I Work From Home — Here’s How I Stay Focused and Write … A Lot

Being too easily distracted is just an excuse.

Do you want to know what the most challenging part of my job is?

It’s not coming up with ideas. Or setting deadlines. Or working 10 to 12-hour days during the week.

It’s staying focused.

I get up. I’m tired. I write a lot. Coffee. I write some more. Food. More writing. More coffee.

I write over 5,000 words a day across my many responsibilities as a person creating stuff on the internet. That’s not a complaint — to be completely honest, it’s an accomplishment that took years of hard work and training to achieve. I know writing seems like an easy job to many people, but it’s not. Writers don’t make a lot of money. We have to overcompensate to afford the necessities. You know, like books.

Want to know the best part of my job? I never have to leave my room.

How do I do this? How do I consistently write for my employer, write for my clients, post on this blog, Do All The Things when I’m basically working unsupervised at a tiny desk two feet from my bed?

Great question! I’m glad you asked.

I make daily to-do lists.

Before I go to sleep, I write down in my planner everything I need to get done tomorrow. Sometimes, if I need an extra layer of “do this or else,” I’ll create a virtual list of tasks in Asana (it’s an app built for teams, but I am my own team, so THERE). I do this nightly because I prefer to wake up and start getting stuff done right away. That’s right — sometimes productivity happens even before the coffee’s done. Unless it’s a Friday, of course. Sometimes I let myself sleep in a little later on Fridays. (!)

Some people hate making lists; for some, it just doesn’t work. If a planner doesn’t work and a task manager like Asana doesn’t keep you on track, then making lists just isn’t part of your workflow process. That’s fine. It’s what works for me — it took some trial and error to figure that out — and so that’s what I do. Crossing things off makes me feel good. It will never stop bringing me joy.

I use Cold Turkey.

It’s a desktop app. The free version lets you “block” a selected list of websites for a certain amount of time (during my work day, eight hours). While I’m at work, I can’t check Facebook, get lost in a BuzzFeed vortex, or reply to tweets. It turns out I’m not as addicted to any of these things as I thought: if I really wanted them that badly, I’d just turn the app off.

You’d be surprised how easy it is to avoid distractions when they’re not available. What I love most about this app is that it doesn’t block everything. You can still Google search, you can still check email — it doesn’t block you completely from the internet as a whole unless you tell it to.

My phone doesn’t have very many apps.

I’ve even recently removed email from my phone. I used to be one of those people who was “proud” to say she checked her email every hour, all day long. I can’t, and don’t want to, do that to myself anymore. First of all, email is a grossly ineffective form of communication since most people don’t know how to use it productively. Also, I’m not cool enough to get a lot of emails. 80 percent of the emails I get are from lists, Barnes & Noble, or spam.

I don’t have Facebook, YouTube, or gaming apps on my iPhone at all. I haven’t gotten rid of my WordPress or Twitter apps simply because, to be honest, I need those occasional bursts of satisfaction every time one of you likes a post (my Millennialism is showing … ). But even those things distract me way more often than they should. I love notifications, but I try to minimize them as much as possible.

I don’t like being late.

I get anxious when a deadline approaches. I try to get things done early when I can — bust mostly, I just try to stay on track from day to day. I do not sleep well when there is something that needs to be done that I haven’t gotten around to yet. Yes, I have been late before — I’m not perfect. But it is not an experience that I enjoy, nor have I ever had a reasonable excuse for it.

Above all, I treat my work as if I am a paid professional — because, I guess, I technically am. People are depending on me to get things done. Often times, someone is waiting on me to finish something so they can send it off to someone else. Being late, in my opinion, is unacceptable, and I have a very hard time understanding why there are people who don’t seem to agree. A deadline is a deadline for a reason. It’s disrespectful not to keep a promise.

I love what I do.

I don’t know exactly how I got to this point, but I happen to do a job that I look forward to arriving at and don’t look forward to leaving. It happened unexpectedly and it was the best miracle I could have asked for at 24. Yes, sometimes I get distracted. Sometimes I have a rough day. It happens to all of us. But I genuinely love my job. I WANT to work. I WANT to be productive. I WANT to feel fulfilled.

I know that kind of thing does not come very easily to very many people, so “find a job you love” would not be the best advice to give here. Instead, I’ll tell you this: do what you like. It might be part of your job, it might just be a hobby. Regardless, there has to be a part of your life you love more than you’ve ever loved anything in this world. That is what is going to keep you going, especially when nothing else will.

If you are “blocked,” it is almost always because you’re letting distractions interrupt you. Or you’ve been focusing too long and you need a break. TAKE BREAKS. Switch between tasks every once in awhile, but don’t stop working until you’re done. If that’s too hard, you’re either trying to do too much or you’re not doing the right kind of work for you. Writing is hard. If you’re up for the challenge, make it happen.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Do You Know How to Write Good Emails? Your Success Might Depend On It.

Email etiquette is essential as an aspiring writer.

I hate email.

Let me say it again, louder: I. HATE. EMAIL.

I actually don’t hate sending emails. I’m an introvert, I have anxiety — email is my favorite way to conduct business!

What I hate is trying to work with or alongside people who don’t know how to utilize email correctly.

The majority of people — even professionals, or those aspiring to be — have forgotten how to properly send messages. I can understand if a friend’s email to me about something random is full of typos. But if you’re trying to sell yourself as a professional (or aspiring) writer, and you can’t write an email, you’re not leaving any good first impressions.

I’m convinced a writer’s success is largely dependent upon their ability to communicate effectively through email.

As an editor — and, I suppose, even as a writer trying to communicate with freelance clients — the people that are most difficult to work with are those who have zero email etiquette skills (or who simply don’t check their email at least once a day).

This goes beyond those who send one-sentence emails from there iPhones without punctuation. Some people don’t know how to get to the point. Others don’t proofread. (You can’t click “edit” on an email you’ve already sent — this is not Facebook.) If I get another email from someone who clearly hasn’t read the instructions I’ve given for sending an email to me (e.g., submitting an application to write for me), I’m going to start throwing things.

In case you were wondering, this is how not to email an editor.

Too many writers send emails that are “I-centric,” and in this industry, that just doesn’t work. To be completely honest, if I’m reading an email from you for the first time, I don’t care about you — why should I? I don’t know you. Yet the point of your email is not to tell me how great you are. It’s to show me, an editor, why our email should matter to me and my publication.

Writing an email is supposed to accomplish something. It’s supposed to explain exactly how you expect the receiver to respond. If there’s no call to action (even a simple “let me know you’ve received this” or “does that make sense?”), you just wasted my time.

(Side note – spam emails are a great example of everything never to do in an email ever.)

There are also people who don’t see the value of email as a replacement for those five minute meetings that “could have been covered in an email.” It recently took me a week to schedule what I thought was an important meeting with a client (the scheduling conflicts were their issue, not mine). After all that back-and-forth, the meeting only ended up lasting about four minutes. Essentially, I was told to “keep doing what I was doing.” They could have just said that in an email. It would have saved me plenty of time.

As a writer, you have to master the basics. Entrepreneur has a helpful list of basic email etiquette tips to follow when submitting an article or for any professional communications in general.

Think of every email as a cover letter or even a query letter to an agent, if that’s your thing. First impressions are everything. If I’m responding to a freelance job listing, my first email or message to that contact IS my cover letter. I’m not just going to say “Hi I want this job please hire me.” Dear God. I hope people don’t actually do that.

The first writing sample a potential editor, client, or boss ever sees from you is most likely your first email to them. Make it count.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

I Found My Voice By Blogging to an Audience of Two

Maybe being invisible isn’t such a bad thing after all.

In high school, I started a blog — as many before me already had. I’m not sure what finally made me decide to do it or what I expected to gain from it (if anything). But one thing I do know is, I had an absolute blast writing about my life.

It’s not that I loved talking about myself. Cringe — I still hate it.

What I loved was finally having a place to put all the thoughts, observations, and ideas I couldn’t fit into the margins of my algebra notes.

My blog became a place where I could start experimenting with words. I’m sure some of my friends knew about what I was posting — those two or three original readers had to come from somewhere. But to me, my blog was a medium for telling the world how I felt about, well, everything.

I’m not completely certain — I don’t have the means of looking further into my data at the moment — but from what I can remember, it took until about my fourth or fifth year of blogging to hit 25 followers.

For the first year, at least, I’m pretty sure I had exactly two.

I spent all that time writing to no more than two or three people. And I just kept writing.

Why did I do that, if people weren’t really reading or following me?

Because I recognized that something was happening.

The more I blogged, the more comfortable I became writing in my own voice.

This is probably one of the most important concepts I do my best to get across to my readers today: in the early stages of writing, your willingness to stay consistent and improve is essential. It’s more important than gaining hundreds of readers. It’s more important than getting thousands of comments.

It’s more important than getting noticed at all.

You will always be writing for an audience. When I didn’t have one, I wrote to who I ideally imagined would read a blog like mine (maybe other teenage introverts who liked to write — I really don’t recall). But I didn’t care that my audience was small. I cared that I was writing in a tone and style that reflected who I was — and the voice I wanted to carry as a writer.

If it weren’t for those early years of blogging, I’m not sure how the rest of my writing “career” would have turned out. Only when I gave myself a place to “go nuts” without a fear of being judged did I begin to find that voice every writer always fears they’ll never find.

If I ever get around to starting another blog, I want to write a dozen or so posts and leave them sitting there until I’m ready to launch. I want to find the exact tone and style and manner of communicating with my audience before I meet them. Because that’s how I ended up starting my first blog, in a way. I was invisible. The reality is, even if I started another blog today, it wouldn’t take long for someone to find it. That’s just what happens when you spend years developing a personal brand. You’re no longer invisible.

This is no longer my personal blog. I’m proud of what Novelty Revisions has become, and I don’t regret changing my blogging approach. But every once in awhile, a post will go up on my Tumblr page or Medium profile — some serious, some absolutely ridiculous. Something I feel I need to publish that doesn’t fit into Novelty’s brand.

I don’t do this because I expect people to read these posts. In fact, most don’t. I do it because sometimes, I still need to practice writing well while keeping things casual. I think everyone needs to refine this skill — even if you’ve already found and continue to strengthen your voice. Sometimes, I write for fun. I expect no payoff, financially or otherwise. I see absolutely nothing wrong with this — and neither should you.

Embrace your invisibility. This is your time to figure out who you are, what you want to say, how you want to say it. Stop worrying so much about how many people are or aren’t watching you. Work your way up to creating an amazing stream of written content so that when people do find you, they’ll be glad they did.

You may only be writing to two people. But that’s how you’ll find your voice. And you’ll have zero regrets.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Can’t Get Into a Flow State? Here’s Why.

NOTHING’S WORKING. SEND HELP.

You know what I hate? Trying to write, but not being able to focus.

It happens to all of us. The way to overcome it is to figure out what’s stopping you from getting your work done before you give up — or deciding what you’re going to do to snap your brain into focus mode.

There are a number of reasons why you’re not writing as productively as you’d like to be. Here’s everything you can try to fix your creative block.

It’s not the right time

Sometimes, productivity is time-dependent. I know I’m most productive very early in the morning and between the hours of 5 and 9 p.m. — so that’s when I try to tackle my most important tasks outside of my full-time job. If you’re trying to write, and it’s just not happening, you might be trying to write outside your ideal productivity window. Try writing at different times of the day for a week or so to figure out your most productive time of day.

You’re in the wrong place

Can’t write more than a sentence without checking Facebook? A change of scenery might do the trick. (Also, stop checking Facebook.) If your office isn’t doing it for you, move to a different room. Or go to a coffee shop. Don’t want to sit in your chair anymore? Move to the floor. Sometimes your brain just needs to reset, and moving around can help trigger it.

You haven’t set an end goal

I find I have the hardest time “getting into it” when I don’t know what I’m getting into. Am I about to do a few hours’ worth of research? Am I writing one article before I can call it quits for the day? Two? Three? Don’t start writing aimlessly. “I’ll write until I’m tired” is not a good way to start off. Try to write 500 words, 10 pages, or three chapters. No goal is too small — just pick something and go for it.

You don’t have an incentive

Last night, I did not want to get my work done. However, I told myself that if I finished by 11:00, I could watch an episode of Parks & Rec. I finished by eleven, and went straight to Netflix. That urge to skip the work and go right to the reward was strong, but my willpower was stronger. I knew I would not have enjoyed the reward without having done the work. It might work the same way for you. Just do it. There’s something fun waiting at the finish line — as long as you keep your promise to yourself.

You need a vacation

Burnout is a real thing. For some, it’s occasional, and hard to recognize. For others, it’s more of a chronic condition — a familiar set of symptoms with seemingly no way out. If you’re trying desperately to get some writing done, and you just can’t, exhaustion might be to blame. If you need a break, take one. If you can’t right now, schedule one. You’ll come back feeling refreshed and ready to tackle your assignments without quite as much struggle — even if your break only lasts one night.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

How to Create Your Own Formula for Writing Success

This is about you, and figuring out how YOU are going to succeed.

Professionally, I’ve been writing since 2013. Personally, I’ve “been a writer” since first grade. I’ve had a lot of time and many opportunities to figure out exactly what works for me and what doesn’t.

I know my best time of day to write blog posts, which hours of the day I struggle to focus the most, which projects are going to take me the longest, and how to appear much more confident in pitch emails than I actually am.

I know exactly what works for me. But what works for me might not work for you.

I love giving writing advice. But I’m not here to force my methods on you. It’s my mission, as a blogger, to help you figure out how to succeed as a writer — in whatever ways work for you.

So here’s how you can take some important steps to create your own “success formula” as a writer. This is about you, what you want to accomplish, and how you can best tackle every project you take on. Answer the following questions, and you’ll have the exact formula YOU need to make writing happen.

What motivates you?

When it’s Monday and you have a headache and all you want to do is crawl back into bed and ignore all your responsibilities, what’s the one thing that drives you to write anyway? For me, it’s career goals. For you, it might be a paycheck. Or page views. Maybe your goals are short-term — writing a certain number of words this week, or long-term — getting something published this year. Motivation could be a combination of all these things and more. If you want to succeed in writing, you have to know what motivates you to get work done even when you’d rather be doing everything else.

What distracts/halts you?

However, knowing what motivates you does no good if you don’t also know what keeps you away from your work. Is it stress or anxiety? Video games? Do you keep trying to get work done at a certain time of day, even though it’s never effective? Once you know your biggest roadblocks when it comes to writing, you can start taking steps to overcome them. If I could, I would spend all day every day reading and watching videos with Huskies in them. I don’t. Unless I’ve gotten all my work done for the day. Then I’m allowed to dive into Husky heaven. It took years for me to build up the discipline to avoid my distractions. I’m not perfect — but I’ve improved significantly. You can, too.

What do you care about?

Writing is pointless if you don’t care about the subject matter you’re covering. You won’t want to do it. You’ll fight it the whole way even if you do manage to get it done. And even when you do, your lack of enthusiasm will show through in your writing. So if you want to be a successful writer, one of the most important things you can do is to focus on writing only about what matters to you. Only then will you find readers and fellow writers who are just as passionate about your niche as you are.

Who are you trying to reach?

Speaking of niches … do you have one? You need to. There was one point, while freelancing, I was writing about health, dating, fashion, education, and self-improvement simultaneously. That’s too many things at once. I’ve had more success as a health writer than I ever would have if I’d kept trying to focus on all those other topic areas. You don’t have to be an expert in your niche, but if you want to establish credibility, it’s best to focus in on a niche, target the people in that niche, and build your way up from there.

What message do you need to deliver to the world before you die?

This sounds a little morbid, but maybe that’s a good thing. Imagine you’re a messenger with one sole purpose: to deliver a package to the “who” part of this equation. If life were an adventure novel, you, the story’s protagonist, would stop at nothing to accomplish your ultimate goal. Despite struggles along the way, your greatest motivation is getting that package to its destination. Why can’t you treat your writing the same way? Your message is that one thing people get wrong that you barely hesitate to correct. It’s that thing you feel you understand better than anyone else. Whether that’s true or not, go on a mission to write until the world — or just your audience — is aware.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

My Biggest Blogging Mistakes (and How You Can Avoid Making Them)

I didn’t know blogging had rules.

This blog technically celebrated its eighth birthday at the beginning of 2017, though it would go through at least three name changes and a major style upgrade before it became the blog you now know and hopefully like a little bit today.

Eight years is a lot of time to make mistakes — many mistakes. But I wouldn’t be where I am today without my baby. Starting a blog today is much different than it was in 2009. It’s a lot harder to discover and commit to reading new blogs because LITERALLY EVERYONE has a blog. But if you do want to stand out, I’ve shared my biggest blogging mistakes below, in hopes you won’t make the same ones as you start to grow your own thought storage units.

Writing bad headlines

When I first started publishing my thoughts on the internet, headlines weren’t my main concern. Sometimes they’re still not, to be completely honest, if I think it’s clever and don’t care about views. I’m not even sure how much they mattered back then in general. Now, your headline is everything. If you have a bad or unspecific headline, people aren’t going to click on it. If you’re not concerned about that, well, keep on keeping on. But SEO won’t pick up on it, people likely won’t take the time to click on it, and for the love of god, if it’s a false or misleading headline, stop blogging now.

Writing badly in general

I’ve never been a “bad” writer. But I remember at least a dozen posts I published for some reason that were just a sentence or two long. I didn’t link to anything or post a picture, it was just those two sentences. As if I expected someone to read what was essentially a Twitter post on a blog page. That’s not interesting and it doesn’t belong on a blog. I read a lot of blogs (I like seeing what you guys are up to!). Every once in awhile I’ll stumble upon a random one (not one of yours) that’s just … bad. It’s written badly, it’s not grammatically sound, it doesn’t really have much to say … that’s not impressive. Don’t just post for the sake of posting. Post well-written content that has a purpose for being on the internet.

Not posting consistently

I’d go weeks at a time without posting in the early days. I was a “post when I have something to say” kind of blogger, and especially now, that doesn’t cut it. If you keep disappearing and reappearing at random intervals, people aren’t going to keep coming back to your blog. They will forget about you. Posting every day is NOT necessary — do not do as I do unless you’re EXTREMELY committed to what you’re doing or you’ll hurt yourself. But stick to some kind of schedule, for your sake more than your readers’. If you can’t keep up with a blog consistently, it’s not going to grow.

Talking about myself too much

When I started blogging, I treated my blog like a public diary. Any commentary I had on my life or anything happening in the world around me, I put it on my blog. Back then, I wasn’t trying to be useful to anyone or say anything significant. I just wanted a place to dump my weird, disoriented brain thoughts. If that’s all you’re blogging for, keep doing what you’re doing. But don’t expect to gain much of a following outside your friend circle (if even that). These days, even blogs focused on one person have a purpose other than “let me spend a few hundred words talking about myself.”

Not bringing myself into the conversation enough

As my blog started transitioning from a personal space to a more professional “hub,” for awhile I stopped talking about myself completely. That really wasn’t good for the blog. Something only written by you, about something you’re (basically) an expert in, needs a little personality. You shouldn’t spend the whole post talking only about you — you always have to relate it back to something a reader will benefit from. But telling stories, sharing personal experiences and memories related to the topic of your post — that’s what makes your blog posts unique.

Not knowing my niche (or that you had to have one)

I wrote about everything. My focus has always been on writing, since the whole reason I started a blog in the first place was because my favorite author had a blog AND I WANTED TO BE AN AUTHOR TOO. But most of my posts were random (I think there’s a SCANNED IMAGE of my high school algebra notes still on the internet somewhere….). People were not interested in that, and I pretty much knew that. But only when I decided I wanted to write about writing did I realize I needed everything I posted to belong specifically in that niche. Do not write about random topics. Always bring it back to your blog’s focus somehow even if you do.

Honestly, I still make plenty of mistakes. You never stop learning, as a writer. I embrace those. I do my best to learn from them. I hope my dedication to continuing to do this whole blogging thing, despite not always doing it well, will inspire you to keep publishing your own thoughts, too.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Why You Need One Project Without a Deadline

Write freely – sometimes.

No matter what kind of writing you’re doing, everything has a deadline at some point. We’re even encouraged to stamp deadlines onto our goals to make sure we actually follow through with them.

This isn’t all bad. Deadlines teach discipline, help you manage your procrastination, and force you to remain productive even when you “aren’t feeling motivated.” I encourage all actively aspiring writers, especially those newer to writing, to set their own deadlines as a practice tool for writing in the real world.

But sometimes, having a deadline when you don’t need one isn’t the best decision for you. Not all the time.

Because sometimes, too many deadlines can affect your work. Deadlines can become a source of unnecessary stress. While most deadlines are inevitable, not every single project needs one.

In an industry where deadlines are the structural framework holding everything together, always have one writing project on your plate that doesn’t have any.

I thoroughly enjoy the 10 to 15 minutes per day I get to spend working on my novel. I get very little done, it’s not high on my priority list, but it’s something I get to work on without any pressure to work or perform. If something comes up and I can’t work on it one day, sirens don’t start wailing in the back of my mind. I can just say, “OK, no problem.”

As much as I believe all writers should challenge themselves to do better, you can’t try to outperform yourself 24/7. It’s not good for your creativity, it’s not good for your mental or physical health. There’s a time stamp on every project in my Asana board right now except one. And it just makes me feel a little bit more in control of my time.

Sometimes, projects take a long time. You get stuck, you’re distracted by other things — but that’s not as bad as we’ve come to believe. Most of us are too caught up in the lie that if you’re not constantly working, you’re going to fail. We’ve forgotten how to slow down and actually enjoy the work we’re doing. More doesn’t always equal better. Now isn’t always better than tomorrow.

As a writer, you’re going to spend a lot of time correcting your urges to procrastinate, to rely on motivation, and to abandon ship when things get boring. And you should. But that doesn’t mean you’re not allowed one thing to tackle at your own pace, when you feel like it, without any guilt.

Writing as a profession, whether you’re already there or working toward it, is stressful enough. Take a deep breath. Remember that sometimes, writing without time constraints is just the kind of freedom you need to create something beautiful.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Back to Basics: 5 Things Editors Expect You to Fix BEFORE You Submit

You might not even realize you’re making these mistakes.

Writing on your own, it’s easy — and acceptable — to leave small errors and ‘iffy’ sentences alone until you decide to edit later (if you ever get that far — let’s be honest). This doesn’t fly when you’re submitting your work to an editor, though. There’s a certain level of “polished” editors expect from anything they consider for publishing, and if you’re not willing, or don’t know how, to get to that stage, you’re going to have a hard time getting published.

This goes far beyond basic spelling and grammar. (If you can’t fix these obvious errors on your own, you’re probably not quite ready to submit to editors — and that’s OK.) Here’s what to make sure you’ve revised/rewritten before you send off that piece of writing.

1. Unnecessary words

Fluff is not at all an impressive thing. For many people, it’s a leftover bad habit from meeting word count or page requirements in high school English class. Even if it’s something you still do automatically, practice correcting your temptation to add extra words to every sentence. An editor would much rather read 300 words of quality, easy-to-read content than 600 words of fluff. While it’s better to write too much at first and cut it down later, if you can’t fill a word count requirement with good information, maybe don’t submit that piece of writing just yet. Or at all.

2. Hard-to-spot errors

SpellCheck doesn’t pick up everything, but 99 percent of editors do. Unfortunately, even an innocent typo can make you look careless and unprofessional, even if your writing is phenomenal. Sometimes you just don’t catch things. But the chances of this happening decrease significantly when you take the time to read and reread your content before you submit it. It is not appropriate to submit a first draft. The most common yet surprisingly helpful editing tip you’ll hear is to read your work backwards, sentence by sentence. Read it out loud, too, if you can; this also forces you to pay more attention to what the words on that page actually mean.

3. Passive voice

Editors are thrown off by excessive usage of passive voice. See what I did there? That is a horrible sentence. How many times did you have to read it before you understood what it meant? Passive voice is another one of those hard-to-kick writing habits, but it’s one you need to teach yourself to break. Always keep your writing active. Active voice impresses editors. They aren’t impressed by it. Words like “by,” “of,” and “from” are common warning sings that your sentence needs a quick makeover.

4. Complex language

Big words don’t make you sound smarter. Sometimes transitioning switching from academic formal to more familiar informal writing is challenging. But in general, you shouldn’t use words more than three syllables long if you don’t have to. Those of you whose first language isn’t English actually have a small advantage over the rest of us! You’re less “tempted” to use overcomplicated complex words because your brain is wired to use the simplest English term you know. (I wish I had that magical ability had a brain like that some days …)

5. Formatting and style

Each publication generally has their own style guide — usually a hybrid of AP Style and their own brand/company specifications. Not all editors expect you to have these rules mastered with your first submission, but it’s definitely an effective strategy for making a good first impression. Do pay attention to submission guidelines, though — if they give you a link to their style guide, or specify exactly how they want something formatted, follow their directions. I used to review applications for an online writing internship. After awhile, I started throwing out sample pieces that didn’t follow our style guide. Even if you don’t have their guide in front of you, at least follow the format of the content they’ve already published.

Good writing isn’t good enough if you continue making careless mistakes (whether you know you’re doing it or not). Impress your editors. Don’t give them any reason to doubt your skill. It’s not an editor’s job to “fix it for you later.” Never assume you have that kind of safety net. Ever.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

How Good Ideas Stick

How do you know an idea is good enough to keep?

Once you have an idea, how do you know it won’t disappear?

That’s a writer’s biggest fear, isn’t it — that if we don’t write things down the instant they come to us, they’ll be gone forever?

That’s not how it works. Not with all ideas, anyway.

Some of them vanish because they’re just not worth going after, for a number of reasons.

And some, once they appear, are here to stay.

If you have a good idea, you also must have (or have the ability to work toward figuring out) the answers to these questions: Why, how, and when.

Why do you care about this idea? Why does it matter — to you and to your idea’s audience? Why is it going to be worth the time and resources you are going to have to spend to bring it to life?

How are you going to bring this idea to life? What are the steps you are going to need to take in order to make it all work out?

Possibly the most important: when are you going to get started? When are you going to put together a plan? When are you going to “launch” your new idea?

Without a reason for pursuing it, a plan in place to execute it, and a deadline to motivate its development, an idea will always remain a thought, and never become something you can hold in your hand.

And even after all this, there’s still one more element to the formula.

Do you really want to do it?

Is it something that excites you, something you can’t wait to wake up tomorrow morning to work on — something you would give up everything else for, just for the chance to let it become something real?

Or is it just something you think sounds cool, something you’re convinced will get you recognized … something you could live without?

Because it’s possible to have a good idea that isn’t meant for you.

It’s a scary thought, but it’s true.

(That’s why some of us talk openly about ideas we don’t plan on pursuing ourselves … but keep everything else to ourselves…)

In all seriousness, an idea that sticks with you is an idea you’re willing to stick with yourself. Ideas are like relationships. They take serious commitment for the long-term. They’re not always easy to work with. Aaaaand that’s as far as I’m going to take that simile.

If you aren’t willing to stick with it, if it’s not important enough to you, you’ll let it go without even realizing you’ve done it. That’s why sometimes you can go months without working on a project and still play around with the idea in your head the whole time. Because it means the world to you.

If an idea is worth pursuing, trust me. You’ll know it.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.