The 7 habits of highly effective writers

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By Daphne Gray-Grant

Have you ever wondered why some people write easily and fluently, while others struggle and strain as if trying to squeeze a 185-lb body into a size six pair of jeans? In 30 years at this trade, I’ve noticed that effective writers tend to share seven traits. So, with apologies to Stephen Covey, here is my list.

Effective writers …

1) Separate the writing and the editing processes. When they write, they write, not worrying about the quality of their work. Writer/director Cecil Castellucci says: “”The best flowers are fertilized by crap.”” Remember this and give yourself permission to write a crummy first draft.

Editing is a job for later. That’s when you’ll have plenty of time to rearrange big chunks of text, monkey around with sentence structure, obsess over word choice and fix punctuation.

2) Focus on the interesting. Effective writers (and speakers) always tell lots of stories. If they have to communicate something “”theoretical,”” they illustrate it with real life examples and anecdotes. They know that human beings don’t just crave food—they are also starved for stories.

3) Tap into the power of metaphor. As metaphor expert Anne Miller likes to say, “”metaphors lead to instant understanding.”” There are at least three metaphors in this article (can you find them all?)

4) Do adequate research. There is nothing more painful than trying to write when you have nothing to say. Effective writers understand that good research is all about asking interesting questions—of themselves, of the books, Web sites and reports they read and of anyone they interview. And this needs to be completed before any writing can begin.

5) Learn from the writing of others. Effective writers understand that they are lifelong apprentices. They learn by reading—constantly. Note: this is not just passive, flip- through-a-thriller-while-sitting-on-the-pool- deck kind of reading. This is active sit-up-and-pay-attention-to-technique dissection—similar to what a scientist would do in a lab. You won’t want to read this closely all the time, of course (it’s work—although fun work, to my mind). But effective writers do some of this every week.

6) Write in small bursts. Creative work doesn’t require oodles of time. That first draft you need to write? It’s best done in dribs and drabs, a little bit at a time. Instead of procrastinating, effective writers persuade themselves to write a little each day, no matter how frazzled and frantic they feel. (Editing, on the other hand, usually needs space, time and quiet.)

7) Read their work out loud. Language isn’t just meaning—it’s also music. The most effective writers can often be found sitting by the computer keyboards, madly whispering to the screen, repeating their words back to themselves. Yes, it looks kooky and co-workers may become alarmed. But effective writers don’t care. They do it because it works.

A former daily newspaper editor, Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a free weekly newsletter on her Web site the Publication Coach. This story first appeared on PR Daily in August 2011. 
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Millennials: Take a vacation from being “you”

Jessica Levco

It’s summer. You’re at work. It’s time to start thinking about your vacation.

Don’t worry if you haven’t booked that flight to Florida.

It doesn’t matter where you go. In fact, you could just take a few days off and hunker down in your apartment. You’ll still have a great time.

What matters is this: You need to take a vacation from yourself. Your soul demands it.

Contrary to Expedia, a good vacation isn’t determined on where you go. A good vacation is all about taking a break from being your 9-5 “you.” Finally, you get to be the “you” that deep down inside, you’d do all day—if you didn’t have to go to work.

Why is it important to explore this “you?”

Because sometimes, living up to society’s expectations—like showering in the morning—is just too demanding. 

You need to unwind.

Here are some things I did on my vacation.

  1. Stopped painting my toenails. I have no patience for doing this.
  2. Watched “Millionaire Matchmaker,” “16 and Pregnant,” and re-runs of “Frasier.” I know, I know.
  3. Walked endlessly, without any real direction.
  4. Read books I’ve been meaning to.
  5. Ate boxes and boxes of cereal, with reckless abandon. Especially Honey Bunches of Oats.

 I loved every minute of it. And then, I came back to work—ready and refreshed to be my “work” self.

What you be doing on your vacation?

 

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Why Cosmo is scarier than Muammar Qaddafi

By Jessica Levco

Confession: I’m pretty lousy at writing headlines.

So, in an effort to improve my skills, our CEO suggested I get a subscription to Cosmopolitan and write a story about what I learned.

At first, I didn’t know if I could handle it.

Me?! Read Cosmo? My mother would be outraged!

I grew up sheltered with city magazines, news magazines, gardening magazines, and my Dad’s Sports Illustrated.

Cosmo in Levco household was banned—along with MTV, Dawson’s Creek, and getting your ears pierced before you turned 18.

But now that I’m adult, I can do whatever I want. That means I can eat Cool Ranch Doritos for breakfast, tattoo my body with dragons and watch marathon re-runs of “16 and Pregnant.” I’ve earned it.

A subscription to Cosmo would be my first step toward adulthood. When the first issue came to my mailbox, I jumped up and down with excitement. Now, I could finally un-lock all the world’s mysteries about men and makeup in just one sitting.

Well, 140 pages later—I was scared. Shitless.

Cosmo told me that everything I was doing with my life was wrong. I wasn’t wearing the right clothes. I wasn’t bringing out my “inner sexy beast.” I wasn’t even washing my face correctly.

The magazine does a brilliant job of preying on the inner-fears of a millennial woman’s 13-year-old self: Do I look fat in these jeans? Why is my hair always so frizzy? I can’t believe she wore that! Why can’t I look like her? Why doesn’t he like me? How can I get him to like me more? I should buy new lip gloss!

Don’t even get me started on the tips and tricks.

So, ladies, why do we keep reading this trash? Aren’t we old enough to know better? And if you do know better, please tell us—what do you enjoy reading?

And no, just for the record, I really don’t think Cosmo is more threatening than M. Qaddafi. I just thought it would be a good headline.

At least Cosmo taught me something.