How to “succeed” as a writer

So you want to be a writer? OK. Then first things first… Avoid these common mistakes in order to produce quality content that delivers the right message to the right audience.

1. Don’t do your homework.

Believe it or not, most of the people you’ll interview as a journalist aren’t sitting around waiting for your call. Equally important, they don’t have plenty of time on their hands to shoot the breeze with you. That’s why it’s important to be prepared and know something about their business or product in advance so you have a context for the interview.

2. Assume you know the story before you ask the questions.

You’ve been around the block a time or two and have pretty much seen it all. There’s not much that can surprise you these days. So when you receive an assignment, you think you can almost write the article first, and then just cherry pick some quotes that support what you know to be the real story. Wrong. Ask well conceived, insightful questions and listen to the answers.

3. Don’t take notes.

Since you already know the story, why bother to take notes or record the interview? You’ve got a mind like steel wool, as they say. What are the odds you’ll forget a handful of numbers or a few quotes between now and next month when you write the article? If you do happen to miss something, you can paraphrase. And there’s always Google.

4. Interject politics or religion into an interview.

People don’t care about your politics or religion. Nor do they care about your thoughts on the eternal secrets of the universe. In fact, just like in conversations with casual friends and associates, these subjects should be taboo. For example if you’re interviewing the CFO of a Wall Street firm who says, “There are many strategies that small-to-medium-sized businesses can use to lower their tax burden,” you probably don’t want to respond with, “I can’t write that. It’s time to make those fat cats pay their fair share!”

5. Adopt the “Just in Time” Approach to Project Completion

While you might think that you work best under pressure, you can’t count on waiting until the eleventh hour to complete an assignment that represents your best work. What if an interview you have scheduled falls through? What if you have to fact check a source and that attempt fails? What if you’re creative juices go on hiatus? If you wait until the last minute to start an article, you’re doomed. Clients and editors won’t accept shoddy work, turned in at the last minute.

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