Writing is one of the most important skills in your life. No matter what career you pursue, you will most likely write something somewhere! But, it’s hard.
Really hard. My eighth-grade English teacher told our class one day, “There’s no one on this planet who has mastered the art of writing. Sure, there are people who are skilled writers, but no one has conquered the beast. Take it upon yourself as a challenge to be the first one.”
But first, how do we find inspiration? My favorite places to find inspiration are thinking of thematic elements from TV shows/movies I'm watching, following certain styles/genres from books I'm reading, or just observing the things happening outside my window. The best inspiration comes from simple things in life, and the best writers are keen and observant. As you look for a new idea for your essay, story, article, or whatever composition you're thinking of taking on, keep these points in mind.
Here are the top five ways to make your writing higher quality, and more importantly, how to make your compositions pop! I also promise I’ll do my best to stay away from the most common responses (though practice does make perfect, and reading is really important).
1. Write First, Edit Later.
I’m guilty of not following this rule - I go through every sentence after writing it and take out unnecessary words/ remove contractions/edit my grammar. Try to keep writing and editing as two distinct parts of the creative process. I’ve found I do my best writing when I’m not worrying about every minute nitpick and am just letting the words flow.
If you’re handwriting a piece, a way to isolate writing and editing is to not put down your pencil (or pick up your eraser) for a set period of ‘writing time’. I first learned the 'don't put down the pen' trick in seventh grade. I've used it for many journals and fictional pieces ever since.
This exercise really helps get all of your ideas out on paper for someone like me, whose mind starts racing with ideas upon even hearing the word 'writing'. Later on, you can move things around, strikeout sentences you dislike, or take the story in a totally different direction.
2. Keep it Simple.
This can apply to sentence structure, concept breakdowns, interview questions… anything. Try to minimize the probability of your reader putting down the piece of writing (or clicking off the tab) to Google the subject you are tackling or the definition of a word you use.
If you’re writing fiction, specifically a short story, you might try turning it into flash fiction - simplifying every major plot point, limiting word count, and making every second hold deep impact. There’s a famous urban legend that Ernest Hemingway wrote a six-word story: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” This extremely terse ‘piece’ has been a favorite example of many writers and teachers to show just how brief a detailed, subtext-filled story can be.
3. Don’t Shy Away from Saying What You Believe.
This is something The Teen Magazine wholeheartedly promotes in the Op-Ed section of our website. Massive online literature is becoming boring and nondescript because people are too afraid to speak their minds in fear of backlash. Don't be afraid to share your opinions or thoughts on a matter - that’s what adds vibrance and personality through writing.
If you are writing an op-ed article, try to represent both sides of the issue equally, but make a strong case for your opinion. This way you acknowledge that there are people who have thoughts that are different from yours, but at the same time, readers perceive that you're attempting to persuade them to your opinion. If you want a simple reason to express yourself freely, overall, it just feels so good to have your voice heard!
4. Look to Other Writers for Inspiration.
If there's an author whom you find inspiring, follow them on social media or medium.com, read their work, and take inspiration from their craftsmanship. Do not plagiarize… that’s just wrong on so many levels. Keep your own narratorial voice, but feel free to take a little sprinkle of their style of comedic irony, for example, and add it to your piece about current events.
You’d be surprised at how many interesting literary elements can be cross-applied to different genres. By taking your favorite elements from your favorite author’s works and adding them to your fantastic piece, you’ll create an even more epic work product and will grow as a writer.
5. Read Your Work Aloud.
This is something I recently learned and it has helped me massively! After you have a good rough draft (notice I said good, not first), print it out or read it from your device aloud. This way, you can pick up on any minute grammatical issues, changes needed in word choice, or awkward sentences that you wouldn't have noticed before.
When we read passively, we tend to ‘graze our eyes’ over the paper, so we can read quicker. But reading aloud forces you to pay attention to every single word of every single sentence of every single paragraph of every single writing piece. It may seem tedious, but trust me: it really helps, especially with academic reports or writing assignments. After you read your work aloud, you can process it through an online editor like Grammarly or Hemingway - but leave the robotic editors until the end :)
This is a bonus tip for you if you're writing for a literary contest. Do not write with the contest in mind. Write about what you want to write and however you want to write it.
Keeping a stipulation upon yourself when you're writing, that is not related to genre, theme, or word choice can prevent you from doing your best creative work. I speak as a veteran of contest pressure; instead of just focusing on your piece, you end up obsessing about whether the piece you're writing will 'make the cut'.
Leave the judging for the judges and just write! When you're submitting to the contest, you can make a decision for yourself whether you believe the piece you wrote is your best work, or not. Remember, perfection is never the goal; improvement is.
I hope you found these five (six, if you count the sneaky bonus) tips to be helpful and use them in your next writing piece! Thanks for reading this article!
Thanks to Matt Ridley, Maria Shemtsova, Pixabay, Kaboompics, and Unsplash for images.