Getting Started as a Writer - The Ultimate Guide - www.africanwritershub.com

Since I began to post writing contests on this website, I have constantly gotten responses from people along the lines of “I can’t write,” “I wish I could enter, but I don’t think I can write…” and a lot of variations of the same sentiment.

I can relate, totally. I remember how hard it was for me to allow other people see my articles and poems when I first began writing because I felt they weren’t good enough. Getting published and winning prizes boosted my self-confidence immensely, but I know that taking those first few steps of writing and sharing your work remains a big hurdle for most people.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll be posting tutorials on specific parts of the writing process. The tutorials will cover getting ideas on what to write about, actual writing, editing and tools/resources to make your writing more effective. They’ll cover different writing goals, from academic writing; blog writing; freelance writing and writing as a professional skill generally.

Today, let’s talk about getting started as a writer – the very basics. Whether you’re just starting out or have some experience already, the following tips will help you boost your skill and go from zero to hero.

You Can Write Already

But what if I told you that you’re already a writer? Before you scoff, listen – you write (or have written) in school regularly; you write on social media for many hours (probably too many 😊) every day, and you write via email to communicate with colleagues and friends, apply for jobs and other purposes.

So how come you think you can’t write?

In my experience, the problem with most people is not that they can’t write, but that they have an ideal writing style in mind which they feel they can’t match up to. It could be a particular author or blogger whom you admire or a specific publication which you read regularly. While there’s nothing wrong in admiring a writer and his/her style, it’s dangerous to get stuck on that as the ideal style.

In reality, there are as many writing styles as there are writers. If you survey the most popular books and blogs, you’ll be able to identify a variety of quirks that make all the writers different. There are best practices, yes, but you can learn those, incorporate them into your style and be the best you.

Here are a few steps you can take to learn those best practices and refine your style:

1. Read Wide

If you don’t read, you can’t write. It’s just simple logic – reading is how you learn more about whatever you want to write about. Even if you want to write about personal experiences (a travel blog, for instance), reading similar content by other writers will help you gain a wider perspective to enrich your own work.

Search “Top blogs in {your niche}” on Google and you’ll find blogs which you can follow. Do this for all your interests which you intend to write about and bookmark the websites so you can access them easily.

Reading takes time though, and you might not have time to read every interesting article you come across immediately. I use Pocket to solve that problem. It’s integrated into my PC and phone browsers so I can easily save articles with a couple of clicks and read them when it’s convenient. Whenever I have a few spare minutes, I just open the app and read one or two articles.

Take a look at my Pocket list. Note how the app gives an estimate of how long it’ll take to read the article and also offers a text-to-speech feature so you can listen to your saved articles even while doing something else.

The key is to read as much as you can every day. Develop a process that allows you to do that and stick to it. You’ll begin to see improvements in your writing in no time at all.

2. Take a Writing Course

Sometimes, a more structured approach to learning can be very helpful. Platforms such as Coursera and EdX have thousands of courses you can take for free. Some of the courses require payment for certification, but you can audit them and learn what you need for free.

Register for the platforms and search for writing courses. Here are the ones I recommend:

There are many other MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) platforms, but EdX and Coursera are the ones which I use most and can recommend without any reservations.

The great thing about these courses is that they have communities around them where you can have your work reviewed. When getting started as a writer, the comments you get from the peer review exercises and in the forums can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses, which you can then build on or rectify as necessary.

I particularly like Coursera because of the mobile app. It allows you to download an entire course – videos, reading material, and even quizzes. You can choose a course, download it (the courses are often large, so download them over free Wi-Fi to save your data) and then go through the content at your convenience. Resist the temptation to start multiple courses until you’ve completed your first one or two successfully. That way, you’ll be able to focus and get the hang of taking MOOCs effectively.

3. Get a Review Group

When you’re starting out as a writer, getting peer feedback can be a very good way to develop quickly.

Approach a few of your friends and family and ask if they’d be willing to help you read through some of your work and give you sincere feedback. Be sure they are people who will give objective feedback, and specifically ask them not to mince words in their criticism.

Send them your work and ask them to be as comprehensive as they can. Take the feedback and incorporate them into the piece. You can send it back to them for further review, but it’s important to be considerate and not make it too tedious for them to help or lead them to conduct only cursory evaluations

You want to strike a balance between getting the most out of the arrangement and not taking advantage of your friends. Make it fun for them too – Personally, I’ve found that promising to pay in ice cream works really well 😉.

4. Get and Use the Right Tools

Ever professional has tools which make their work more effective and efficient, and writing is not different. There are many tools available on the internet which are designed to help with various areas of the writing process.

As you start out on your journey to become a top-notch writer, you should get as many of those tools as you can and get proficient with using them to produce high-quality content.

Personally, Grammarly, Hemingway, and Canva are the most important tools with which I get most of my writing done. The first two are for editing my writing to remove all grammatical and syntax errors. They help remove the fluff out of your articles by highlighting wordy phrases and sentences so you can change or replace them. With Hemingway, there’s a nifty score that shows you how easy-to-read your article is, so you edit until it’s at a satisfactory point.

Canva, I use to produce all the graphics you see here on AWH and other projects (mine and clients’). It has a free version with a lot of features, but I subscribed to the pro version for increased functionality. Since you’re just starting out, the free version will likely be all you need.

Ultimately, there are a lot of tools to choose from (I’ll write a full post on this soon). You’ll need to try them out over time and curate your own suite of which ones work best for you.

5. Write and Put your Work Out

This is the most important step. Without it, everything else will go to waste. To become a stellar writer, you’ll need to write as often and as much as you can. Also, you’ll need to find a platform and let your work out into the world.

Practice makes perfect, and there’s nowhere that is more applicable than in writing. The more you write, the better you’ll get at crafting your stories, articles, and poems. You’ll recognize patterns in your work and correct them in subsequent ones, which is how you’ll develop your own unique style.

Beyond writing, it’s important to get your work out of your computer and on a platform where people can see and interact with it. It might be difficult to do at first, but just like writing, it’s bound to get easier over time. Plus, the benefits are myriad: You’ll get feedback on your work and grow with it; you’ll cultivate an audience and connect with fellow writers, and you can even create a personal brand and make money from it.

What you’ll need to do is decide on a platform (social media, Medium, your own blog, etc.) and publish your work consistently. It might take some time, but the fulfillment you’ll get from being noticed and appreciated will be worth all the effort. Your skills too would greatly improve, putting you in a great position to enter and win writing competitions, make money from freelance writing and communicate excellently at work or wherever else you have to write professionally.

Go Get Started

In all, being a writer is an incredibly fulfilling experience, personally and professionally. Beyond the joy of creating content that people enjoy and benefit from in their personal and professional lives, it’s also financially rewarding, if you apply your skills right.

Follow the guide above, invest the necessary time and energy, and you’ll be a top-notch writer before you know it. Remember, you write already – all you need to do is polish your skill.