Writing: Your Way to Fame and Fortune

By Smith, Alvie | Communication World, October 1994 | Go to article overview
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Writing: Your Way to Fame and Fortune


Smith, Alvie, Communication World


Writers are a special breed. Good writers are in short supply and great demand. Today, as throughout history, they are the main translators of knowledge.

Talented writers are asked to take technical statements from many specialty fields and make them understandable. They are expected to turn dull copy into interesting and colorful articles. In corporate communication, they are asked to probe and explore to find the good to balance the bad so often highlighted on TV and radio, and in newspapers.

In achieving these difficult tasks, talented writers require special handling and the opportunity to be innovative, to try new methods and ideas in their modes of expression. If they play their cards right and take advantage of opportunities, they can earn high pay and have lots of fun doing big and exciting things.

The problem is that many writers are too modest, mild-mannered or unwilling to work hard enough on their skills every day to get on the fast track. Some view their jobs too narrowly and end up with 30-year careers as news writers, technical writers or publication editors.

Certainly, these are important and respected jobs in the communication profession. But for those who have that special "writer's magic" and higher ambitions, there are mountains of bigger opportunities.

Based on a half-century of writing experience, here are some suggestions for younger professionals on how they can become better writers, communicators and managers:

Accelerate your vocabulary development.

In the normal process of writing, you'll see a steady increase in your vocabulary. But force fertilize this growth process by a commitment to learn one or two additional words every day. Become best friends with the dictionary, thesaurus and nearby libraries. Nothing is more important to a writer's development than an expanding vocabulary; it is the toolhouse of creative communication.

The English language contains more than 300,000 words, according to the Oxford University Press. While college graduates probably have "a known vocabulary" of around 30,000 words, the number used on a regular basis is "probably quite a small percentage of this," the OUP states.

If you learn one new word every day, your vocabulary would increase by an additional 9,000 words over the next 25 years -- and that'll give you a huge competitive advantage. As you select these new words, find ways to use them right away so they become a part of your own everyday dictionary.

Develop strong reading habits.

Make reading at least one daily newspaper and one weekly news magazine a must. This, of course, is a primary source for discovering new words. In addition, it will keep you up to date on what's happening in the world and also to become familiar with various types of good writing -- which is the core for all communication media. Relying on TV newscasts is a lazy habit that unfortunately deprives viewers of the right to select which stories and how much detail they want to learn on which subjects. It also does nothing to help develop your vocabulary or writing techniques -- unless you're angling for a TV newscaster's job. And more and more, local TV shows are heavy on sleaze and violence and light on useful information.

Develop a habit of reading books, too, even though you have "a hundred other things to do." This will provide an additional source of new knowledge and different writing techniques. Don't neglect the classics, either; they have a beauty all their own.

Research thoroughly before writing or interviewing.

It's easy to assume -- particularly if you're young and feel indestructible -- that you know everything there is to know about a subject. But the older you get, the more you realize that very little is new. Most of it's been discovered or said before in one way or another.

It's important to dig under the surface to find the pearls that turn dull into interesting, revealing writing.

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