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Tips from 3 years of mentoring aspiring writers

A few years ago, one of my roles involved mentoring students and professionals on Art Radar Institute's 13-week online art journalism course, which explored various styles of writing including press releases, catalogue essays, profiles and feature articles. This was a rewarding experience that allowed me to interact with and learn from aspiring writers from all over the world (literally – from the Caribbean to Southeast Asia).

Throughout my years as an editor, writer and mentor, one of the things I've enjoyed most is helping people write more impactfully, and guiding them to create the best version of their work. This is why I decided to include mentoring for writers as one of my core services.

Here I share three tips that I believe are essential to writing effectively and consistently.

1. Hit the pause button on your research.

One of the first steps we encouraged was for writers to spend some time on research and create a list of (re)sources to refer to while writing. But the key with research is knowing when to stop. Research can be endless; there's so much to learn, and you can keep finding more and more information.

It's important to know how much is just enough to get you started with the actual writing, and to shift the focus from the volume of research to its relevance. You can (and will) do further research later, in tandem with your writing, to fill in any gaps or add more depth.

2. When you care about your story, it shows.

If you're planning a project or pitching ideas to editors, allow your interests to guide you. Not only does this make the whole process much more enjoyable – because, let's face it, writing is often hard – but it also manifests in the words you write. Of course, it isn't always possible to choose what you write about, especially if it's being commissioned by someone else. Try to make your areas of interest known, but if you're assigned something less exciting, the best way forward might be to find the right angle.

There are so many articles online that read exactly the same as writers chase keywords and replicate tired structures. What can you add that puts a different spin on the story? How can you tune out the noise and fluff, making every word count, while being cognisant of best practices and marketability? If you want your piece to stand out, find a way to make the reader care about more than the first few words.

3. Life happens, and that's okay.

Writing – or writing well, at least – can be a slow process when you're pulled in other directions. It's more than fine to take a break for a while, and often it helps to return after a period of rest, other pursuits, or even wandering. But returning can be difficult; remember all your unfinished, abandoned manuscripts and stagnant piles of ideas? How do you get back into the groove?

Setting achievable writing goals can be helpful if you're good at motivating yourself. If you need external support, consider asking a fellow writer, finding a mentor or joining a writing group to give you the occasional guidance and nudges so you can stay on track. As a mentor, I believe in approaching such speed bumps with an open mind and empathy. I help writers work through their anxieties and distractions – for instance, by suggesting that they work on less daunting aspects or in smaller steps first (and guiding them through these), or recommending resources that might be helpful or inspirational.


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