspiration. Keep a bookmarks folder of articles you really enjoyed. Actually use the highlight feature on Medium. Read like a writer, with intentionality and purpose.
Because good reading begets a growing vocabulary. And a good vocabulary means you’re more likely to have the precise words you need to get your point across, no matter what you’re writing about.
Make a Mess Sometimes
I don’t know if anyone’s ever told you this, but first drafts aren’t supposed to be very good.
In fact, they’re supposed to be spectacularly bad most of the time. The thing that matters when you are writing the first draft is that you’re writing.
Ignore every terrible, embarrassing error you’ve made along the way and just get all your thoughts down. Editing is always there to catch those mistakes later on. Now is the time to get the words in the sentences and on the page.
Messy first drafts are important because they help us recover from the fear of the empty page. It’s like exposure therapy, but for writing.
And I feel like a messy first draft makes the editing process more satisfying, and more effective. Sure, it might take a little longer, but what you publish at the end of it will be better. That I can assure you.
Write What You Know Always
Yet another cliche, right?
Not quite. Writing what you know is often interpreted as writing from your own experiences and knowledge, however limited.
But I don’t think that’s what it means. Writing what you know isn’t just about writing what you know now. To me, writing what you know could be writing about something you’ve just learned. It could be writing about something you’ve been researching.
You should always write what you know. But understand that you can know much more than you know right now if you want to write about it.
We’re mostly writers here on Medium, so we all know very well that writing can be the easiest thing in the world and the most difficult.
But the challenge isn’t necessarily in the doing. It’s in the doing well. And doing well requires preparation, planning, and research–in whatever form that looks like for you. Good writers do their homework before the pen hits the paper, they do some thinking, some reading, and then they think some more.
Ultimately, good writing needs good editing to pack the punch we want it to.