Escaping Content Mediocrity: How to Evolve Your Skills as a Writer
“Every moment of one’s existence, one is growing into more or retreating into less.”
– Norman Mailer
Why did you choose to become a writer? Was it to satisfy an inner yearning to express your untapped verbal creativity? Or were you looking to test your grammatical skills? Did you hope to broaden your mental horizons, or was this desire the product of nothing more than earning a tangible income on the side? Regardless of the reasons, writing represents a journey more than a discrete destination. We are often unaware of what might exist just over the horizon, and arguably, this is one of the most attractive traits of such a profession. As with any trek through the unknown, hurdles will need to be overcome on occasion, and the road can sometimes become difficult to negotiate. However, those who are able to surmount such obstacles will ultimately enjoy writing success; even if only on a part-time basis.
Ironically, this is when a rather insidious and frustrating situation can occur. Those who are confident in their writing abilities will often unwittingly fall into a sense of complacency. They become comfortable with their skill sets and as a result, they see little need for further development. After all, clients are happy and they have developed a reliable source of income. Much as a finely tuned athlete who has reached the pinnacle of success, we can begin to become lazy. We no longer view each project with a sense of enthusiasm and instead, articles appear as nothing more than statistics; as skeletal projects which need to be fleshed out in a timely fashion. In other words, we have become slowly trapped within a growing realm of mediocrity. Projects begin to devolve into a sense of drudgery and perhaps more importantly, the quality of our work might actually begin to suffer.
So, how can advanced writers continue to master their prose and maintain a sense of momentum even when dealing with a topic which has been addressed dozens or even hundreds of times in the past? If you have begun to feel mired by boredom or if your motivation has started to wane, a bit of insight can go a long way.
Appreciate How Much You Still Don’t Know
Take a moment to recall those halcyon days when you first decided to pursue writing as a hobby (or a profession). The chances are high that you were forced to address unfamiliar subjects, and your options may have been limited. In other words, beggars can rarely be choosers. This caused you to step outside of your comfort zone in order to increase your prose-based versatility. While it may have been challenging on occasion, you likely swelled with pride when a client commented positively on the end product.
After a bit of time, you began to realise your niche. Perhaps you felt comfortable writing technically oriented pieces or you rather preferred articles which allowed you to embrace a free-flowing sense of creativity. While opting to solely focus upon these topics may have allowed you to meet your daily or weekly targets, the fact of the matter is that you had eventually ceased to grow intellectually.
This is why Angela Ackerman from the website Writers Helping Writers emphasises the notion of “staring into the abyss. This epiphany will often occur when we choose to take on an entirely new topic (or when one is presented to us in the form of a Direct Order). We have two choices. We can either step outside of the proverbial box and venture into the unknown or remain waddled in the cottony wool of familiarity. While the latter may provide us with a sense of comfort, the former will enable us to grow as writers. Thus, never shy away from novel subject matter as long as it makes financial and temporal sense.
Leave Humility at the Door
Any successful writer is confident in their own right. This trait is thereafter reflected in their prose and the ways in which they are able to complete a challenging task. Unfortunately, this sense of hubris can also work against us. We have become so attuned to churning out articles to the delight of clients that we have forgotten an important aspect of content curation. It is what we don’t know that ultimately defines us.
Never be afraid to admit that you have absolutely no inkling of how a topic should be addressed. As opposed to shying away and retracting yourself back into the bosom of your existing knowledge base, step forward into the unknown and perform the necessary research. Think of this approach similar to crafting the skills of a fictional character within a game. Protagonists which possess more talents will naturally ascend to higher levels. Every day should be a learning experience.
Back to the Basics
It is no accident that some individuals are blessed with a more diverse vocabulary than others. While it can be argued that genetics play a role, the fact of the matter is that anyone who is a masterful writer as an adult cherished the written word as a child. Their knowledge of grammar, flow and context most likely evolved as a result of reading. So, it only makes sense that continuing to pore over new material is a great way to increase your knowledge base.
Take some time to read every day; even if only a handful of pages. Another important point to make is that you will be able to take on the role of the audience as opposed to the author. This is a useful perspective, as it can further define what styles appeal to you. Fragments of these can thereafter be incorporated back into your articles. Take a look at this comprehensive list of books to consider. The chances are high that you will come across at least one title which sounds appealing.
Be Sure to Ask for Feedback
Feedback is an invaluable portion of the writing process. We frequently relied upon such opinions during our formative stages, as they were able to highlight strengths as well as weaknesses. However, many advanced writers tend to deal with the same clients for months or even years at a time. This sense of familiarity (yes…that word again) is often associated with little or no feedback from the customer. After all, they are happy with the finished product, and they can rely upon your skills for future tasks. They no longer feel the need to congratulate you for a job well done after each piece is submitted.
Still, make it a point on occasion to ask them if anything can be improved. Even those who are happy with your content will likely give one or two morsels of advice. They may also highlight some of your strengths; an excellent way to realise a talent that you might not have realised you possessed. Either way, knowledge is power.
Leverage Online Grammar Resources
Even the most prolific and well-known writers in the world are creatures of habit. This is why it is quite easy to tell the difference between a passage written by Hemingway when it is compared to Dostoevsky or Kafka. While each of us is defined by our own style, this very same trait can cause us to become grammatically “blunted” (think of a blade that has only be sharpened in a single direction). In other words (pun intended), always try to improve your grammar.
The good news is that there are plenty of online resources to utilise. For example, portals such as Synonymy will allow you to plug in a random word in order to encounter a host of similar terms. If you employ such tools on a regular basis, the new words will become committed to memory; further expanding your knowledge base as a writer. This can also help you to avoid creeping boredom, as you will have additional ways to address a topic that might otherwise appear drab and dull.
Birds of a Written Feather
Human civilisation has always been based around tribalism. We tend to congregate together with those who share similar interests. If most of your friends are slightly overweight, the chances are high that you might be carrying a few extra kilograms. If you are interested in activities such as marathons, at least some of your friends share such a passion. If you wish to further hone your skills as a writer, try to surround yourself with like-minded individuals.
We are not necessarily suggesting that you head down to the local library and pick the brains of those who are reading an encyclopaedia. Instead, search online for writing forums that will allow you to connect with similar individuals. The professionals at NY Book Editors have compiled this list of eleven excellent forums to examine in greater detail.
Learn the Zoom-In, Zoom-Out Technique
This is another interesting suggestion which very few writers have utilised. It is particularly suited for more advanced authors, as they have already mastered the basics. The zoom-in, zoom-out method involves your ability to highlight the central point of an article while simultaneously examining the entire topic from a top-down perspective. Let’s take a look at an example.
Imagine that you are an expert at product descriptions. The chances are high that you have written about the same subject or topic far more times than you would like to admit. Most (if not all) articles are likewise structured in the same way:
- Brief introduction
- Highlighting the main points of a specific product
- Conclusion and call to action
We all know that such tasks can become extremely repetitive. The zoom-in, zoom-out approach allows us to add a further sense of dimension and dynamism into your text while anchoring the attention of the reader. As opposed to simply regurgitating material that has become entirely mundane, this mindset will foster a sense of depth to your writing while keeping you entertained throughout the process. This is sometimes referred to as explanatory writing.
Would Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony ever sound as beautiful if it were played with a handful of violins alone? In the same respect, truly engaging writing represents a sonorous collaboration of words following the same tempo. As the author, you are its sole conductor. This is when metaphors come into play.
Metaphors will cause your content to truly sing. They imbue a tonality and flavour that would simply not be possible with a more straightforward approach; even if you are an expert. Metaphors are your best friends, so always be sure to use them when warranted. Of course, this will also depend upon the task. While metaphors can often be leveraged when addressing subjects such as product descriptions or opinion-based pieces, the same cannot be said if you happen to be tackling a more technical segment (such as a white paper).
Keep Moving Forward
Expert writers are still humans. Even the best will feel bogged down from time to time. This is why maintaining an innate sense of momentum and constantly testing your boundaries are the best ways to ascend to the next level and well beyond. After all, there are very few jobs which literally pay you to learn new things. Be sure to embrace your creativity and to remember that there are no limits to what you can accomplish.
About our authorRon first arrived in Barcelona, Spain in 2007. Although initially pursuing a career in wealth management and finance, he learned that the content writing community provided the highest level of personal satisfaction while still being able to personally help clients. He has been a full-time professional writer since 2011. Some of his other interests include martial arts and bodybuilding.