Tips from an executive editor

This week, I had the opportunity to sit in on a lecture by David Mills, who has served as the executive editor for two prominent magazines over the last 15 years. It was an incredible opportunity, and I loved learning from him! In today’s post, I’d love to share just a few of the tidbits I gleaned from him.

1. Writing presents the great temptation to be someone that you’re not, someone greater than you are. Don’t give in to that temptation; rather, write about things that you know, tell the truth, and humbly say only the things that you can say truly.

2. There is always a reason for keeping your head down and skirting the sensitive issues. If you can’t say what you want to say honestly, don’t take the assignment.

3. Make your claim straightforward and clear. Force yourself to say exactly what you want to say in a very direct way. (Hint: If you are stuck with a big idea and you can’t figure out how to narrow it down, try writing by hand.) You will have other chances to say what you have to say.

4. Write personally, but follow the rules. It is okay to use the first person and to tell stories, but it is not okay to try to invent your own system of grammar.

5. Make sure that you occasionally read writers you disagree with and engage their material.

6. Admit that you write with a cause in mind. It will make you a more honest writer, and it will make writing easier, since you won’t be trying to skirt the  issues.

7. Accept the fact that readers are annoying.

8. No matter how sincere you are, try to see through your emotion to your writing. What you have to say may be very important, but it won’t matter if you don’t say it well.

9. Work at becoming sensitive to idealogical and technical language.

10. Double check your own understanding of words. Sometimes, words do not mean what you think they mean.*

After hearing him speak, I can’t wait to read
more that Mr. Mills has written.
What are some of your favorite writing tips?

*See: The Princess Bride


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