The 6 Best Writing Tips You Will Ever Need

Elisha and Elyssa at their "I LOVE ME!" Book signing Elisha and Elyssa Share Their Secrets

Writing is part of my job. Every day.  But I am always looking for ways to improve my writing skills, my writing habits and my writing product. So imagine my surprise when I attended the Adventure Con conference at SeaWorld and got the best writing advice I’ve had in awhile. From two pre-teens.

Elisha and Elyssa are the co-authors of the book I Love ME! Self Esteem in Seven Easy Steps which was inspired by what they’ve learned from their mom: love yourself and make wise choices. The girls wrote the book for kids and tweens as a guide for a positive life.

The conference, sponsored by SeaWorld of Texas, combines a successful blogger outreach program with a conference to help those same bloggers elevate their craft. I was there Bloggers and their families at Adventure Con 15as a speaker and was grateful for the invitation to attend all the sessions with some of my favorite lifestyle bloggers from around the state.

At a lunchtime roundtable discussion called “Turn Your Blog Into a Book” led by Elayna Fernandez – and the mom to the two young authors – the group discussed the many ways to become a published author. Fernandez is also known as The Positive Mom. She focuses on the topics of motivation, particularly for mom-preneurs; the discussion overflowed with her genuine style and positive outlook on life. Plus she has self-published and traditionally published books.

But it was the tips which her two author-daughters shared which stuck in my mind. Both girls had prepared for this roundtable, and each shared their three tips to become successfully published.

Writing Tips from Elisha, 12, co-author “I Love Me!”

  • It’s Your Book. Do it on Your Terms – they had an idea and they found a publisher that they wanted to work with. The girls even got an advance for their book.
  • Jot down all your ideas – this is a nod to your own creativity. It’s easy to reject the germ of an idea too soon.  Don’t do that!
  • Do lots of research – The girls shared that they looked at more than 100 books on self-esteem in the process of creating their book.

Writing Tips from Elyssa, 11, co-author “I Love Me!”

  • Set a deadline-Many writers benefit from the looming deadline. It’s what has fueled thousands of journalists and can be equally as powerful for longer works.  The girls set a strict deadline for themselves. To finish writing their book in 60 days. If they finished on time, they could take a trip and attend a special conference. They did just that and landed a publisher for the book at that conference.
  • Make an outline –It turns out that when our teachers encouraged us to create an outline before striking out on our written works, they were right!
  • Set aside a specific time each day to write –We often correlate the discipline associated with professional writers as an adult skill. To hear an eleven year old talk about discipline and repetition is refreshing.

These six ideas perfectly distill what every writer needs to do to produce good work and be successful.  If they can motivate two young girls to write and publish a book, they can certainly help anyone incorporate writing into their professional practice.

It’s About Great Writing

While the decline of the publishing industry over the last decade is no secret, there is one emerging trend that new professionals should be watching. – the role of brands as publishers.  At last week’s  South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas, this topic was covered heavily. One panel had a razor-sharp view on the subject.

Brave New World: Debating Brands Role as Publishers examined the intersection between the decline in traditional journalism and the opportunity for brands to use storytelling  to talk directly to consumers using great content.

One member of the panel said all brands should think and act like publishers.  Another talked about how different content channels can be used by brands to talk about different things. Yet another believed we should be eliminating the middle men – journalists – altogether.  One panelist was concerned about how we would police brands when they lie.

What does this mean for the new public relations professional?  It means that public relations pros in organizations of all sizes have more opportunities to tell their story directly to the consumer – through blogs, wikis and other online places.  And organizations also have an obligation to tell stories honestly, in a timely manner, and using the most basic tool of all – great writing.

Lately great writing has a lot of new buzz words in the online community – dynamic content, content creation, content strategy.  All of these titles are jargon for writing with purpose, or writing with the audience and market in mind.

The labels may be new, but the principal behind them is not.  William Zinsser is the quintessential journalist and nonfiction writer whose landmark work On Writing Well has been the reference against which all others are measured.

At the heart of Zinsser’s beliefs about writing is that it’s a transaction between writer and reader. When done well, two qualities will emerge:  humanity and warmth.

“Good writing has an aliveness that keeps the reader reading from one paragraph to the next, and it’s not a question of gimmicks to ‘personalize’ the author. It’s a question of using the English language in a way that will achieve the greatest clarity and strength,” Zinsser says in the first chapter.

This advice rings true for all forms of nonfiction writing – magazine, newspaper, web site, blog and any others you could imagine creating as a public relations professional.  As PRSA members telling the stories of a brand, cause or an organization, we are also obligated to tell it honestly and ethically.

New professionals can be confounded by the actual process of writing – it may or may not have been part of a degree program. So where should you look if you want to improve your writing skills?

Here are four ideas to improve your writing immediately:

  1. Read “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser
  2. Start a daily journal in which you write about something that interests you in a journalistic style.
  3. Find a writing buddy and exchange and critique each others’ work.
  4. Set aside time each day for writing, even if it’s only 30 minutes.

There are many more steps you can take to improve your writing, but these are a great way to get started. So when your boss starts to talk about the new content strategy, or creating dynamic content, you’ll know that all he or she is looking for is great writing with a purpose and an audience.  And you will be ready to deliver it.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post originally appeared in the PRSA National Newsletter for New Professionals in May, 2011.