My not-so-expert advice.
1. Read everything. If you don’t do anything else, do this. Read newspapers and magazines and books and blogs and brochures and old letters. Somewhere in the process of all this reading, you will learn something about words, and what can be done with them.
2. Take risks. Don’t stick to summary leads. Don’t stick to anything. The trick is to write so much that there’s room for some good work in the midst of all the bad work that will inevitably outnumber it.
3. Write about other people. The personal essay can be a beautiful thing. It shouldn’t be the only thing. There are so many stories out there other than yours, and you’re shortchanging yourself (and your writing) if you don’t try to tell them.
4. Let smart people criticize everything you write. And no matter how brutally they slash your work apart, take them seriously. Sometimes, in the course of writing something, you come to love it too much to see what’s wrong with it. Nothing will help you improve quite like a talented, honest editor.
5. …almost everything. You have to write some things — maybe not a lot of things, but some — that you never show to anyone else. Things that never get posted or published or shared. Because if everything is subject to criticism, you’ll stop loving what you do. And writing you don’t love is not good writing.
6. Edit yourself. Don’t assume that it flowed from your pen, therefore it’s infallible. Don’t even assume it’s good because you love it. Reread, rewrite, rethink your piece. Unless you’re on a tight deadline, take some time away from it, then revisit. Maybe half the time, the pressure you feel to get this done and handed over right now is more adrenaline than reality.
7. Don’t decide you’re good. You can feel confident about your work. You can feel comfortable doing what you do. But don’t let a blanket “I’m a good writer” declaration enter your mind, because that’ll serve as license to write some very bad, very self-involved things.
8. Stop writing and do some life. Chaining yourself to a laptop is a great way to write some dry copy about things you’ve never experienced. Move.
9. Train your brain to see anything and everything as a story. People have stories. Every single person, no matter how dull they seem at first. Go talk to them, dig beyond the obvious, and write their stories.
10. Read more. And never stop.