5 basics every writer should be able to do


This post isn’t about gadgets or books or some sure-fire, secret to transform your writing into everything you’ve ever dreamed of, plus a basket of kittens.

This is about table stakes. Basics that other people may not tell you about because you’re expected to already know.

Because they’re part of every writer’s job.

Meet deadlines.

Copywriter, legal writer, technical writer, novelist, freelancer—if you’re being paid to write, you probably have deadlines. Which means you need to meet them. Regularly.

It’s expected. Part of the agreement between you and the hiring party.

If you need to renegotiate a deadline because of unforeseen circumstances, fair enough. Life happens. If you need to move a deadline because the other party failed to get you the information you need on time, you’re within your right to do so.

However, if you miss a deadline because you felt like sleeping in or partying or because your muse hadn’t graced you with her presence? Bad form.

Meeting deadlines demonstrates that you, Professional Writer, keep your commitments. You’re reliable.

People want reliable writers.

Take feedback.

I’ve posted about this before, but I’ve recently had to handhold a delicate little flower so I think it’s worth repeating. We writers have to be able to take feedback on our work. It’s baked in to the review process.

Own your work. Be proud of your work. Speak to your work. Sell your work.

But when other people—especially the client—has feedback? You need to listen. You don’t have to agree, but you do have to listen. Professionally. With an open mind.

If people feel comfortable giving you feedback, that makes you easy to work with. And that’s a selling point in your favor.

Know your fundamental mechanics.

You don’t need to memorize the Chicago Manual of Style or the AP Style Guide. (Reference them, yes. Memorize them? If you really, really, really want to, I guess.)

But you do need to know enough to write cleanly and professionally. There should be no room in your writing for spaces before end punctuation or using words such as to, too and two interchangeably.

Keep your pronoun usage tight, your commas defendable and your exclamations points to a minimum. Know enough to break the rules judiciously and be able to provide rationale.

Always keep working to get better, but have a solid, foundational knowledge of your craft.

Work under pressure.

There’s no feeling like being under the muse’s spell. It’s like winning the lottery. However, when the muse takes off to do its own thing and abandons you to face your looming deadlines alone (because yeah, sometimes the muse is big, fat jerkface), it’s like losing your lottery winnings during a bad night in Vegas.

But you still have to produce.

Because deadlines.

Become adept at writing when time is tight. It’ll make you a writer people can depend on and, believe it or not, might even help you become a leaner, meaner writer—which is pretty sought after, too.

Keep learning.

Writers at every level make typos. We all have more to learn about mechanics and tone and voice and pitch. There’s always room to improve on our craft.

The best writers know this and keep honing their craft.

What about you? Is there anything you’d add to this list?

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