11 signs you’re a good writer (word nerds will love #11)

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If you’re reading this post, you probably think you’re a good writer (or would like to be). But if  you’re not too sure, here’s 11 signs writing is your ‘thing’…

1. You don’t mind being edited…in fact you think it’s a good thing

Some writers have BIG egos. This generally shows up when you ask them to make a change to their copy. Some are defensive. Others won’t accept that their writing isn’t clear or needs further explanation. Occasionally they are rude.

Over fifteen years of writing and editing for national newspapers, I’ve noticed something interesting: the best writers (i.e. those who submit consistently good copy that needs very little work) are generally fine with criticism. They make the changes you ask for without any fuss and will often say their article is better as a result of your suggestions. They also read their copy when it’s published, notice where it’s been changed – and use this to improve their writing. That’s not to say they won’t stand their ground if they disagree with a suggestion you’ve made… but they do accept that the editor has the final word.

Weak writers (i.e. those who consistently deliver copy that is under par) often take criticism of their work personally. They refuse to accept their writing could be anything less than perfect.  And they have a tendency to fuss and argue, making the editing process much longer – and less enjoyable – for everyone involved.

2. You read stuff on how to improve your writing (like this blog post)

I may be a professional writer, but I think there’s lots more for me to learn about my craft.  I still have ‘bad’ days when everything seems to take twice as long as it should or I just can’t find the right words. So I’m always on the lookout for writing tips and regularly mine sites like Copyblogger and Problogger for ideas on how to write better headlines or craft great email subject headers.

3. You break the rules

Your English teacher told you not to start sentences with ‘And’ or ‘But’ – but you know it can make your writing more punchy. You were encouraged to use descriptive language but use simple, sparse prose to create tension and drama.  And you know that starting at the end (or in the middle or the second to last paragraph) can be far more engaging…and that using big words can make you look stupid.

4. You don’t wait to be inspired

You can knock out 200 or 2000 words, to order, on just about any topic. And you always hit your deadline. Granted, some days it’s easier than others, but you’ve developed your own rescue strategies for when you’re feeling stuck. My favourites include: ‘racing’ the battery on my laptop (giving me just under two hours to get anything done), setting a timer for each paragraph and ‘free writing’ (which involves writing without stopping for a given length of time – with surprisingly good results). If this is something you do struggle with, here’s my top book recommendations: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

5. You ‘snap’ spelling/grammar mistakes on your phone…and enjoy sharing them on social media…

Like this one… 190922_10150207338833332_2984931_o (Thanks to Dan Ashley for this)…

6. You make every word work for its place on the page

That means no waffle. No superflous words or phrases. Just simple, crisp copy.

7. You don’t write introductions

You know there’s no need to ‘set the scene’ (yawn) or explain what you’ll be covering in your article.

That’s for academic essays (and I’m not even sure you need one in those either – but I’ll leave that debate for now)

You usually take your reader straight to the action or start with a story. It’s  far more compelling.

8. You call it ‘copy’

Writing, that is.

9. You show don’t tell (most of the time, anyway)

You know that people love stories. So you show readers what happened – or what people are like – through what they do and say. As in this interview by the Guardian’s Simon Hattenstone (my favourite profile writer).

Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 22.28.36

But sometimes you need to break the rules. Which is why I loved this Writer’s Digest article: Why Show Don’t Tell is the Greatest Lie of Writing Workshops.

10. You’re obsessed with writers’ routines

Most writers I know LOVE reading about other writer’s routines. And we all have our own quirky habits, I find.

Me?

  • I prefer to write in the morning (between the hours of 9am and 12pm to be precise) – writing at any other time makes me grumpy
  • I make a hot drink before I start writing (tea in the morning, coffee if I have to write during my ‘grumpy’ time)
  • I have a rigid routine for writing my Guardian articles. This involves: taking notes on all of my notes, turning this into a list of key points, writing a paragraph by paragraph plan, writing another par by par plan (including quotes and pretty much every point I am going to make) and revising this plan numerous times. It takes hours, but means I can usually turn out a first draft pretty painlessly
  • I often take a bath and write my articles in my head before I start (you probably didn’t want to know that)
  • I can only write in silence – although music is otherwise compulsory at all times
  • I only use Europa reporters’ notebooks for interview notes
  • I use an A4 spiralbound notebook for general notes and planning
  • I only use black Pilot Vball pens (my handwriting is awful) – but can work with pink, purple, or blue if I have to
  • I LOVE notebooks and spend hours trawling stationery shops for them. Moleskine and Kate Spade are my current favourites. I even have a Pinterest board of lovely notebooks
  • I realise this list makes me sound like a right pain in the backside…

But if you also love reading about writer’s routines, here’s a few of my favourite articles on the topic:

Rise and shine: the daily routine of history’s great minds (great minds rather than great writers, but still a good read)

The Daily Routines of 12 Famous Writers And How They can Help You Succeed

25 signs you’re a writer (Buzzfeed fun)

Oh and I like this article on 11 signs you’re meant to be a writer by Laura Pepper (I was going to call this post ‘10 signs you’re a good writer’, but her post reminded me to take a bit of my own advice about using odd numbers in email headers and I am an unashamed copycat).

11. You love stationery

See above.

12 Comments

  • Agree with you on the editing. I always find good editors make my work better. I’m best writing from about 11 to 1 and 3 to 6, although I can also be found composing whole articles in the bath.

  • I prefer writing in the afternoon or at night – I’m more productive in the morning so save this for admin and any other tasks I don’t really like. As writing is the most enjoyable bit (for me) I save it for when I don’t have the motivation to do the stuff I don’t enjoy as much. Does that make sense?!

  • I WISH I had a writing routine and I was about to say so but it turns out I do. I faff about all week having meetings, coffee with friends, complaining about having no time and doing phone interviews and then in utter desperation I write like the wind on Sunday and Monday evenings after the children have gone to bed.

  • I usually spend about 80% of my allotted time thinking about what I’m going to write, planning it in my head and waiting for the one killer phrase or point to pop in, that I can then build the rest of the article around. Sometimes that’s the opening line, sometimes it’s the close, but once I have that things tend to fall in to place. I usually then plan it on paper, write fairly quickly in the afternoon/evening, but I HAVE to be able to sleep on it and revise again in the morning before submission. A bad habit from uni days. Fortunately I no longer have to mainline caffeine, nicotine and alcohol though.

  • I do most of my planning while dozing on a weekend lie-in. Then get up and write! So glad I’m not the only person who thinks introductions are a waste of space…

  • Love that “you don’t wait to be inspired” is on here. It’s so true. I know so many “writers” who never write because they’re always waiting for the mood to strike. I like the race the laptop battery idea too!

  • Note to self, do not write that novel. This is a great post! It probably shows on my blog, but I tend to not care what others think and just write what I want to. I was horrible at English in school because I hated all of the rules, I understood them, but didn’t want to be bothered… says the worst writer ever – LOL!

  • I write best in cafes (echoes of J K Rowling) where there are things happening around me, or late at night at home. Mornings are total disaster for me as I’m definitely an owl and hate getting up in the morning. Noting that lots of writers get up early and are horribly disciplined makes me wonder whether I should be changing my whole route, but it works for me.

    Anne Nicholls

  • Great post. Thank you Janet. Very helpful. I like to start early and put in 3 hours of writing before coffee time. Then, if I have a flexible day, I go for a long walk (around 5 miles) and enjoy some ‘thinking’ time. I find writing in the evening less productive. I think it’s really important to be open to editor’s ideas, comments, and changes, and I enjoy their corrections and suggestions. For me, it’s the best way to learn.

  • I am a writer but i am not a nerd the 10th point is not true. I could write anything, any time and any where even 2 AM in the morning. I searched this page because they say writing makes me a nerd but i don’t think it does. Writers are what keeps the world together without them there would no music, no books or movies and that is a world no one wants to live in. I love writing and i show my passion for it but that does not make quirky or nerdy and neither does reading. Writers should not be told that they are nerds. Writers should not be stopped to what they love they should do it without being called a nerd. Writers should believe in they want to and be their own person. I believe that you are brilliant writer but don’t anyone tell its nerdy or quirky. Thanks for reading i do agree with a lot things you said and excuse my long comment but i am a writer and i can’t help it.

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