By: Marilyn L. Davis
What Are Skills?
Skill mixes knowledge, qualities and abilities developed from life and work experiences. There are essentially two types of skills:
- Soft skills are people skills. Although they are challenging to define, they can include communication styles, active listening, empathy, teamwork, and work ethic.
- Hard skills relate more to an individual’s ability to function at their jobs like computer literacy, SEO knowledge, research skills, and social media.
“The only way to thrive in the future is to focus on what you love, develop knowledge and skills in the service of your passion, and be relentless in doing the work.”― Dragos Bratasanu, The Pursuit of Dreams: Claim Your Power, Follow Your Heart, and Fulfill Your Destiny
Learning New Skills and Maximizing on Those You Have
A writer needs to have several soft skills to write with passion and purpose and hopefully get published. While these are not the only soft skills required, I believe they will help you improve your writing, whether your blog, a guest post or a book.
Soft Skills for Writers
1. Learn to Effectively Communicate
Writers tend to communicate using words they learned or language from their lives. But all writers use three categories in their communication:
- Style is the mechanical or technical element of writing and can include specific topic requirements.
- Voice is the unique viewpoint or word choice of the writer.
- Tone is the attitude stated directly or implied in writing.
Ask yourself how you want to be perceived by the reader. Funny? Friendly? Helpful, Entertaining? Enchanting? When you know how you want to engage your reader, it will help you frame your writing.
2. Become an Active Listener
I’ve said that writers are voyeurs. We watch, observe, and take in the subtle nuances of conversations around us – never engaging, but always listening. Why? Because if we want authenticity in our writing, especially for novels, we have to get the cadence, drawl, or speech inflections correct for our characters, the era of the book, or lifestyles we’re writing about; otherwise, it rings false.
3. Practice Empathy
Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Too many writers miss this engaging way of writing because they are too literal in the approach. It is not about sharing the experience but the feelings and thoughts.
I write to the addicted population on From Addict 2 Advocate, and many of my readers are 20 something males. We have many differences—age, gender, lifestyle, education, work experiences, and opportunities.
Yet, I can write to and for them because I can empathize with loss, addiction, trauma, redemption, making amends, and creating a new life. Comments on the posts, both on the site and Facebook, let me know they are engaged even with the differences. A word of caution here—don’t try to be empathetic with slang, jargon, or “in words.” People will know it’s fake and leave.
4. Use Teamwork
Written your post and ready to publish? Got your novel up to 90,000 words, and you know Amazon needs it? Ready to send that query letter to fifty literary agents? Good for you. But who reviews the words to see if they make sense, your tenses are correct, or you’ve got typos you’ve missed? Who is giving you feedback? Who is editing and revising?
An editor forms a partnership with you. It’s your words, but their keen eye for detail that can make the difference is acceptance and rejection.
I know some of you think you’re stuck because you don’t have beta readers in your family, and you’re not inclined to ask friends, or you’re not going to hire an editor for a blog post. You can still use online editing to ensure that your writing is stellar. Grammarly, Hemingway, ProWritingAid, and Paperrater are all useful for editing. Each has free and paid versions.
Depending on the scope of your work, one of these will help you find and correct grammar, syntax, punctuation, and redundancy—and as an editor, I appreciate it when a submission is edited.
5. Develop a Good Work Ethic
If you want to be a writer, you have to write. Before you criticize me for being simplistic, it is that simple and hard. If you don’t commit to putting words on the page, you have nothing to prove that you’re a writer.
Your work ethic is going to be dictated by you. I’ve created an imaginary boss who occupies space in my head and greets me each morning with, “Get it done.” It may be a post for Two Drops of Ink or From Addict 2 Advocate, an edit for one of them, or posting on social media for new posts or my books, but they all revolve around being a writer.
I’m a morning person now, so my energy level is highest then. I’m usually up by 5:30 AM. I drink drip coffee, so I feed my cat, Jackson, while it’s making. He’s the only obligation I have before I get to one of the writing tasks. Feed him, take my coffee to the desk, set an online timer, and start whichever task needs my attention first.
I also put my phone on silent for one hour. I don’t procrastinate and check Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, or play some mindless match-3 game with my morning coffee like I used to. When my first hour is up, I can feel productive, take a short break – usually imposed by the ever-demanding Jackson, and either do other household chores or commit to another hour of writing tasks. Either way, I’ll get back to my writing for a total of three hours before noon each day.
Hard Skills for Writers
6. Computer Literacy
Regardless of what you’re writing, you’ll need to be familiar with basic computer word programs if you’re sending a submission, query letter, or writing the next best-selling novel. Typically, most of us write in Microsoft Word; however, I know writers who use Apple Pages or Google Docs and writing apps like Scrivener.
The most important thing is to have a program that will meet the submission requirements when you submit guest posts or manuscripts. Making an editor download another app to view your submission may be the deciding factor in whether they review your post or not. In the case of submission guidelines, if they state, “Write your submission in Microsoft Word,” or they require a particular font or size, I’d suggest you follow the directions.
7. Understand SEO
When writing your blog post or submitting a guest post, understand Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
Search engines question whether a blog or post offers value. While you may think that you’ve written an informative, engaging, and exciting post, that doesn’t translate into value – search engines ultimately determine value.
It’s essential to stay aware of SEO trends, and someone to follow is Neil Patel, as he always offers sound SEO information. However, to simplify, great content combines SEO-friendly titles, summaries, and content with titles, summaries, and content that your readers will enjoy, too.
Yoast is a plugin that I use on two WordPress sites to ensure the posts are SEO optimized. In addition to the color-coded alerts for SEO, Yoast offers some excellent information in their training posts.
8. Research: Going Beyond Google
I’ve said it before, “Even my grandson can Google.” He had a paper to write on dinosaurs and I was visiting, so we looked up dinosaurs on Google. His eyes got big, and he said, “Nana, there’s a lot out there about dinosaurs.” In fact, there were over 78 million posts. I asked him if he had a specific dinosaur in mind to narrow our search, and he did. Oculudentavis khaungraae is the smallest dinosaur, and we got 39,000 posts on Google. Picking several, we both got an education about this dinosaur and learned that scientists mistook the original fossil for a bird but later changed their minds and learned it was a type of lizard. I showed him that there were other search engines or more scholarly reports on his dinosaur, so he learned about various search engines as well.
He got an ‘A’ on his report, but you’re writing more than a report for school, so do you pick the first three or four offerings on Google? No. You look for sites with authority, good rankings, and information that compliments your posts and gives readers a more in-depth article about your topic. You alert readers and Search Engines to what your content contains by linking to it, as I’ve done with Neil Patel and Oculudentavis khaungraae.
Strong research skills go beyond asking Google for an article on ‘X.’ Using dinosaurs as the starting point again; we can expand that to:
- cutest (I know, you weren’t expecting that one)
- non-carnivorous or herbivore dinosaurs
9. Participate on Social Media Platforms
You may be an excellent writer, but your writing will languish in obscurity if you do not stay up to date with the latest trends. Are you letting people know about your blogs, other writing, and books on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, or producing short-form videos to promote yourself?
According to LaterBlogs:
- Videos on Instagram get more engagement than other formats
- Tweets with videos generate 10x more engagement than those without
- Pinterest reported a 240% increase YoY of organic video pins from 2020 to 2021
An active presence on a few social platforms means you increase your exposure, find new readers, and your books may sell. You do this by creating a network of people that you can support and who support you. You share them; they share you. This simple act will multiply the chances of your writing getting noticed.
It’s Not All About the Writing Anymore
“You wouldn’t know how far you can go in mastering a skill or gaining experience unless you strive and give all your effort to achieve that. Those who mastered some wonderful skill like drawing, writing, learning a new language, cooking, or whatever beautiful skill there is, spent the time and effort and were very patient in seeking that dream. If you have the potential, then don’t waste your time dreaming of mastering what you want but work on it.”― Noora Ahmed Alsuwaidi
Take the time to develop your soft and hard skills to compete in today’s highly competitive market. You can still craft posts on your niche topic. There’s no shortage of readers for your genre, either.
But to stay relevant and attract readers, you need to write so that readers are engaged, your writing resonates with your readers, and make sure your writing ranks well with search engines.
Bio: Marilyn L. Davis
Marilyn L. Davis is the Editor-in-Chief at From Addict 2 Advocate and Two Drops of Ink. She is also the author of Finding North: A Journey from Addict to Advocate and Memories into Memoir: The Mindsets and Mechanics Workbook, available on Amazon, at Barnes and Noble, Indie Books, and Books A Million.
For editing services, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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