Everything I Know About Being a Writer

I’ve been a writer as long as I can remember. In 5th grade, I started my first of three volumes of poetry. Somewhere in my closet there are upwards of nine completely filled journals, and my college essay was about writer’s block. You would think with the thousands of words I’ve penned and the sentences I’ve typed, writing would be something I could easily explain.

It’s not.

In fact, it’s probably one of the hardest things to articulate. There are no words to describe writing. However, that all changed when I took my Writing for Magazines class.

Second semester senior year, I decided to take an english class with a man named Jeff. I hope he never reads this post because it will be littered with clichés (and he hates clichés), but he is the only person to describe how I feel as a writer. On the very first day of class, I literally sat in awe of this crotchety, hardened journalist with his wide-rimmed classes and faded baseball hat. Throughout the semester, he found the words I had been searching for, ripped my work apart and taught me everything I needed to know about writing.

And since his class, I’ve learned a few things too. So for all you writers out there, here’s everything I know about being a writer.

There are shades of words, pick the right one.

When I wrote in-class essays in high school, I would tap my nose. Not all the time, just when I couldn’t think of the right word. The more I write, the more I realize how many different words there are & how fun/frustrating/rewarding/infuriating it is to play with them. Words have connotations. They have emotion. There are thousands of different shades between “good” and “extraordinary,” so pick the right one because it could change everything.

You might be a writer, but you’re also a psychologist. 

This particularly applies to when you’re interviewing someone. It’s hard. Like way harder than you would think. You’re in a completely artificial situation, yet you have to make it seem like a natural conversation. You have to uncover hidden desires and feelings without being too pushy. Surface information is great, but people’s true personalities live way beneath that. As a writer, your job is to figure out your interviewee like a detective, but treat them like a friend.

You have to lead readers through a piece, but they’re not stupid. 

Jeff emphasized the importance of a focus in a piece. You need a clear sentence or topic that you entire piece will revolve around. Readers like focuses. It helps them stay on track.

However, you don’t need to spell everything out for readers. They’re smart. They will pick up on hints, innuendos and subtle foreshadowing. But you also have to make sure you give them some sort of resolution at the end. You can have a plot twist in your story, but your readers have to be able to make sense of it afterwards.

First drafts are sh*tty. Let them be.

Nothing is more intimidating than a blank screen and a blinking cursor. Jeff once said, “The first word you write eliminates half of the possible directions of your piece. The second word cuts them in half again.”  Talk about pressure. I would get so paralyzed by my need of perfection that I couldn’t write my first drafts. That was until Jeff tore up a first draft of mine in front of my face.

His point? First drafts suck. Let them suck. First drafts are for getting your thoughts out on paper. Who cares about first drafts, no one is going to see them. Sometimes it’s hard to get it out, but once you get rolling it’s easier. Then re-writing is where the fun begins.

There are rules. And you can break them. 

Grammar is important. Cohesion is important. Intros, bodies and conclusions are important. Starting a sentence with a conjunction or adding a period for emphasis? Not a big deal. Since middle school we’ve learned the ins and outs of formal writing, when in reality it’s only good for college assignments and academic literature. Develop a voice and play around with rhythm. Know the rules well enough to break them.

You’re going to hate most of what you write. 

It’s true. I do hate most of the things I write. Even the things that multiple editors look at and publish. But there are always those few magical sentences in every piece that make it worthwhile. Writing is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I can’t imagine pursuing anything else.

May your writing be effortless and your writer’s block be brief.

Featured image by Krista

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Likes & Favorites: New York, NY

This past weekend, I traveled to the city that never sleeps for a Her Campus Media Conference. It was my first ever real life conference, and while part of me was excited to wear my killer pumps and go to journalism workshops, the other part was not thrilled about spending a significant amount of time on the subway. Well, I survived the subway (barely) & went to all my fancy workshops, plus I made some friends & memories along the way. Here’s a special edition of Likes & Favorites from my travels to the Big Apple.

The actual conference. 

Call me a nerd, but I actually enjoyed sitting in on panels about blogging, journalism and how to succeed in this industry. There were also super cool speakers who came (like the editor in chief of Seventeen) and because we were a bunch of college-aged-aspiring-journalists, it was appropriate to fangirl. Beyond that, I got to rock my business casual swag, received a TON of freebies/giveaways & made some really nice friends. {In case you forgot what I write about on Her Campus, i.e. the reason I attended this conference, check out my work here!}

Some really good advice. 

As I mentioned before, Michelle Tan, the new editor in chief of Seventeen, was the keynote speaker the first day, and I’ll be the first to say that she is hilarious. Besides cracking us up the whole time, she also dropped some awesome wisdom. I love this quote she said about making it in the journalism industry, but I think it also just applies to life. Shout out to Krista for making the cool graphic.

michelletanquotefinal

Lovely parts of the city. 

Because he’s an amazing boyfriend, Ryan surprised me on Saturday night after the conference and took me to dinner at this incredible Italian restaurant, La Lanterna Di Vittorio. While it took us a little while to get there (stupid subways make me so confused), the romantic atmosphere and delicious lasagna was worth the wait (Couples in NYC, you have to go). Then on Sunday, it was my turn to plan the date, so we went to Jane’s Carousel (made in 1922) by the Brooklyn bridge and then had pizza and ice cream.

Despite how much I hate the dirtiness, busyness and subway system of the city, there are quaint parts of it that truly are lovely.

Not your average statement necklace. 

At the conference, there were a few vendors there, one of which was chloe + isabel. If you’ve never heard of them, you definitely need to check them out. They make beautiful statement jewelry AND you can sign up to become a merchandiser for their products! You can literally be your own boss in the fashion industry. I adore this necklace I got from them!

be creative, be confident, be you

be creative, be confident, be you

Ampersand’s having a giveaway!

On a similar note… I’ve decided to host Ampersand’s first ever giveaway!! To thank you for being loyal readers, I’m giving away a chloe + isabel wrap bracelet to one lucky winner. All you have to do is like Ampersand on Facebook & fill out the form below. I’ll be randomly drawing a winner next week so stay tuned to see if you won!

Here’s the prize…

a lil bit of bling

a lil bit of bling

And here’s the form!

{PS. I’m launching a new section soon with some exciting news! Yay surprises!}

Liking my NYC adventures & favoriting being back in NJ.