Vocal Writing 101: How to Write Better Stories
10 Tips to Make the Most of Your Time on Vocal
So, you want to be a better writer? Dude, you and me both.
My experience as a writer started as guesswork. I began writing scientific papers for college assignments. Later, I got a job writing curriculum and found that a few of those guesses were sticking. Last December, I was pulled into my company's marketing team to write blog content. It was a comfortable switch; I received prompts and put pen to paper.
When I joined Vocal, it was a whole new rodeo. I finally had the freedom to write about anything I wanted, which was, honestly, terrifying! Over the last two months, I've learned more about writing than I have in all of my previous experiences combined because I decided to write to learn about writing.
Do you want to improve? Use Vocal.
Here are ten suggestions to make the most of your time on the platform:
1. Try Out Grammarly
No matter how impeccable you think your grammar is, you, and everyone else, are still prone to mistakes. There's a reason why even famous authors get their drafts edited!
I thought I was decent with grammar until I ran my Vocal drafts through Grammarly. I found out that I am actually the worst comma user of all time. I put them where they shouldn't be, leave them out where they're needed, and pepper them in with neither law nor order. Without using Grammarly, most of my articles would be a confusing nest of commas! I ran this section alone through the tool and found about three comma-errors.
Try it out! There's a free version that fixes most grammar issues. If you adore it, I recommend getting the pro version (it helps with tone & delivery!).
2. Recruit an Editor
If you've ever worked on a piece so long that you think it's perfect, this tip is for you. I'm that sort of writer, too; I trip into perfectionist loops. But, fun fact, the longer you work on something, the more biased you can become about it. If you edit long enough, your brain might not catch that massive mistake in paragraph 3.
It's normal to get emotionally invested in a piece; you're putting your candid thoughts on paper! That story is more than words. It's your brain on display! It can sometimes feel impossible to use your mind to critique its own reasoning.
To combat this, get a second opinion. Bug a friend, roommate, relative, or coworker to read through and give you suggestions. Even if you don't have another writer or editor in your life, everyone has valuable insight. You are trying to reach people other than yourself with your work, after all.
3. Join a Vocal Group on Facebook
I cannot recommend this enough. Getting into a community with like-minded authors makes a colossal difference. Here are my favorites if you want to check them out:
Being a part of groups like this can keep you inspired through the process, give you valuable insight, and even provide you with prompts and recommendations! If you've always dreamed of joining a writer's co-op, these groups are a great place to start.
4. Read the Top Stories
Compare and contrast your stories to the top stories on Vocal. What are they doing differently? What could you do better? A great step to becoming an excellent writer is to first become a good writing critic. If you develop the skill to analyze other works, you'll find yourself applying those same critiques to your own!
The front page on this very website is the best place to begin your critical journey. The benevolent gods of Vocal have already pointed out what they like, so it's a great spot to do some research.
Sometimes the choice for a top story might be questionable to you. You might come across an egregious typo or even a factual mistake! It's essential to try and find the good along with the bad. Note the goof-ups, but also start forming your theory about what Vocal is looking for.
5. After Reading, Read Some More
When you've made your way through the top stories, read everything else, even the not-so-good ones. I've found that my least favorite reads taught me the most about writing. After leaving a story with enough complaints to write a whole different article, you will likely have more ideas about what to avoid next time you start hacking away at a story.
Plus, many of the stories and articles hiding throughout Vocal are phenomenal, even when you're off the top story page. If a story doesn't teach you much about your own writing, you'll still have an excellent time spelunking into the underrated.
6. Practice Makes Progress
The more you write, the better you'll get at it. With each press of the "Submit for Review" button, it gets easier, or you get faster, or you might feel a little less nervous about it!
I've only been writing Vocal articles since February, but I've noticed growth from making a constant effort to keep at it. Am I a master writer yet? Absolutely 100% not. But that hasn't been my aim. Instead, I my goal is to improve each time I take a stab at it.
Setting small goals in practice makes motivation much easier to hold on to. Of course, we all want to be masters, but it's going to take a long time to get there. While you're logging your 10,000 hours, set little goals to improve and practice, practice, practice to get to each new stepping stone.
7. Outline Before you Write
No one wants to read an article that doesn't make sense. Organization can keep your readers on the page and make your job easier! Before you write the meat of a story, figure out the ideas you want to get across and what order they work in best.
Take this article, for example. Before I wrote this sentence you're reading, I wrote all the tips, then little comments about what I wanted to mention in each section. Once that was set, all I had to do was make them flow into each other and style it, so my bullet points are actually a little fun to read.
This strategy doesn't just work for listicles. It's excellent for narrative, poetry, even opinion pieces! Once you get proficient, you might find you're doing the outline on the fly, it can find its way into your brainstorming sessions, and it can even help with writer's block!
8. Genre Hop
One of my absolute favorite aspects of Vocal is how many different communities there are. The writers and readers on this site are diverse as can be. Use that to your advantage! Vocal is the perfect place to experiment with your writing style. If you've only ever written fiction, try out something informative! If you've only written life-hacks, experiment with poetry!
It's entertaining to challenge yourself in this way, and, frankly, the more of a renaissance writer you are, the more likely you'll feel comfortable with entering all of the challenges. If you're on Vocal as a side-hustle, you should definitely be entering those challenges.
9. Give That Design Some TLC
You could write the next prose masterpiece, but no one will ever discover it if your design falls flat.
Take a look through Vocal. Which stories attract you? It's probably not the one with the unreadable title or the poorly cropped image.
Once you've found a story, take a second to scroll through it. Does it look interesting? Formatting is vital to keep your readers attention- no one wants to read through a wall of text. Break up those long paragraphs, add photos that supplement it!
You can absolutely use Vocal to become a better designer. If your goal is to blog, write technically, or become a journalist, Vocal is an excellent way to learn about keeping your works visually interesting.
10. Ask for feedback
I kept this one for last because, in my opinion, it's the most important. If you don't have any way of knowing whether your stuff needs work, it's hard to improve. Share what you've written on Social Media, with friends and family, and to anyone that wants to listen. Ask for genuine feedback, and it will help you improve rapidly.
I get it; we writers are a notoriously sensitive bunch. When someone points out a mistake of mine, I often have to fight against taking it personally. But feedback is necessary for improvement. If everyone around you only cheers you on, you'll never know what you don't know.
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this article, tap that heart or send a tip. My student loans are funded in part by viewers like you. Thank you. :)