Five Things Aspiring Writers Should Do in College


College is supposed to be that time in our early young adult life where we start figuring things out: how to balance extracurricular activities with school, friends and sleeping; how to do laundry; even how to act like a responsible human being (sort of).

With responsibility comes thoughts of the future, and if you’ve known for a while that you want to be a writer when you grow up, let’s be honest: it’s about to get much harder to find time to write while also figuring out how to keep your dorm room reasonably clean enough to live in.

There are a few things you can do to keep your college lifestyle choices in alignment with your overall goal of becoming a professional writer (yes, it is possible, if you work hard). Here are five things all aspiring writers should do before college graduation.

 1. Study subjects you like, not just English or creative writing 

Studying English is a great way to refine your analytical skills and give you some practice writing in different styles, but there’s a reason you’ll have a set of core courses to take as graduation requirements as well. Learning a wide variety of topics gives you more baseline knowledge to work with when you sit down to work on a new writing project.

You don’t even have to declare English or creative writing as your major, though: study whatever you want, whatever interests you the most. There are plenty of ways to learn about things you’re interested in and apply those topics to your writing.

 2. Pitch story ideas to real-world publications

When it comes to pitching, no publication is too big. In your lifetime, as an aspiring writer, you’re going to get rejected more times than you’ll be able to count. Aiming high, even if you think it’s too high, will help you gain confidence in pitching story ideas (creative or more journalistic/academic) and get used to that pre-written rejection email—or never hearing back at all.

If you do aim high, though, don’t forget to aim a little lower in-between the big pitches, too. You’re probably much more likely to start small and work your way up, so your best bet is probably to pitch ideas anywhere you can, as long as you pitch within that publication’s guidelines and in alignment with their brand.

 3. Write for your student newspaper or literary magazine

This might not sound very appealing to you if you’re a creative writer to the core, but you’d be surprised how much creative writing and journalism compliment each other.

Learning how to fine-tune your work and narrow down the focus of your pieces can really help you in your own writing, too. Plus, gaining experience interviewing people you don’t know won’t hurt, and the more you can prove to future employers you did all you could to get any kind of writing experience while you had the chance, the better.

 4. Form a peer review circle

If you’re not enrolled in a writing course that has a peer review component built into it, or even if you are and want more practice outside the classroom, form your own. Find fellow students who might be interested in having their work critiqued, and giving feedback on others’ work, in a group setting.

It doesn’t even have to be an official campus group or club: you can meet up informally once or twice a month at a local coffee shop to check up on each others’ progress and help hold each other accountable.

 5. Apply to work for your campus’s writing lab

Learning how to critique someone else’s grammar, structure and writing style can be an effective way to track down and improve on weaknesses in your own writing. Even helping students with their academic papers and other projects will keep your mind focused on writing even when you aren’t.

Besides, it will look good on your resume, and if there’s a small salary attached, even better.

You don’t have to wait until you have that degree to start your writing career. Gaining pub cred and networking with other writers and editors will serve as a major asset to you somewhere down the road. You won’t regret taking the extra time to make college all about writing, even if it’s a small part of everything you do as a student on and off campus.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

How Editing Enhances Our Writing: An Interview with Marisa Russell


As writers, we spend a lot of time stuck in our own projects. That’s why many of us will scramble at the chance to look at any piece of writing other than our own, whether it be a book for pleasure or helping someone out by critiquing their work.

Here at Novelty Revisions, we believe writing and revising go hand-in-hand. Part of the art of stringing words together is knowing how to reshape and improve what’s already been written, no matter how long it takes. As today’s NR guest will show you (though words, of course), learning how to edit is an essential part of learning how to best put your ideas into words.

Marisa Russell is a journalism student at Hofstra University. A life-long writer, she has seen firsthand how taking a leap and becoming an editor can change the way we write, and transform the way we view the writing process from beginning to end. 

Tell us about your writing experience.

I’ve been writing since I was able to pick up a pencil and form letters. I was always into writing stories, and when an opportunity to attend a journalism camp in NYC came along in high school, that’s when my writing took off. I was interviewing people on the streets of New York, and from that moment on I never stopped.

I interned at ABC 2 News in high school, where I got a ton of writing and interviewing experience for the web and T.V., but my broadcast writing career ended there. Since I’ve been in college, I’ve written for Her Campus Hofstra, The Chronicle [Hofstra’s newspaper], College Lifestyles™ [online magazine], and most recently, LinkedIn. My experiences have occurred over a variety of mediums, but the biggest thing is that I have years of experience under my belt.

Describe your editing experience.

My editing experience started a bit later than my writing. I started editing college application and scholarship essays for my boyfriend’s mom’s business in the fall of my freshman year. It was amazing to be able to help others achieve their goals by teaching writing skills.

From there, I became an editor at College Lifestyles™ in the summer of 2014, and I’ve been an editor ever since. The moment I started editing, I couldn’t stop. I spent the last year as [assistant] copy chief at my school newspaper and oddly enough, it was one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had. I’m very type A and a nitpicky person, so editing is perfect for my stress level, weirdly enough.

What about your writing experience prepared you your editing roles?

I knew many different styles of writing, and I knew all of the AP style rules before I was even required to enforce them. Watching my growth as a writer also helped me teach others how to grow as well. It’s like being an employee before you get to be the boss… you always appreciate those on your team when you’ve been in their shoes before. I don’t think you should be allowed to be an editor without a tremendous amount of writing experience.

What has editing taught you about your own writing?

I’ve become a lot more careful with my writing because I’m an editor. It’s also taught me that I can write a grammatically correct sentence, but someone else may not like it simply because of their style. Everyone writes differently, and that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned. Being an editor causes you to analyze things for structure, readability and credibility, versus just “if it sounds/looks good.” So, I’d say I’ve become a lot more critical of how I’m saying something, rather than what I’m saying.

What has editing taught you about critiquing others’ work?

Every person you critique is totally different. It’s not just slight differences, but you sometimes have to change your entire mindset to properly edit someone else’s work. It’s also taught me that everyone takes criticism differently, and you have to adapt to that when you are trying to help someone improve their work. I can tell one writer to fix a sentence because it’s unclear and they understand what I’m saying, where if I told another that, they would find it insulting and not know what to do. I’ve learned that critique is all about balance, and learning the writer.

In what ways do you think all writers, despite their disciplines, can benefit from gaining editing experience?

No matter what field you work for, you will always be writing and editing. Even if it’s just an email or a company document, you will write every day for the rest of your life. Learning how to edit others’ work, and having that experience (in any capacity) will teach you how to work with others, how to critique your own work through a different lens and how to be successful. Even if it’s just editing your coworker’s research article or your child’s homework, editing is a tough skill to learn, and one that makes you a better person in the end to have.

What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned as an editor?

Hmm, that’s a tough one honestly. I’ve learned that a nice cup of coffee and a comfortable bed make for the perfect way to edit articles, just kidding! I’ve really learned that patience, kindness and hard work go a long way. Despite if I’m feeling down or think I’m doing a bad job, those that I’ve helped or edited for always believe in and support me, and it’s because of those three things.

What’s the hardest thing about editing someone else’s work?

For me personally, it’s not changing people’s work for them. I’m like I said before, very type A and I like to have control over the situation, so in the beginning I thought changing things for someone would be the best way to go. But, over time, I learned that giving someone an example and guiding them in the right direction will save me [a lot] of time in the future. Helping someone learn versus doing it for them will help them remember the right way to do things in the future.

What’s the most rewarding?

Seeing the end product. Whether that’s an article, a college essay, an acceptance to a college or an award, seeing what my writers have gone on to achieve is absolutely amazing.

If you’re just starting out as a writer, and you’re looking for writing experience, try proofreading, copyediting or volunteering, interning or even working in an editorial setting. Having an outside perspective on the writing process can help you learn to more effectively identify weaknesses and flaws in your own writing.

The earlier you start, the more opportunities you’ll have to gain hands-on experience before entering the real world. No matter your stage of life, writing will always be a part of you. Use your skills to help not only yourself, but also someone else, discover a new kind of love for words.

Image courtesy of Marisa Russell.

What Happens When You Tell Someone Else’s Story?

blog0615 If you told me five years ago about the series of interviews I would conduct as an online journalist for a magazine, I probably wouldn’t have believed you.

I was a creative writer and I wanted nothing to do with talking to other people (introvert problems). I had my own stories—made up, but still mine—and I was the only one who could tell them. I poured over my stories like my life depended on it. With a dream of publishing a book someday, I guess all that made sense.

Yes, I still write creatively (obv) and I still create my own fictional worlds and people and plots. I would still love to publish a novel and let other people read those stories, because I don’t believe any story should stay locked inside a brain.

But if I never do, if my stories stay written but never read, I have other dreams, too. In the past three years having worked on a school newspaper staff (which I’d never done before I got to college, which isn’t too typical, I learned the hard way) and then having joined the College Lifestyles intern class (they still haven’t gotten rid of me, I don’t mind), I’ve learned something about myself I really wish I’d learned earlier.

I love telling other people’s stories more than I like telling my own.

The Other Side of Q&A

Being interviewed, no matter the occasion, is hard for me. I never feel like what comes out of my mouth is enough to convey the points I really want to make. But give me a subject, an interviewee, and I’m in virtual journalism heaven.

In the past month I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing multiple students, to give them a chance to open up about their college experiences and share their stories and career goals. I like writing standard articles and giving tips and browsing academic journals for information. But real stories, from real people, that’s what I love most.

I don’t seek out a whole lot of attention—not in my personal life, anyway. I’m just not that kind of person. Yet when someone else has a story to tell, and I have the opportunity to help them tell it, I pass that story around almost obnoxiously, because that person deserves to have a voice, and it’s always for a good, positive reason. 

It’s possible the true sign of literary maturity, the moment you know you’ve reached a sort of quaint sophistication, arises when you crave attention—not for yourself, but for the opportunity to bring well-deserved attention to the good people who do brighten up this often questionable world.

Not that I’m all that mature or sophisticated. Life is too short to act serious all the time. Sometimes I try to be funny and it’s not funny, but life is also too short to spend the bulk of it caring what other people think.

Becoming the Medium

Sometimes it’s hard for people to put what they want to say into words that will move the public. Some people just aren’t good with words, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I think it’s important to remember that, as a writer, sometimes we need to put down our own could-be masterpieces for a while and use our skills, our talents, our gifts, to help someone else speak their mind.

Everyone has important things to say. Some just don’t know how, or they’re afraid, or they haven’t been trained to construct a solid argument. It doesn’t make them any less of a person and it doesn’t mean you can swoop in and take over.

But you can still spend time with them, and listen to them, and the more often you do that, the more you’ll understand what really happens when you take a risk, dive into the unknown, and tell someone else’s story, just the way they need it to be told.

What happens is, you stop thinking of yourself, and your wants, and your needs, and all the ways you wish your life could be different. And if you’re in it for the right reasons, if you’re really doing it to help, you stop being just a writer or just a journalist or just a reporter.

Gradually, you become human, and use words that make the world better, and do your part to remind everyone else there are good things, and if they pay enough attention, they’ll find them everywhere they go.

Are you a writer with an awesome story to tell? Check out our Undiscovered Authors project.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

The Mischievous Case of the Misshapen Blueberry Pancake [How to Write a Truthful, Effective Headline]

Imagine you’re at a restaurant, out for breakfast with a friend. Though you’d love a nice country omelet, the chocolate chip pancakes pictured on the top of the menu catch your eye. You don’t originally plan on making the decision to order them, but because they’re so appealing, you do it anyway.

You know what a pancake should look like; round, hopefully nice and fluffy. If the waitress sets down a plate of square pancakes in front of you, would you be a little curious? Of course. You’re also hungry, though, and the shape of your chocolate chip pancake really doesn’t make a difference at this point.

Until you take the first bite, and realize it’s not a plate full of chocolate chip pancakes at all. They’re blueberry.

Journalists sometimes agonize over their headlines. Before a reader even gets to the lead of a piece, the headline is the first thing that pops out at them. It has to not only draw your attention, but also do it so abruptly that you can’t help but stop whatever you’re doing and start reading.

Sometimes, though, you don’t get what the title led you to anticipate.

Have you ever read an article based on its headline that wasn’t what you were expecting—and not in a good way?

Here’s how to write a headline that grabs a reader’s attention, and stays true to what’s ahead while doing it.

Know Your Audience

Different audiences click on articles for different reasons. Some people expect to be misled when a headline tells them what they’re looking into. Some want it straight and to the point, just like most diners want to know they’re getting a square blueberry pancake before it gets to the table.

For example, if you’re writing to an audience of experts, you might want to assume they already know most of what you’re about to tell them. In this case, you would want to choose wording that implies you’re going to present findings that further prove what they know is fact, rather than fiction.

However, if your audience doesn’t include experts on a topic, presenting new information might be exactly what you need your title to do.

Ask a Question

This is probably the most effective way to produce a title that gets readers clicking without being misleading. You want to start potential readers off with presenting a question they didn’t even know they had. This discovery will make them much more liley to want to answer it for themselves—by clicking on the piece to find out more.

Asking, “Is There a Better Way to Write Your Next Headline?” was the first draft of this article’s title. It does the job—it tells you exactly what the article will be about and leaves you curious enough to click. However, the title needed a little something more. The reason why comes in our final point. 

Maintain the Mystery Without Withholding Information

Persuasion is the core purpose of marketing, which is exactly what you’re trying to do when coming up with a headline that will get people to click on your article. Some marketers (or writers of headlines) think it’s an affective strategy to twist the truth around in those big bolded words to get more clicks. It can be—but not always.

The title of this article is mysterious, but it doesn’t keep any valuable information from you that will tell you what the piece is about. Until you actually get into the depths of the article, you might actually think it’s about a blueberry pancake. If you like the analogy, then it technically is about a blueberry pancake. See? We didn’t lie. And you still clicked on the article, didn’t you?

Whether you’re writing about pancakes or something a tad more earth-shattering, choose a title that draws readers to your work without leaving them feeling let down or mistreated. Like a major plot twist, leave the best piece of the puzzle hidden until the time is right—but don’t feed your readers the expectation of a chocolate chip and force them to eat a blueberry.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.