The 6 Golden Rules For Being a Good Writer

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

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I have found that one of the best sources of advice and inspiration on writing comes from other writers.

We all approach our work in different ways — keep in mind that there is no right way — and sometimes we need to be shaken out of our comfort zones. This can be attained by things like reading each other's work, conversation, or attending lectures. 

Recently, I had a chance to attend a seminar — led by novelist, and magazine editor Curtis Gillespie — about narrative journalism. Curtis is the editor of the award-winning Eighteen Bridges magazine and has won National Magazine awards for his writing.  

The biggest takeaway for me was, what he called, his six golden rules for being a good writer. 

Pay attention to the world around you

Don't get caught up in the business of life.

Be present.

Anything and everything can lead to inspiration, be it a person on the bus, a story you overhear, or the color of a sunset.

Cultivate curiosity and empathy in equal parts

Be curious.

Always ask questions.

Look for more information, but remember that your sources and interview subjects are people with feelings. The may be scared, sad, angry — connect with those feelings, understand them, and use them in your work. 

Accept the wisdom of others

You do not know everything.

You never will.

You never can.

Respect people who are experts in their field, or in their knowledge of what you are trying to write about.

Don't fake knowledge — ask questions. 

Make every word the right word — not the fanciest word

Using large, complicated words does not prove that you know your subject. It proves that you know how to use a thesaurus.

If it does not add to your story, it is not the right word to use. 

Editing is a dialogue, not a standoff

Whether you are editing yourself, or someone else has your work in their hands, remember that it is not a war.

It is about doing what is best for your story so that your audience gets the most out of it that they can. 

Don't be a jerk

Be kind to the people that work with you.

Be kind to your sources.

Don't make promises that you can't keep, and don't go back on your word.

If you are difficult to work with, no one will want to work with you and your stories will go unseen. 

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