How to Balance How You Talk and How You Write

Stop for a moment. Listen to some conversation around you. Does it sound at all like how you write?

The odds are, it probably doesn’t. 

This is totally normal. But if you want to be a good storyteller, then you have to find a happy medium between what you say and what you pen. And there are four big rules for doing this.

1. Get your thoughts out of your mouth.

This might mean that you use Google’s voice typing feature or that you use the voice recorder on your smartphone to record what you say in a conversation. But getting this initial record provides a good outline of your key ideas where you aren’t worried about technicalities. Go back and pull verbatim into a draft knowing with confidence that what you pull is going to sound conversational overall. Remember, your first instinct about how to say something often will be right, even if you adjust a little afterward for clarity, redundancy and formatting. 

2. Decide which rules are nonsense. 

Ending sentences with prepositions? Starting one with a conjunction? Paragraphs having 3 to 5 sentences?

All of these are elements you could be stringent about. But part of the reason oral language sounds different is because we ditch these stipulations in practice. So even if you know what the rules are, pick a select few that you consciously can do away with. Ask yourself if the text as constructed flows. Resist the urge to “fix” it or rephrase just to follow the rule. The rules you accept or loosen will have a direct influence on your personal writing voice.

3. Expose yourself to less formal writings.

Diaries, social media posts, blogs and even to do lists usually don’t go through strict editing. They might not be intended to do anything but help a person remember a moment in time or feeling they were having. Reading these gives you repeated exposure to more honest and individual ways of verbalizing life and concepts. That exposure normalizes the idea that effective writing can take many different forms and doesn’t have to follow a script. It gets you comfortable with the notion that your writing can be all its own.

4. Keep it simple.

Writers often can get bogged down in details and their own love of writing. As a result, they write too much and extend their ideas far more than they would when having a two-way conversation. Imagine that someone else is waiting to comment and cut the fluff that disrespects their time and right to respond. 

Writing conversationally requires you to think less of technicalities and more about the flow and comprehension of the text. Simplicity, starting with a verbalized form of what you want to say, setting your own ground rules and exposing yourself to many forms of informal content can help you find the happy medium you’re looking for.

5 Ways to Pace Yourself as a Writer

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Pacing yourself is critical as a writer. It helps you meet deadlines, look professional and crank out a maximum number of projects that can produce income in a healthy way without burning out. But how exactly are you supposed to do it?

1. Word count

This is probably the most common way writers pace themselves. You take a target number of words, such as 100,000, and then simply divide that by the number of days you have available to write. That gives you the minimum number of words to write per work day. You can write more than the minimum if you like, but not less.

Pros: 

  • provides very consistent results if you meet the minimum word count
  • target does not change, which provides mental and logistical predictability

Cons:

  • does not accommodate variations in other responsibilities, mood or wellbeing
  • can shift the focus from quality to quantity

2. Goal post

A goal post is the end of a section in whatever you are writing. It could be a paragraph, page or chapter. For example, you might tell yourself you will write until you have three paragraphs or one chapter.

Pros: 

  • easy to customize based on overall personal preference, writing habits or day-by-day needs
  • keeps you looking forward without locking you into uniformity or monotony
  • offers clear points for self-reward or review
  • compatible with the idea of breaking goals down into smaller, more achievable steps that are mentally easier to process

Cons: 

  • results might not be consistent from day to day
  • making a habit of using goals that are too small (not challenging yourself enough) might result in missing a larger deadline or prevent the realization of what you actually could produce

3. Time

With this method, you set a given amount of time to write, such as 30 minutes. You stop writing when that time is up, regardless of where you are at in terms of content or word count.

Pros:

  • target does not change, which provides mental and logistical predictability
  • easy to schedule

Cons:

  • does not accommodate variations in other responsibilities, mood or wellbeing
  • can shift the focus from quality to quantity
  • time spent is not necessarily productive time if you are unclear with your ideas or have distractions
  • can be forced to stop even in a state of flow
  • limits word count to whatever you can produce in the allowed time, so you might have to extend your deadline out even if the project is clearly mentally defined

4. Team standard

The team standard looks at what other writers are expected to do for projects similar to yours. For instance, if an editor at Publication A generally has writers producing one article per week, then you hold yourself to writing one article per week, as well.

Pros: 

  • can inspire you to write more than you otherwise might without others
  • expectations are clear
  • results are very predictable

Cons:

  • the team standard might limit what you can produce
  • does not accommodate your individual circumstances, which can be stressful
  • can put too much focus on what others are doing and make the writing about competition rather than quality

5. Emotional and physical wellness

Here, you simply write as much as you are able given how you feel. If you have energy and great ideas, then you could write all day long. If you’re slumping, then you give yourself permission to throw in the towel and come back to the project when you actually feel like writing.

Pros:

  • you always do your writing when you feel mentally and physically ready to work, which can have a positive influence on quality and how much you enjoy the writing
  • allows good flexibility and self-awareness

Cons:

  • results can be all over the map and make it difficult to determine when you’ll finish
  • no real goals defined from day to day

All of these pacing methods have something positive to offer, and all of them–even the last–is measurable according to the SMART goals concept (e.g., how many of your writing sessions felt physically good). but as you can see from the list, none of them are the “golden ticket”. They all have pain points. You also might find that one method works better under certain circumstances than another. It’s also possible to use more than one at a time. For example, I generally lean on time for my personal writing, but for my professional writing, I have to consider contractual minimums and word counts required by the client.

What matters most is just that you have some way of defining success with your writing, whether that means a certain number of words or just enjoying the session. If you are clear about what success means, then you can communicate your needs and expectations to others to smooth out hurdles that could interfere with the writing process. Try to choose one or more pacing methods that offer a sense of balance for you. Once you find that sweet spot, don’t worry about what works for anybody else. Just write.

Why “Be Patient” Is Bad Advice for a Writer

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One of the quirks of being a writer is that you often have to wait weeks or even months to get a response back from editors. This isn’t all their fault. Many of them are swamped with hundreds or even thousands of submissions a month, and they have other responsibilities other than combing through queries.

Because of this situation, though, writers almost always are told they need to be patient. Cast your line from the pole and then sit and see what happens. Good things, the saying goes, come to those who wait.

Waiting as a writer is inevitable. But you don’t have to be patient, per se. What you do need to do is find a way to make the wait seem smaller and more manageable. And by far the easiest way to do that is to just keep writing. Put another way, working on more projects provides a healthy distraction that makes time seem to pass far more quickly. What’s more, the more you write, the more paths for success you carve out for yourself. Every article or book, every email–it’s all potential for long-term connection and, subsequently, income.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you just write about whatever pops into your head. You need to do your homework and consider what’s popular and relevant, or there’s not going to be much interest no matter how beautiful the prose is. You absolutely write pieces that you’re both passionate about and that have some market shimmer. And one well-researched, empathetic, convincing piece is always worth more than a dozen fluff pieces–you can’t ignore quality in the name of productivity.

But broadly speaking, there’s no need to sit around and waste time. If you have many irons in the fire, query response windows will pass without almost any concern. And the big benefit there is, less stress. Giving yourself something to do, having new goals all the time, keeps you optimistic and prevents you from ruminating on “what ifs”.

So don’t be patient. Instead, act as if you already have the green light to proceed, that you must proceed, because you do, and success in this industry absolutely depends on persistence. Submit. Then find a new topic and get back to work.

Why I Hate Pay-to-Read Websites

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I bet you’ve done it. Click on a link to a site like The New York Times or Medium, only to have it tell you that you need to buy a subscription to keep reading, or that you’re out of free articles for the month.

Lamest. Move. Ever.

I’m not pretending that these organizations don’t need to make money. They do. They can’t pay their writers and other staff otherwise, and I believe heavily in fair pay for everything involved in bringing stories to readers.

The trouble is, whether these organizations like it or not, pay-to-read means that it becomes significantly harder for people who are in lower income groups to participate and understand what the publications are covering.

Libraries are a vital combatant in this fight for equality, providing access to patrons, but this situation still can create real difficulties for people of all ages who want reliable information necessary to make informed choices. Especially now considering COVID-19, traditional workarounds through library access might no longer be as accessible for those who can’t afford their own computer or mobile device.

And while a person might be able to afford $2 or $3 a month for a membership, they might not be able to cover the cost of the device and Internet access necessary to use that membership. Remember, too, even $2 or $3 over a dozen or so sites–which you’d want for more variety and objective research/learning–can make someone in poverty or who is living paycheck to paycheck look hard at their budget. It’s significant money to them.

Mobile workers who have to move through the day as part of their work also need a reliable way to access important news reports, journal articles and other information. This is especially true when some of those publications, such as Forbes, have such an industry reputation that they’re held up as examples of reliability for journalistic standards and acceptable referencing. In some instances, subscription requirements might mean that an individual has to use less desirable pieces in their source list or can’t quote an original source, which can make their work appear to be less thorough or accurate. And if you are trying to freelance or start your career, trustworthy sources is one of the only things that gets an editor to take you seriously.

One other consideration for writers and contributors is that, if a user encounters a paywall they don’t want or can’t deal with, that user isn’t going to see the writer’s content. They’re just going to click away. So it’s potentially harder to get their voice out there, build a reputation and gain a loyal following that presents new opportunities, especially when real growth happens when readers start backlinking to and sharing the existing work. It inevitably works against writers who are paid per view, as well.

So what are publications supposed to do? They can’t just expect everyone to work for free. A better balance might be found in donation-based operations, such as support organizations like National Public Radio. General donations could come from users, but also from independent non-profit organizations or investors in industries related to the publication. The publications simply would need to make their affiliations clear in public disclosure statements or tax forms. Publications also could look for support such as specific grants. Users also could cover the cost of someone else’s subscription as a randomized gift, with those in need applying to receive those gifts and matched based on wait list time or consideration of need in specific demographics/communities.

If publications don’t want to do donations, then they potentially could find some funding by getting more stringent about what they publish and how much. Investing in systems that could automate certain steps also could allow companies to trim costs and let workers focus more on the creative side of the content, no reduction in hours or pay required. Developing partnerships/syndications is yet another option.

Of course, all this fundraising takes time and resources, too. Organizations have to find ways to convince all users to do their part if they can, rather than to assume other users will pick up the slack. But publications that take this approach to get rid of paywalls stand to broaden their readership a significant degree. More importantly, having access to information–all information–is part of what helps people make meaningful contributions to their communities and the world. That’s worth finding creative means of support.

 

How Writing Can Heal and Change You

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Most writers say that writing helps them manage anxiety, practice gratitude or thankfulness, and express themselves in a way they otherwise wouldn’t be able or know how to do. But in an article for Psyche, Uddipana Goswami explores that writing goes well beyond this foundational self-expression. It genuinely can help you make sense of what happened to you, good or bad, and move forward.

This doesn’t mean that writing is any substitute for a good therapist. But it can be therapeutic in a deeper way than perhaps we have admitted. As Goswami notes, it can allow you to acquire important life skills, accept specific feelings or hurts as part of you and help you seek solidarity with others to break out of isolation. It allows you to distance yourself from it all so you can analyze, plan and take action more objectively. And these are all goals you’ll find associated with a good mental health session.

Put another way, writing isn’t just about getting your thoughts or perspectives out. It’s about getting to a point of understanding about yourself and the world, of truly growing, metamorphizing and coming to a different way of behaving and thinking. It’s about figuring out not just who you really are, but what you’re capable of or meant to do. Readers certainly can come along on this journey with you, and their reactions to your writing can be incredibly influential, but others are not the primary beneficiary. YOU are.

So just pause for a second.

When’s the last time you wrote something not for your readers, not for legacy, not just for the fun of it or feeling of obligation the craft? When is the last time you wrote not to vent in the moment, but to change and understand?

If you’ve never done it, make today the day. The idea that healing and becoming better are at the end of a pen is a beautiful reason to get started.