Google “rules for writers” and you’ll have over 19 million results in less than a minute. That’s a lot. No, that’s more than a lot. That’s a ginormous amount. Let’s narrow it down to 5 tips about writing that every writer should know.
Tip 1: Write
The most important rule that writers should follow is to write. If you don’t write, no one will do it for you. And no, an AI writing assistant doesn’t count. You can’t trust what the “AI writes” as I demonstrate in the post “5 Fun Facts About Verbs an AI Writer Knows.”
So the first rule is to write. There’s no way around it. Spend your day checking emails, scrolling through social media, making a third cup of coffee, rearranging your desk, organizing your folders, and any other distracting activity you come up with if you will.
But you aren’t writing.
“But I can’t come up with any ideas.”
Fair enough. Use writing prompts. Make a story out of the most recent text message you sent. Interview your favorite fictional character. Argue against a common cliche, such as “Time heals everything” or “Money is the root of all evil.”
Google “writing prompts” for ideas. Frankly, the results are overwhelming. One of my favorite sites is “Smartbloggers 72 Clever Creative Writing Prompts.” The prompts are categorized by genre, and 72 is less overwhelming than 101 or 500. (I haven’t tried Smartbloggers’ services, so this is not an endorsement for their products.)
Tip 2: Keep Writing
Take it from me—there are days I don’t feel like writing. But no one will do it for me. What works for me might not work for you, but here are a few tips.
Create a “Not writing is non-negotiable” mindset. It’s up to you to decide what is non-negotiable. It could be a word count, a time limit, or a completed piece of writing. And don’t set yourself up to fail with an overly ambitious goal.
Track your goals. Again, do something that works for you. Tally marks might work for you. A reward works for some. You know yourself. Google “how to keep writing when you don’t want to” and scroll through the ideas until you find some that speak to you.
Find an accountability partner. A fellow writer, a friend, an editor–find someone who will check in with you regularly. If your accountability partner is a fellow writer, then you can create small competitions. Also, a fellow writer better understands your struggles.
Avoid burnout. I ghostwrote over two hundred fifty articles in one year. Talk about burning out. Do not write so much that you want to quit.
This type of guidance is a road map of what was effective for writers. Use it to find your path and add what fits you and your goals to the proverbial writing toolbox. But what works for another writer might not work for you.
Tip 3: Ignore Many Rules
The internet is also filled with rules about writing. The search term “What are the rules that every writer should know?” yields nearly 500,000 results.
And some are just plain wrong. These are three examples, and I didn’t have to search far for them.
- Write in active voice—that depends on the audience and purpose. Although you should strive to have active sentences, many times writing requires the passive voice. (I wrote about that here.)
- Ensure a sentence has a subject, verb, and object. It’s possible to write sentences without objects. It is.
- Keep your sentences short and simple. Although you don’t want all of your sentences to be long and unwieldy, sometimes a longer sentence is needed. Yes, readers, especially internet writers, prefer scannable text. But they don’t want to read text that seems to be written for a 3rd grader.
Do not ignore grammatical rules. Your reader might not pay attention to your use of active or passive voice, but misspelling or; the incorrect use of punctuation gets their attention immediately. (You did notice the random semicolon, right?)
Tip 4: Use Tips you see Repeatedly
Write repeatedly. Write consistently. Avoid filler words. Keep your audience in mind. Focus on clarity.
These tips and guidelines might not appear in the articles that show up at the top of search results. But the most helpful articles aren’t written for SEO. So unfortunately you will often find fluffy articles instead of ones that provide detailed and helpful information.
The rules are important, yes. But knowing the rules does not result in writing. Those kind of tips do.
Tip 5: If you Blog, Use Odd Numbers
For some odd reason, many web articles have odd numbers–The 5 Reasons to Do X, 21 Reasons to Camp in Place Z, or 5 Tips About Writing, for example. So if you are a blogger, this is a useful rule.
It is not entirely clear why odd numbers work so well for listicles, but there are a few possible explanations.
We trust odd numbers more.
This might be because we are used to padding our lists to round numbers, like 10 things I need to buy. When looking for questions for quiz night, do you stop at 19 or find one more question?
We also gravitate to certain numbers, for reasons not quite clear. But ask someone to name a number between one and ten, and people pick the number 7 more than other numbers. In a poll, 30,000 people were asked to pick their favorite number, and seven won by a landslide.
Our brains like things to be grouped in odd numbers, especially threes.
Think of a phone number–the area code (3 numbers) and the prefix (also 3). Which one are you more likely to forget–those, or the final four digits–the line number? And how do you memorize a zip code? More likely by chunking it into two parts—three digits and two.
Raise your hand if you have memorized the extra four digits after the dash.
And yes, in the back. I see your hand. Thanks for noticing that I have 5 headings. I’m following my own advice.
As always, thanks for sharing. It costs you nothing and helps support my work.