By Gaby Doman
Hone your writing skills and you’ll bring in the big bucks (well, maybe).
The FunkyCorp content team is always looking for excellent writers we can rely on to nail our style and make our lives easier when it comes to editing. We’ve handpicked these 11 skills as the most important we look for.
1 Make an impact
Hook them right from the start — people are busy and have a short attention span. We all want to imagine our writing is captivating enough to hold people, but in reality your audience are likely glancing at your copy while changing trains or waiting for a friend. You’ll need a clear, punchy title and strong intro.
2 Get to the point
Organise the information you present in terms of importance. For a travel story, you should inform the audience in the first few sentences where you are writing about and why it’s of interest.
FunkyCorp editors will provide you with a style guide to steer your writing in the right direction. You’ll need to refer to this for guidance on American or British spellings — do you know whether that bar has a relaxed ambiance or ambience? — whether or not to hyphenate certain words and how to write out dates etc.
Although it’s an editor’s job to make sure everything is consistent, a good writer will make it easier for them and, in turn, become an editor’s go-to when it’s time to commission stories.
4 Keep it simple
Travel writers can have a tendency to use flowery language and too many adjectives, which can make a piece read like cringey high school poetry — “the bubbling stream cascades into the emerald waters below.” An effective way to check over your writing is to read it aloud — if it doesn’t sound like something fairly natural to say, it probably needs work.
There’s always a better way of expressing an idea than using tired phrases like “up at the crack of dawn”, “it blew us away”, “a smorgasboard of flavors” or a “cultural melting pot.” Travel writing — and Japan as a destination — are particularly susceptible to cliches. Here are some lazy go-to words and phrases I see most days:
What’s unique about it? Ditch the word and instead explain the USP that led you to describe it that way.
“Nestled in the heart of Tokyo”, “commanding” or “sweeping” views Sometimes a simpler phrase reads far better. E.g. “In the centre of Tokyo”, “impressive”, “far-reaching”.
This is a really overused word, which sounds like the destination is strutting around, showing off its assets. Replace with “has.”
6 Be active and avoid subordinate clauses
Active voice is clearer and easier to read. Where possible, ditch the passive voice. Example:
Passive: A bus stop can be found by the main station.
Active: The bus stop is near the main station.
Swap subordinate clauses to add impact to your writing, too. Starting a sentence in a meandering ramble may seem poetic, but it’s like a red rag to a bull for an editor. Example:
Subordinate clause: Surrounded by marshlands beneath Mt. Bandai, you’ll find Akanuma.
Fix: Akanuma is surrounded by marshlands beneath Mt. Bandai.
7 Go with the flow
When you try and convey a lot of facts, it can sometimes read like a tedious list of information. The flow of a story is important. Keep a structure by planning what you want to say in each paragraph. Each sentence should be linked to the one before so that it doesn’t read too staccato, like a list of random sentences. Read over your work aloud before you submit it to see if it has a natural flow.
8 Know your audience
Your writing style should change depending on who you’re writing for. Know who your target audience is and write in an appropriate tone. It’s also worth finding out if the text will be translated — idioms and slang, for example, don’t translate well, so are usually best left out.
9 Self edit
You may have a word count to hit, but no editor will thank you for filling that count with fluff. Every word and sentence should be adding something to the piece—if it’s not, lose it. I’d always choose tight copy that’s too short over fluff that hits the word count.
10 Double check
This should go without saying, but it’s easy to forget (especially when people work directly into a Google Spreadsheet) — run all your copy through a spell or grammar checking tool. While these tools can’t and shouldn’t replace a self edit, they’re helpful for catching those errors we all make from time to time. We use Grammarly, which has a useful free version you can use.
11 Ask for feedback
Feedback can be hard to take but, if you use it as a way to grow, it’s a great tool for honing your skills and for learning how to write for various clients. Not all editors will offer feedback, but most will be happy to provide it when you ask. It’s a good idea to check your published work with your submitted work, too. You’ll likely see patterns you can use to sharpen your skills. With better writing skills comes more writing gigs and an opportunity to increase your rates!