What does it mean to be a “professional writer?” Primarily, it means that you get paid. It also means much more — it means that you’re a crafts person who cares about communicating, and that you’re someone who behaves in a professional manner.
Words are always a challenge. You’re encoding the ideas in your head into words, and you trust that your readers will decode your words’ meaning — effortlessly.
As we’ve said, this is challenging.
You’re a professional writer: do your best
Authors’ — and readers’ — challenges were brought home to me yesterday when I browsed Amazon, and lingered over the book blurb of a novel by a bestselling author.
She’s one of my favorite authors. A decade has passed since this particular novel was published. I’d just read her most recent bestseller, and loved it. I lingered over this older book, debating whether or not to buy it.
It intrigued me that the book had several one-star reviews. Moreover, these one-stars had been clicked as helpful. Apparently there was a consensus that this book was a mess.
On the other hand, I considered the audience, and the author. The one-stars complained that the novel was written from several different points of view, and skipped backward and forward in time.
Maybe it wasn’t the author — she’d done her best, but these reviewers hated the novel’s structure? I bought the novel, and love it. Not only is the writing wonderful, the structure is essential to telling this particular story.
In summary, if you’re a professional writer, you do your best. You can’t control who reads your words, and you can’t please everyone. A couple of the one-star reviewers also complained that the characters were “unlikeable.” I found them very likable, but there you go — we’re all different.
Let’s look at three tips to improve your writing.
1. Know why, and for whom, you’re writing
With “you can’t please everyone” in mind, choose your audience. Get a clear idea of your audience before you start writing, then write for your ideal reader, in that audience.
You must know for whom you’re writing. You’ll use an informal, conversation style often, but not always. Suit your style to your audience as well as you can.
2. Use a positive sentence construction most of the time
If you write: Far from shy, Mary… readers read “shy”. Instead, use a construction like: By nature extroverted, Mary…
Another example: Fred never needed to second-guess Neville…
Instead, use something like: Fred always knew what Neville wanted…
On the other hand, a construction like Far from shy, Mary… may be just right, if you want to emphasize that on this particular occasion, Mary, who’s usually shy, acted in a unexpected manner.
3. Aim to write smoothly: pay attention to transitions
Ideally, your readers read every golden word which flows from your fingertips. Sadly, this never happens unless you’re writing a ransom note.
Readers skim, especially when they’re reading online, but smooth transitions move your readers onward, ensuring that you keep their attention.
Transitions connect ideas in shorter pieces. In fiction, transitions move readers from one scene to another. You’ll often write a sequel after a scene, but your transition isn’t a sequel. Your transition moves the reader, rather than your character.
Here’s a short guide to transitions.
You’re a professional writer: be proud
You’re a professional writer, so you’ll never stop learning and developing your skills.
Consider a professional in any industry. Whenever you hire someone, whether it’s a doctor or a garden landscaper, you assume that person’s competence. Similarly, people assume that a profession writer is competent.
Be proud of your writing. You inform, entertain, and persuade. Your words have power, and so do you.
You want to write a novel. Perhaps you can't get started. Or maybe you got started, and then you stopped.You need a plan, broken down into easy steps. This program began as a 30-day challenge which I organized for readers in 2010. Hundreds of writers joined the challenge and completed it. They wrote novels.More info →
I developed the tactics and strategies in this book to help myself. My students have found them essential to producing both fiction and nonfiction almost effortlessly.More info →
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