When thinking of good writers, someone like Ursula K. Le Guin comes to mind, a brilliant wordsmith with seemingly endless talent. Yet, Le Guin herself railed against pigeonholing writers. During a home interview, she remarked with snark, “I don’t want to be reduced to being ‘the sci-fi writer.’” She instead wanted to be remembered as an overall writer and poet.
Her message holds a valuable key for all writers striving to be good: labeling yourself is unnecessary. Categorizing yourself as a “good writer” is a distinction that doesn’t matter.
Professional writers wear many hats, running the gamut from writing informative content to marketing copy and all the spaces in between. What actually counts is your ability to don those different hats and produce professional-grade content on command. Let the following four tips guide you on your way to professional writerdom.
Tip #1: Content Is King, Style Is a Distant Cousin
Many writers get hung up on the way in which they’re writing. Maybe you obsess over the perfect first line. Maybe a certain sentence just doesn’t feel right. Maybe you tend to rewrite that same phrase about someone biting Beyoncé over and over again. Don’t feel bad if that sounds like you. All writers do this to some degree (the stylistic rewriting, not biting Beyoncé).
However, a professional writer knows that it’s the content, not the style, that ultimately matters. The very first thing a professional writer should ask themselves upon receiving an assignment is: what type of writing does this require? It could be anything from scientific writing to content writing to periodical writing. The main divergence between most of the writing types is whether or not a writer will need to research their topic or not.
Even if you do need to do research, there’s no need to panic. Don’t know how many pints of ice cream are safe to consume in a row? Google it. The world wide web holds almost the entirety of human knowledge in it. All you need to do is type in your question, read the answers and get ready to write your content. Remember, in the world of professional writing, content is king, and style is a very, very distant cousin to the throne.
Tip #2: Keep it Simple
Writers may see people like Le Guin and think that emulating her flowing sentences and large vocabulary would make them a better writer. And it might. However, more often than not it slows down the reader. You need to remember that a professional writer is usually writing content for a client. Bogging down the flow with big words and lengthy turns of phrase is not the way to go. It’s actually the opposite.
When professionally writing, simplest is often best. People have short attention spans and no time to waste on frills. Make sure your writing is pared down and straight to the point. Simple, straightforward writing will take you far.
Tip #3: Parts, Perspective & Pirates, Oh My!
Many writers also have the misconception that they can’t write good content if they aren’t passionate about the subject.
This is akin to saying you can’t read a book that isn’t from your favorite genre. You can indeed read a fantasy pirate adventure when normally you read crime thrillers. The key is to find parts within the work that interest you. Perhaps the kraken escape was thrilling and the swashbuckling had you on the edge of your seat. By focusing on the parts you connected with (thriller elements), you were able to enjoy the book (pirate adventure).
The same is true of writers. Professional writers know how to use their unique perspective to inject little parts of themselves into their assignment. Write more personally, as one person to another, addressing the reader, if possible. Include funny anecdotes from your own experiences. Thread your unique perspective throughout the text to make the topic assigned to you your own, even in a small way.
Tip #4: Aim for the Target (Audience)
All writing should aim to grab the target audience’s attention. The first step is to know who your audience is. The second step is to think about what that audience needs. Often the point of your writing is to engage with the audience in some way, whether it be sharing information, raising awareness or convincing them to do something like making a call or buying a product.
Use your content and simple writing style to inform the reader. Meanwhile, use your unique perspective to personalize the content so it appeals to their hopes, dream and pain points. Use universal emotions like happiness or fear or embarrassment to bond with the reader through humor and empathy.
Your goal is to create content for your client that the audience will want to read. As Le Guin writes in Dancing at the Edge of the World, “The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live.” Create content that begs to be read.
Do I Have What It Takes to Be a Professional Writer?
We’ve come to the main question. Can you write professional content from your unique perspective in a simple, straightforward way, aimed at the heart of your target audience? If you answered yes, then I am pleased to inform you that you are already a professional writer. Whether or not you’re the next Ursula K. Le Guin, you’ve earned the many-hat title of professional writer all the same.