writing advice

In the comments section below, share with us one helpful piece of writing advice or instruction that you’ve received. Just one! And please explain why you’ve found this advice or instruction helpful.

27 thoughts on “writing advice”

  1. The best writing advice I ever received came from my best friend via his writing professor. He said, “If everybody likes your writing, then you’re probably doing something wrong.” I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I write, I find it very easy to nitpick every word and overthink every decision. This advice from my friend’s professor serves as a good reminder to not overthink the writing process and accept the fact that someone, somewhere will always find a way to critique it. For our brand style guides in particular, let writing be a way to convey the tone of your voice. The goal is not to appease the largest number of people, but rather to complement the colors, typefaces, and special features that radiate throughout your brand.

  2. The best piece of writing advice was from my 11th grade english teacher. He said, “you can never edit too much.” “Read your paper then read it again, then read it outloud and then read it again.” Editing is something many of us either forget to do or are too lazy to do at the end of our writing. It takes effort and in many cases you have been writing for so long you are so sick of it that the last thing you want to do is spend another second on your paper. But, what I have realized is editing is extremely valuable and has the ability of making a A- paper an A.

  3. The best writing advice I’ve ever received came from my PR professor last year. It was the first time I’d ever heard of the concept of “murdering your darlings” (which isn’t as scary as it sounds), but it’s the idea that when you’re editing, you must be ruthless in eliminating anything that doesn’t work–even if it might be a little painful to do so. It wasn’t necessarily this concept that stuck with me most, but her emphasis on what happens *before* you murder your darlings. She explained, “The best way to write is to crack open a bottle of wine and just lay everything out on the page.” Whether the wine was just a metaphor or not, I believe her point was that when you first start writing, you shouldn’t be focused on saying everything perfectly; instead, you should let your mind run free and avoid second-guessing yourself. Then, once it’s all out there, you can be as critical as possible. This advice has helped me enormously since I heard it–I’m not nearly as hindered by writer’s block anymore, my final product always seems to be better, and the process of writing itself has become much more enjoyable.

  4. For me, one of the hardest parts of writing is actually starting. If you’re like me and love to overthink about the smallest details, it can be hard to start writing because you feel overwhelmed by all the different things you have to consider. A high school teacher once told me to stop thinking and just write. If you can’t think of the perfect topic sentence, skip it and just write everything else that comes to mind. After you’re done filling the page with all your thoughts, then go back to edit and fine tune. The point is, you can’t edit and improve your writing unless you actually have something written. It’s simple advice but it’s helped me get over my worst writer’s blocks.

  5. The best writing advice I’ve received came from one of my professors, who said that the first step in any writing assignment is to get your ideas out first, no matter how awful or poorly-organized they may seem. From there, after you’ve created a document with all of your brainstorming on one page, the next step is to sort through the information and draw inspiration from certain ideas in order to form a more cohesive sense of what you want to achieve. You can select certain themes that stand out to you, cut other things out and edit, but make sure to keep the master document of all your ideas. For a visual learner like me, this is helpful because I often think of random scattered ideas and easily forget them. Even if I don’t go with some of these early-stage ideas in the end, having them written down might inspire me to research something else that leads me closer to my end goal.

  6. One of my favorite high school English teachers taught me to keep concision at the forefront of my mind when I write, because I used to have an affinity for flowery language at the expense of clarity. Sometimes my thoughts would get lost in a slew of unnecessary words. He said to pretend there is a parrot on my shoulder, repeating “concision, concision, concision,” and this stuck with me. Now, as a writing tutor, I emphasize that long sentences and big words do not equal effective writing. Rather, using active voice and dynamic verbs will help your ideas shine through.

  7. One of my teachers back in high school used to say that “writing is revising”, meaning that the real work came at the editing stage. She would emphasize we resist the urge to edit as we go, and just write. “You can always edit a draft but you can’t edit a blank page.” I was always the type of person to edit a paper as I go and this undoubtedly made the entire process incredibly time-consuming, though I thought I was saving time by not having to revise my draft later. I think it’s important to understand that the writing and editing processes require two different mindsets, and it’s more important to get all of your thoughts written out first (no matter how poorly), than to risk cutting any of them off midway with a preemptive edit.

  8. In middle school, my language arts teacher told me that my writing should always sound like me. She explained that while the tone of your writing should always align with the context (academic, journalistic, personal letter, etc.), it should also find a way to sound like you. She told me that great writers write the way that they speak (omitting the likes, ums, and half thought out sentences of course), but in a way that does not try to be too complex or overly thought out. Instead, be concise, be purposeful, and be personable. I will never forget that.

  9. One particular advice that I’ve received throughout my educational career is to address the question, “So what?” My teachers and professors repeatedly emphasized the importance of explaining the significance of a statement that you’re making or a position that you’re taking in any form of writing. By answering the “So what?” question, writers provide readers with a clear understanding of why the writer’s claim is relevant or important to consider and why the reader should care about the topic at hand.

  10. One piece of advice I have on writing is definitely to trust in your capabilities and just begin typing out the sentences. When I have an idea but don’t how to carefully execute it or put it into words, I always either jot down quick notes or write incoherent sentences. Then after I’ve written everything down or noted what I want to highlight in my writing, I’ll go back, read through everything, and fix grammatical errors or vocab. I always have sporadic ideas on how to eloquently express an idea when I’m laying in bed as well, so I’ll usually pull out the Notes app and write that specific sentence down. Then, I’ll go in the next day and add it into my essay or creative piece.

  11. One of the most helpful pieces of writing advice I received came from my high school English teacher. I can be a perfectionist sometimes about my writing, but he told me to just “word vomit” everything down and get everything down that was in my head — and I found that it really helped. Being able to put pen to paper without having to first formulate the “perfect” sentence first helped me avoid writer’s block, especially with academic papers for classes, and allowed me to be able to visualize all my ideas and their connections. I think that overall this has made me a better writer in that my writing process has been a lot more streamlined and holistic, instead of narrowing in too much on sentence and paragraph level details.

  12. Last quarter I took a rhetoric class in which I was constantly editing the same pieces throughout the quarter. While I thought it was redundant at first, it taught me a valuable lesson about editing. My professor at the time encouraged me to keep “pruning” my sentences, deleting things that were unnecessary to the points I was trying to make. Additionally, this professor also emphasized “killing your darlings.” This phrase defines the action of deleting sentences or sections of your writing that you’re attached to, and want to keep for sentimentality’s sake. My professor reiterated that sometimes you have to kill your darlings in order for your writing to become more clear and convey what was intended.

    1. See Sara’s comment above. Evidently Writing Program faculty talk a lot about murder. 😉

  13. As an English major, the most useful and frequent writing advice I use is avoiding generalization. Avoiding generalization will help you to establish your thesis. I have to say that overgeneralization is a voice killer because writing too much useless information can obscure or even weaken your point of view. Generalizations are unclear words that settle for an idea rather than a tangible item or place. Sometimes it is helpful to focus on writing concisely to avoid generalizations. For example, If you want to talk about “a social problem of inequality,” your broad thesis becomes unnecessary and too general. Trying to start writing with the nitty-gritty specifics in mind and then keep abbreviating the range of the topic (thinking about who will meet this social problem: what is this person’s gender, age, social class, career, personality, etc.). You will find that the more detail you give, the clearer your thesis will be. Every sentence in your paper should add something helpful to support your topic. Even if you summarize previous points, you want to have a specific purpose in mind so that your reader doesn’t waste time reading the same sentence with different wording.

  14. A friend told me to always put the most important point at the start of your writing. Expect that your reader is looking for an excuse to stop reading and start skimming. I initially found it disheartening to think this way — half the time I ended up searching for the perfect first sentence or lead in. However, if you just start writing you’ll eventually come up with some semblance of a narrative. Then, you just pick out the best part of that story, smash it at the top and try to work the rest of your content around that best part. This strategy may be unconventional, but it has helped me to experiment with different ways of telling stories and ultimately craft better narratives.

  15. Although this type of advice is seemingly popular, the best writing advice I’ve received was from Professor Mizrahi in WRIT 107WC when she said “80% of writing is in the edit.” My old writing process was wildly inefficient; I would sit in front of a blank screen for hours, editing sentences and paragraph structure in my head as I wrote. With Professor Mizrahi’s advice, I made major adjustments to how I went about writing. The improved process involves an initial stage of simply writing and getting ideas on paper without self-edit, followed by multiple revision drafts. For revisions, I find it most effective to work from big to small:
    1. big ideas and flow of the essay/writing
    2. syntax and diction – effectiveness of language
    3. correcting grammar and punctuation.

    With this simple change in mindset, I’ve become much more confident in my writing. Both the quality and speed of my writing have improved because of it.

  16. While taking Creative Nonfiction with Professor Peter Huk, he taught me that writing has a way of forcing us to confront things, and it can – if we follow thoughts and feelings – to experience contours of our psyche and heart that we were not fully aware of earlier. The advice may not be entirely productive in the sense of producing a perfect piece of writing, but what I gathered from his words was to allow writing to learn more about ourselves, which is equally important in the process. And, if you give yourself the time and space to explore yourself while writing, you can create something that is not only a reflection of your efforts, but wholly you.

  17. “The best way to become a better writer is to read more”
    -My dad all the time.

    I do believe that this is the best writing advice I have ever received from anyone, and that person just happens to be my dad. Growing up my dad always heavily emphasized the importance of reading, but it took me a long time to truly appreciate its value outside of just experiencing a great story or learning about a topic. I never truly understood why reading would make me a better writer until I started reading more on my own. Reading for school never seemed to help me much, but when I started reading for fun, and because I loved the stories I was reading, I noticed that when I sat down to write, the words seemed to pour out of my mind. In the past, sometimes they would pour out in a jumble, but after I started reading for pleasure more, sentence after sentence would appear on the page, with language and words I didn’t even know I knew how to use. I noticed the beautiful flourishes of Oscar Wilde, surrealism of Murakami, romance of André Aciman, and the dreams of a novel like Dune come to life in my own wiring. I am so thankful that my dad always encouraged for me to read more because I believe that nothing has helped my writing more.

  18. One simple yet integral piece of writing advice I have received is to always keep the audience in mind. Writing is meant to be read, and your reader’s attention is limited, so keep it engaging. Whatever it is you are writing– even a boring research paper– always ask how you can craft it to keep the reader interested. Although strange, usually when sitting down to write I think to myself what is the most generic and plain way someone could write this, and then I do the opposite of that. Think creatively and outside the box to engage the reader and keep them reading.

  19. The best piece of writing advice I have received is to answer the question of “why does this matter?”. Regardless of who your audience is (it could be your grandma, your corporate client, or even the U.S. President), if you want your message to resonate, you have to start by answering that fundamental question. To go about answering this question, it’s helpful to place yourselves in your audience shoes, and imagine what would they ideally like to read. For instance, if it’s your corporate client, perhaps they would want your writing style to be brief and concise. Moreover, perhaps they would want to see it have a results-oriented focus. Keeping your audience in mind ultimately helps you answer this simple question––and makes you a better writer for it.

  20. One piece of writing advice that I found to be helpful in my own writing is to be mindful of the length of each sentence. For most writers, the writing process comes out like a stream of consciousness; what you want to say just flows from your thoughts onto the page, making it easy to overlook the importance of varied sentence length and structure. I’m definitely someone who tends to write long, flowy sentences because that’s just my style. This is not necessarily a bad quality, but it just means that I need to be mindful of changing up the lengths of sentences for the sake of readability. Add a short sentence every now and then. If you create variety – some long, some short, some medium-length sentences – you’re bound to draw the reader’s attention. If you struggle with writing concisely like me, then always revise! Don’t be afraid to cut out unnecessarily fluff. This is especially important with the BSG because any text portion is not just something to read like in most other writing, but is also a critical design element; the amount of text you have on a page and the diversity of sentence lengths will affect the viewer’s overall visual experience.

  21. The best piece of writing advice I have received is to not worry about finishing, only starting. Starting can be the hardest part! It helps to get all of my ideas down and to just keep writing, even if the wording isn’t perfect the first time. The next best piece of advice I have received is to always read what I’ve written out loud to make sure it makes sense and flows well. This tip has saved me a number of times from run-on sentences or convoluted sentence structure.

  22. “Read your writing aloud — there’s no better way to catch mistakes and to improve the flow of your words.”

    In middle school, I struggled with basic grammar and transitioning from one idea to another between paragraphs. My teacher encouraged patience and asked me to read my weekly journal entires aloud. This way, I was able to locate my own mistakes and be more conscious of the tone of my writing.

    I’m also someone who struggles to begin, so as another classmate has shared: mistakes are okay and the first try isn’t intended to be perfect. Get ideas down on the page and work to improve them.

  23. The best writing advice I’ve ever received comes from my wonderful high school English teacher, Mr. Raines. The most helpful tip he gave us was to learn how to kill your darlings. I have always struggled with deleting things I’ve written because they are my brain children that I have spent so much time and energy putting out into the world, and deleting what I’ve written often feels like I’ve wasted my time and energy. A tip I learned from Twitter is to create a document where you can store all the darlings you have to kill (or remove) just in case you can use it later. Developing this skill has definitely helped me revise and polish so many pieces so they can shine their brightest. Mr. Raines also told us that whenever we write, remember to KISS: Keep It Simple, Smarty. Writing is often more powerful, effective, and clear when fewer words are used to convey your message.

  24. The best piece of writing advice I’ve received (and perhaps the bane of my existence) is that writing is re-writing. In high school, I was constantly searching for short cuts in my assignments that allowed me to procrastinate. Though I was submitting decent work, it wasn’t until my AP English teacher called me on my bluff that I realized I was selling myself short by not giving myself the opportunity to revise, revise, and revise again. By constantly making revisions and edits through self critiques and peer reviews, I was able to elevate my work from something decent to something I was actually proud of. Regardless of how mundane or simple the task at hand may seem, by giving yourself the time and space to edit your work provides clarity for your audience and confidence in yourself as a writer.

  25. The best writing I got was in Jeff Hansons 105PS class. He emphasized that we should always try and tell a story in our writing. Anything from an argumentative history paper to biology experiment write up can tell a story. In structuring that story through starting with the “why” and moving to the “how” then to the “what”, instead of vice versa which feels more natural, we can reach the core of our audience’s attention and brain. After all, it shouldn’t be all about us, even our brand style guide is about those around us or whoever is reading it.

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