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Zachary Walston

How Novice Writers Can Refine Their Craft

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Zachary Walston
Zachary Walston
 19 days ago

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How do we get better at writing?

Short answer: write often

I understand there is more to it, but at the end of the day, if you want to improve in a skill you need to practice. To get better at writing you must write frequently.

There are other pieces to it, of course. You should read often, gain feedback on your writing and reflect on ways to improve it, and learn from those who do it well (courses, workshops, conversations, etc.), but if you don’t practice the skill it won’t improve.

Over the past year, I have started writing a lot more. It is something I enjoy and gain fulfillment from. To improve my writing ability and gain feedback, I write on many different platforms.

I primarily write for my physical therapy practice’s blog, my website, and Medium. Nothing out of the ordinary. I have come to realize that writing is similar to exercise.

Let’s say you are trying to set a personal best bench press. First, you need to bench press often. That is the movement pattern you are refining. You would benefit, however, from training your body with a variety of exercises. Pushups, chest flys, lat pulldown, triceps extension, and other exercises that strengthen your upper body will help with your bench press.

The same goes for writing.

If you want to get better at writing for your blog, you need to blog often. There are many other types of writing, though. These other forms of writing are your accessory exercises that will enhance your writing overall.

This is where writing for multiple platforms becomes beneficial.

Interviewing my wife

My brilliant wife, Lindsay Walston, is a real estate agent. If you are unaware, the housing market in the US is an absurd seller’s market currently. I decided to expand outside my wheelhouse — writing about health and wellness — and took on real estate.

Here is where it gets interesting.

To expand my writing style, I interviewed her for many articles.

I learned a lot by reading content on her blog and speaking with her. I learned more about writing by editing the content and reformatting the stories.

Building an audience on LinkedIn

Part of building an audience on any social media platform is understanding the platform. On LinkedIn, for example, you will increase your posts reach if you put the link to an article in the comments instead of the body of the original post.

Without an attractive post and meaningful message, however, the views will remain low and the interactions will be few.

Historically, my engagement on LinkedIn was subpar. I would get 150–350 views on a post and a handful of interactions. Since I started treating my opening lines like headlines, my engagement has taken off.

Here are examples in back to back posts:

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Which stands out more to you?

Social media can help drive eyeballs to your writing and build up your email list. Those things won’t happen unless you are able to draw the reader in. Blogs often rely on the headline for an initial click while social media gives you a couple of lines.

Use them well.

Think of the content on social media as the beginning of an article. You want to draw the reader in. On the flip side, writing more on LinkedIn and learning how to drive engagement on all of my social media platforms has helped me with the beginning sections of my articles.

Investing in my coworkers through email

It’s easy to forget about the power of writing outside of published material.

Fill an email with grammatical errors and your coworker will question your overall capabilities. Throw multiple spelling errors in each PowerPoint slide will distract an audience from the intended message. Write a proposal with the voice of a fourth-grader and the project may never progress to the next stage.

As the National Director of Quality and Research and Orthopedic Residency Program Coordinator for a large physical therapy practice, training and communication are regular components of my job.

Writing research manuscripts involves multiple drafts and editors. It is a skill to develop and a writing type that can interfere with other writing, such as blogs, but my greatest influence lies in other writing.

My regular practice-wide emails about clinical quality, the latest research, and practice outcomes are used as springboards for meaningful discussions in the clinic.

Well, that’s the theory.

When I first started writing newsletters to my coworkers, I wrote expansive, deep dives into the research. I wrote as if I was writing to a practice of researchers. As you can imagine, the engagement was minimal.

It wasn’t until I started seeking feedback — surveys are valuable tools — that I realized my writing was missing the mark.

Now, I write shorter snippets with greater frequency. I provide resources that allow for further exploration into the topic but my writing hits the main points early and often. I give my coworkers the highlight reel rather than rewriting a manuscript.

The engagement has soared while my frustrations have fallen.

Common themes across all writing

While we may tweak the style of our writing for the audience and method of delivery — social media vs. blog vs. formal proposal — many of the same principles remain.

Use the fewest words necessary to effectively deliver the message. Know your audience and tailor the message to them. Eradicate grammatical mistakes. Be authentic. Do your homework.

There are other writing tips, tricks, and insights to learn and refine, but the overarching themes remain. To develop those skills, however, you have to write in different formats for different audiences. You also need a mechanism of feedback and to reflect on ways to improve your writing.

Writing well is challenging and it is only the first step. If you can’t engage your audience on the platform you selected, the quality of the writing becomes irrelevant.

I have much to learn in both writing and engagement and I will continue learning through action, feedback, and reflection.