Some reflections on how to improve as a writer

Do you ever get trapped inside your own mind? The worst part of trying to come up with something interesting or unique to write about is not trying to remember what topics I have already written about. No, for me it’s about moving past the same topics. In writing, as in life, once you get stuck in a rut it can be hard to escape. Then there is a part of me wanting to be consistent in my element.

Whether writing for someone else or for yourself, the trick is making sure your writing is compelling to the audience. One thing I have learned, however, is you can’t fall back on amount of experience when discussing your writing. For starters, it doesn’t matter how much experience you have if you’ve been doing it wrong. All you end up doing is forming bad habits you have to learn to break.

When I first left the newspaper I was working for I was cocky. I had nearly 3 years writing for community newspaper surely that alone would be sufficient to get me a job at another newspaper. After I started looking at the stories I was using as my portfolio I realized, my writing had improved, I still had a lot of work to improve.

The hardest thing for me is writing compelling ledes. In the newspaper business the lede has to be catchy and to the point, it has to pack a lot of information in a few words. I sometimes struggled with writing headlines too. Fortunately I had a guide who would often re-write my ledes for me. Headlines were kind of a group effort. I learned two conflicting approaches. The older reporter preferred longer, more detailed headlines. The editor, a man slightly younger than myself, was more fond of short headlines with large fonts. It was two conflicting approaches I had been thrust into the middle. I eventually discovered I preferred shorter headlines with easy to read sentences.

When I was writing for a print newspaper we didn’t have to worry about ‘clickbait’, our headlines had to be informative and eye catching. The newspaper where I worked also didn’t have a web product. The newspaper I started up is the opposite. I am operating it basically all digital with a print product being something I am looking into down the road.

I don’t suppose I am really offering up advice to other writers out there. I think as I started typing the first thing I wanted was to do a topic I hadn’t spent much time on before. Admitting my writing was in desperate need of improvement was one topic I can assure you I didn’t plan on tackling.Yet, here I am taking a good, hard look at my previous writing. There was a time when I believed all I had to do to improve my writing was to keep at it. I don’t think that now. I have realized my writing has improved more as I have sought advice from other writers. I am also figuring out the need to read other styles of writing.

The trick isn’t to be the best writer out there. My goal really is to be the best writer I can be without regard to how I compare to others. That does mean having a focus. The second news editor I worked under taught me the fork method. I didn’t quite understand what he was teaching me until after he left. I can honestly say my first news editor had a greater impact on my philosophy than anyone else. I still try to stay in touch with him even though I have moved half way across the country.

One thing I can say is clear. With a tagline of “To Organize Chaos” I left myself open ended enough I could technically write about anything I want. I fully understand a website needs its own focus the same as a story. I think the best way to reach my audience is to recognize who I want that audience to be. The more time I spend on this the clearer that picture becomes. I still believe my purpose in life is to try to make sense of the world around me.

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