I’ve written for a living for close to a decade now, but I actually have very little to show for my years of experience.
So now I’m scrambling, trying to understand my own craft better, and you know what? Let the first lesson be that you should learn about your job wayyyy before the one-decade mark.
But the second best time to plant a tree is today, am I right? So no use crying over spilt milk (oh, we’re on a cliche journey with this post, so put on your seatbelts). Instead, let’s explore the skills any typical writer should have—or in my case, wishes he had.
1) An eye for UX
The saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ may give you an excuse to slap some text on a stock image and call it a cover, but more people care about looks than you think.
If you want to be a blogger, you’re going to need to be familiar with web design. If it’s books you’re writing, then you need to care about layout and the zeitgeist of your genre.
That means leaving your Geocities tendencies behind and picking a font that’s more BTS and less Utada Hikaru. Maybe leave Times New Roman to your manuscripts and opt for Roboto for your blog.
Also, if you’re looking to get that extra bit of subliminal credibility, it’d do you good to invest in a personal domain, because it really is more aesthetically pleasing to the soul. Of course, if you’re just doing this for a hobby, you won’t need to care as much.
What’s that? You’re looking for more specific advice? Didn’t I tell you these are skills I wish I had? Now, on to the next one.
2) The ability to turn the spotlight on your readers
I admit, the only reason I started blogging was because I wanted to show my own work. It was my way of escaping the drudgery of writing for a living.
Think writing’s your passion? Try churning out articles at a business newspaper, or drafting governmental press releases.
So this blog was my way of honing my voice, and my posts remained personal—up to a point.
Pretty soon, I learned that the audience (and by audience I mean you, amazing ol’ you) responded better to posts that provided actual value instead of my meandering thousand-word rants.
Fortunately, that was a pretty easy habit to break. And I thank being average for that, because if someone like me were to stand up on stage, he’d better damn well have something amazing to say. I don’t have the good looks or boyish charms to fall back to, so I knew that my only way out was to carve myself my own USPs.
But finding the balance between sharing your experience and benefitting the readers is a skill you’ll have to hone yourself. It’s like riding a bike. You can’t have someone orally teach you to ride one, can you? Anyway, that’s all I have for this point. Next!
3) The actual discipline to write
You have no idea how many people approach me (read: three, tops) for writing advice, telling me their grand plans, and what their final product will look like.
All of them gush over what they’d do once it’s done. None of them ever mention the process they’d take to get there.
“That’s great!” I’d say, after listening to one friend describe her future book as a cross between Becoming Michelle Obama and Eat, Pray, Love. “Are you already working on it?”
“No,” they’d reply. “I figure I’ll finish it over a weekend when I don’t need to think about work…”
“Oh. But maybe you could try starting now—”
“…and it needs to be during the waning moon. After I’ve had dinner. And I’ll need to do it on a Macbook, which I haven’t bought, and which software would you recommend I write it on? I heard Word is pretty good, but I like segregating my chapters, you know, like little index cards.”
“I’m telling you, my book is going to be the next big thing!”
Don’t be like my friends. Start writing before you plan. By the way, you hear that? It’s the sound of another cliche! Here you go: Don’t put the cart before the horse.
So how can you hone this skill? Try making yourself do the things you don’t want to do. Exercise. Do the dishes. Wake up early. Drop that donut. All these exercises help you start writing when you don’t feel like it.
That’s it. No science here. Just do it. Just like how we’re segueing right into the next point.
4) Learn the actual skills in your niche
You are writing about something you’re into, aren’t you? Or at least something you’ve done enough to know the ins and outs of? Because how are you going to write with authority without first being knowledgable about it?
I mean, you can write without knowing much about a subject (I did work for a business newspaper after all), but if you’re going to get serious about your writing, then you’ll want to craft your stories from fresh angles that only you can tell.
The good news is that you can write about anything these days. You want to write about Warhammer model painting? You can. How to make book teaser videos? Sure. You can even write about internal home lighting if that’s your jam.
But make no mistake, the people listed above actually know about their subjects. So should you. Don’t focus so much on writing that you forget about the actual knowledge.
Unless, of course, you want to kill two birds with one stone (ha! caught you off guard with this cliche, didn’t I?) and write about writing. Then you’ll be me, and if there’s anything you take away from this article, it should be: you really don’t want to be me.
5) The ability to determine what works for you
There are tons of writers dishing out advice on the internet, most of whom aren’t even in the position to do so. Wait. Why are you looking at me like that?
Anyhoooo, when it comes to taking writing advice, you’ll need to have the skills to determine what works for you and what doesn’t. Because you’re an adult now, so you’ll need to make these decisions on your own.
A famous author tells you not to use adverbs? Or to throw away your notebook? Or to only write what you know?
For everyone one of the above advice, is an author who’s done well by breaking them. So you make the decisions on whether or not certain rules apply to you. I personally can’t stand ‘don’t start a sentence with a conjunction’.
Because where’s the fun in that?
So as you pave your own path towards writerdom, do remember that ultimately, it’s you who’s the captain of your ship. Which means you better make sure that it’s all hands on deck (cliche count: 6 or something).
The most important skill for writers
Honestly, there are so many skills you need as a writer, and trying to cover everything in one blog post would be like trying to paint a wall with a tattoo gun.
But I’ll be kind and give you the one important takeaway: the best skill you can hone as a writer is the ability to persevere. You will face rejections, you will feel lost, you will even doubt your life choices, but if writing is truly your dream, then you’ll need to find a way to keep on keeping on.
In a similar vein, I’d like to bring up this saying we have in jiu-jitsu: a black belt is just a white belt who never quit.
You don’t need to be cut from a certain cloth (last one I promise), or pay for a creative writing degree. You just need to write. And while it may not feel like it, you do grow with every post you complete.
If you can persevere, I’d say you’d have half of the writing battle won.
The other half is not waiting for a damn waning moon to start writing.