18 tips to help you become a kickass writer! – Nonprofit AF

[Image description: A cat sleeping with their eyes closed and their head resting on a silver laptop. Image by beauty_of_nature on Pixabay]

Hi everyone, before we get started on today’s topic, if you’re free on December 7th at 4pm Pacific Time, please join me and Sandy Ho of Disability Inclusion Fund at Borealis Philanthropy, for a conversation called “Dismantling the Culture of Professionalism,” sponsored by the Longmore institute on Disability. This is a series of conversations sparked by Alice Wong’s brilliant and hilarious new book, Year of the Tiger. It is FREE, and ASL and captions will be provided. We will talk about how the concept of professionalism plays out in work culture, hiring processes, philanthropy, communications, etc. It’ll be informal, Sandy and I will be cussing, and at least one of us will be dressed in a unicorn onesie, you have been warned. Register here.

People often ask me for advice on writing. (No one ever asks me for my skincare routine, which is understandable, but hurtful). First of all, you don’t need to make writing your main form of communication if writing is not your thing. There are others, possibly more enjoyable and effective ways for you to get your ideas out into the world. Videos, for example. Or Vietnamese water puppetry. I always say we don’t have enough Vietnamese water puppetry in our sector. 

But if writing is, or might be, your thing, here are some tips that work for me. Keep in mind that I am a highly distractable person, a “chaotic creative,” so take what you find helpful, and ignore the rest:

  1. Understand that writing is a torturous process. Yes, it can be a beautiful pain, like the aches you feel after a long hike in the woods, or when you eat delicious but very spicy food and your whole mouth is on fire. Nonetheless, it is painful. Accept it. Embrace it. Be one with the pain.
  2. Set aside a regular time for you to write: Think of it like going to the gym. You must set the time to do it, and eventually at some point you will enjoy it. Maybe. I have no idea. I’ve never been to a gym except at assemblies during college.
  3. Have a running list on your phone of topics to write about: Make a habit of jotting down in your phone potential topics as you go about your day. When it’s time to write, scroll through the list and realize 95% of your topics are garbage. But that leaves 5%, which is not bad!
  4. Create a ritual to get yourself into the mindset of writing. For me, it involves waiting until the last minute, feeling terrible about myself, going on a walk around the neighborhood, cooking pasta, and occasionally weeping with shame while eating a bowl of fettucine.
  5. It’s OK to procrastinate a little: So what if you decide to watch like an episode of Wednesday on Netflix. Or, in my case, five. Procrastination can lead to new ideas and insightful connections between disparate things. Stop feeling guilty. Or, just wait and feel guilty later.
  6. Develop an outline if it works for you; if not, don’t. Some people find outlining out main points before they write to be helpful. Me, I like to embrace the call of the wild. I live on the edge. I write like I go to Costco: no preparation whatsoever, disoriented, and taking way too long, but ending up with random cool stuff at the end.   
  7. Try to sound like a regular human being: Many writers make the mistake of thinking “formal and academic-sounding” equals good writing. There’s a time and place for that. Most of the time, though, try to sound like yourself. Unless you’re boring. In which case, maybe think of your least boring friend and try to sound like them.
  8. Forget some of the stuff you learned in school: It’s fine to creatively split infinitives. Prepositions are acceptable to end on. And it’s OK to start sentences with conjunctions. Also, the whole five-paragraph essay format we were taught? It’s generally considered trash.  
  9. Use strategic cussing: When deployed at the right time and place, cussing can be a very effective tool. It adds a little edge and snaps the reader out of complacency. Try that shit for yourself!
  10. Forget conventions and focus on the content: When I first started writing, I tried to stick to about 500 words total, short paragraphs, etc. I was told no one likes reading long pieces or long paragraphs. This is not true. If what you’re saying is interesting, people will pay attention. Especially if you add pictures of cute animals.
  11. Show; don’t tell. This is telling: “Funders can be really intense.” And this is showing: “I brushed past Susan and immediately felt something stab into my side, wounding but not fatal. It was a pen with her foundation’s logo. Blood spread, staining my Ross Dress for Less shirt. She leaned closer to whisper into my ear. ‘Let your ED know that was from me. Never submit a late grant report again.’” See the difference?
  12. Ignore the negative self-talk: It’s very common to have negative thoughts as you write. “Why are you even writing?” “You are a fraud and this article is rubbish, innit.” “Why does your inner dialogue have a British accent?” etc. Think of it as an annoying, judgmental relative saying these things, and ignore.
  13. Sometimes quantity and consistency are better than quality: “Quality over quantity” is how a lot of people justify getting like one article written every three years. Writing is a lot like cooking or water puppetry: the more you practice at it, the better you get.
  14. You can publish first and edit later: The perfectionists might freak out, but if you’re writing on your own platform and it’s not like a formal publication, it’s perfectly fine to publish first, go to sleep, and then wake up in a cold sweat to do some editing. That’s what I do each week!
  15. Have an accountabilibuddy to keep you on task: Some people do well working alone. Others can benefit from having someone to keep them accountable, or just someone in the room working alongside. (Do not rely on your small children to be your accountabilibuddy; they are terrible at it: “Daddy, while you were getting a snack, I accidentally deleted everything you wrote, can I go play Minecraft now.”)
  16. It’s fine to switch topic midway. If you’re working on something and then halfway through the piece, you realize you have no energy to finish it, feel free to put it down and switch topic. You can come back to it later, and the good thing is, you will have already written half the piece! For this article, I switched through four different topics.
  17. Accept that you will piss some people off: A lot of people will get mad at you for the things you say. That is a sign that what you’re saying is meaningful, profound, and advancing important conversations.
  18. Make sure you use the Oxford Comma. We are not animals!

I hope that was helpful. Now, if you will excuse me, I have some water puppets I need to carve.

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