repen-t-deactivated20120810 asked: I am an up-and-coming journalist, and I'm currently writing short things every day and not really liking where they go, and how I write them. I'd like to be more confident and proud of my writing, as to want to actually publish something in my lifetime. What tips do you have for writing well? Thank you!x

Hi Emily,

For starters, if you really are 14 (got that from the FAQ on your tumblr, nice touch), kudos to you for thinking about this stuff so young. You’ll certainly publish something in your lifetime…we hope many somethings that you are proud of and happy with.

First tip: Read read read. A lot of great journalism (especially long-form) can be found online, but do read great books too. For writing tips, read the Elements of Style by Strunk & White. Read George Orwell’s essay, Politics and the English Language, which has important writing tips in it. Someone once asked Michael to suggest long-form writing favorites, which you can check out here. Read The New Yorker. Harper’s. The New Republic. Check out longreads.com. If you want to get super ambitious and check out good journalism, see Columbia Journalism School’s suggested reading list for its students (yes, you still have summer reading in grad school). Also these 50 great stories. Make friends with your local librarian (seriously, that would make me so happy) and ask him/her for book suggestions. He or she will surely be delighted and it’ll be easier than browsing around by yourself.

Second tip: Keep writing short things every day. Try out some long things too. You don’t have to like where they go. You just have to keep writing them. Do you share them with anyone? Seek out people you trust—teachers, parents, uncles, aunts, friends, even authors you admire—and show them your stuff. If you want to be a journalist, you’re going to have to be able to deal with criticism and editing (and it can be harsh) from your editors. Feedback is incredibly important. 

Third tip: When I was in high school I did all kinds of writing exercises for the heck of it. I always carried a notebook around and wrote down what I was thinking or seeing (especially in idle moments…or when bio class was super boring). I often went to coffee shops with a notebook and secretly observed people and made up stories about what they were doing. I did writing exercises (ie: open up a random book, close your eyes, point to a word, write for 5 minutes about that word). And I watched the nightly news with my dad (didn’t understand all of it) but went to my room afterwards and wrote out in my own words what the news of the day was. Also, when I’m writing something and I don’t know where it is going or I’m not sure if it makes sense, I’ll stop writing the thing and instead write a letter to a friend about the thing. Sometimes it helps to write TO someone. You don’t have to send the letter.

Fourth tip: Believe in yourself! You know that famous Ira Glass quote about taste and creativity? It’s totally true. Keep at it! And if you ever feel like it, you are completely welcome to send me your stuff (jihii@thefjp.org) for feedback. 

Fifth Tip: Don’t wear yourself out. Don’t judge yourself. And make sure you are having fun, because that’s the only thing that’ll keep you at it. —Jihii