We are living in the age of the Internet and writers can now work wherever they want to work, writing for a magazine in California while enjoying a cup of hot chocolate in Vienna. However, having access to a laptop and an Internet connection is not always enough and, sometimes, even talent is inadequate. What if you really were in Vienna with that hot chocolate in your hand, but you could not write a single English word? Exactly, you wouldn’t write for a publication in California. Or would you?
Writers all over the world grow up longing to write for international magazines, publications, or agencies that would make their work popular to more and more – and more – people on Earth. Whether you like it or not, writing for U.S publications is a good plan to get started…and, no, I am not American. You see, the American writing industry has three things that we foreign writers essentially need: opportunities, paying markets, and exposure. So, basically, yes. Writing for U.S.-based publications is a great plan and today we’ll be talking about some tips that non-native English writers should definitely follow.
IMPORTANT! This article is not for writers who want to skip ten years of studying English. It’s for those who want to get better at writing in a language they did not speak growing up. In fact, you can also follow these tips even if you need to write in a language other than English.
Tip #1: Don’t Just Read
Reading is important, I know that, you know that, Siri knows that. However, don’t just read. Watch movies and TV series without turning the subtitles on. Listen to music and try to figure out what the lyrics say. Watch YouTube. Get to know how people talk and think in English and don’t try to create stories that feel too formal, too narrative, or too poetic.
Listening to a language will help you avoid hyperboles sneaking behind words.
Tip #2: Plan Before You Write
Writing in a second language is not difficult because of the grammar rules or the vocabulary. Writing in a second language is difficult because it is a second language.
Quick! Name your favorite food’s ingredients! I am pretty sure you named them in your mother tongue, and that’s because you are used to thinking in it.
But, that’s okay! Just think in your first language. Plan your story and figure out what you are putting in the first paragraph, what in the second, the third, etc. Create a diagram and stick to it. You will be amazed how much faster your writing process will get while your piece will read organized, well-structured, and professional. Plan!
Tip #3: Write First, Edit Later
Apart from reading and listening, there is one little thing that makes you a good writer too: Writing
Aristotle once said that human beings are mimetic beings and he was right. Yes, Eleanor Roosevelt and the ancient Greeks were always spot on. When you start writing your story, pretend you are the best writer in the world. Keep writing without looking back and act like you are the next John Green or Carrie Bradshaw. Whatever works!
This will enable you to focus on writing. You will let yourself say, even in a wrong way, what your heart wants to say and you will create a story that represents the way you honestly think. After you have finished writing, go back and start editing, because, let’s be honest, editors don’t really want to work with writers who can’t see the difference between except and accept.
Remember: The more you write, the better writer you will become. The more you edit, the better editor you will become. The truth is that you need to be good at both of them…but always write with your heart and edit with your brain.
Extra tip: When editing, read your story out loud.
Tip #4: Write Like You Speak
If you are familiar with calls for submissions or writers’ job boards, I am sure you have noticed that more and more editors are seeking writers who can write in a conversational tone. That’s because simplicity and content matter, especially when writing for a fast-paced Internet audience.
I am sorry to tell you but, today, almost nobody really cares if you can portray feelings like Virginia Woolf, or if you can describe a place in a novelistic, “Truman Capote” way. We live in the Information Age and the information is what matters the most. Websites rely on catchy, viral content and its shareability.
Don’t be judgmental, English is not taking a degenerate form. It’s just getting more approachable, more appealing to everyone. After all, if you think about it, written English and spoken English are two different languages. Why not merge them a little bit? In addition, websites and magazines aim to engage an international audience and writing in plain English makes that so much easier.
Tip #5: Use Online Tools
It’s the Internet. It’s the place where you can both reunite with your best friend from high school and, at the same time, find information on how snakes poop. Use it for your job, too!
Google Translate, Grammarly, Ginger Software, the Hemmingway Editor…the web is full of online tools waiting to put some red ink on your stories. However, there is one online tool that aggregates the power of all the above: Google.
Use Google if you are not sure about a preposition’s use, when you are searching for a term’s synonym, or when you are in desperate need of a quote. Its power is endless and so is yours. And, don’t let any native writer tell you otherwise.
Finally, try to connect with a good native-English-speaking writer who can read and edit your work, either as a favor, or in trade, or even for a small fee or percentage of the money the sold piece will bring in.
Aris Apostolopoulos is a full-time freelance writer and journalist currently living in Greece. He has written (and still writes) about everything since he believes that good sources make a good writer, and he works with magazines and websites all around the globe. Plus, he never sleeps.
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