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As writers, we don’t have to be told to sit down and write. It’s what we do and what we enjoy doing. But asking kids to write can be a whole different story, especially during the summer season when school's out. If they don’t have to write, why would they want to?

Actually, there are plenty of reasons. Writing during the summer is a great way for kids to practice their skills without being graded or judged. It’s a chance to write about topics they enjoy and explore their creativity in a leisurely fashion. Writing can also be highly therapeutic for kids; it helps them manage stress and promotes mental well-being. And here’s the best part: getting kids to write during the summer might not be so hard after all.

Try these five writing activities for a fun way to keep your kids thinking, creating, and engaged this summer:

Find a Writing Camp or Class for Kids

Kids love camps, and writing camps are filled with fun projects, social time, and learning. Check with local colleges, community education, writing organizations, or the public library for offerings.

Host Your Own Writing Workshop

Can’t find a camp or class nearby that suits the kids? Why not host your own. Make up writing projects and invite their friends over to join in. Add some snacks, and watch your writing workshop take off.

Journal with Your Kids

Journaling isn’t just fun; it’s a way to express and communicate your feelings. Get your kids to open up via a two-way journal. Start by writing a journal entry individualized to your child. If he likes thunderstorms, write about a thunderstorm memory. Then get your child to respond back.

Fill a Box with Writing Prompts

You’ve probably experienced writer’s block more times than you can count. Sometimes getting kids to write is simply a matter of finding the right topic. Fill a box with writing prompts and have them pick until they find an idea that inspires them.

Take It Outside

Writing indoors can be stifling. Have your kids grab notebooks, pens, and a lounge chair, and head outdoors to write. You can supply the encouragement—and the lemonade.

Don’t think your kids won’t enjoy dabbling in your profession this summer. Give them a fun way to explore their writing talent, and watch them grow and thrive at an art that will serve them well for years to come.

Image by Carissa Rogers

 

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One of the greatest things about writing a cookbook is you don’t have to be a writer to do it. But writers know something that cookbook creators might not: editing is key. And when it comes to writing cookbooks, editing a cookbook can make all the difference to the book’s success. After all, an error in quantity or a confusing instruction can affect the outcome of the recipe—and the usefulness of the cookbook.

As time-consuming as it may be, reviewing a cookbook for accuracy, clarity, and consistency is well worth the effort. Here are four steps you don’t want to skip when editing a cookbook:

1. Look for Writing Errors

Some of the most common writing errors in cookbooks involve abbreviations of cooking terms and measurements. For example, tablespoon is often abbreviated with a capital T, whereas a teaspoon is a lowercase t. The best way to avoid confusing the two is to write out the words or abbreviate them as “Tbs.” and “tsp.”

When editing a cookbook, if you come across something that looks wrong, it probably is. That’s why it’s important to check the original recipe for accuracy. Sometimes, quantities, ingredients, oven temperature, and descriptions (such as “heaping” or “scant”) are left out or copied wrong, which can change the recipe drastically.

Finally, spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors, while they may not alter a recipe, look unprofessional and can affect the book’s readability. Proofread carefully and fix any errors in mechanics.

2. Check for Clarity of Wording

As you’re reading through the recipes for writing errors, ask yourself if the instructions are clear. Do the words explain how to make the recipe without confusing the reader? For example, if a recipe calls for cooking an ingredient, this may mean sautéing, frying, baking, boiling, or broiling. Edit to specify the proper method.

Also, be specific about certain ingredients. Is dill supposed to be dill seed or dill weed? Does the beef need to be a particular cut? Should the oats be rolled or quick? For many recipes, this won’t matter. But check to make sure.

Instructions that are out of order can also be confusing—and disastrous. If part of a recipe should be completed and set aside before the next phase begins, make sure that’s noted. Or, if an oven needs to be preheated, the recipe should say so at the beginning, not halfway through. Instructions should be easy to follow, organized, and reader-friendly.

3. Be Consistent When  Editing a Cookbook

Is “cup” spelled out sometimes and abbreviated others? Are all numbers written as numerals? (Note: Numerals are more reader-friendly than written numbers, especially in ingredient lists and instructions.) Be consistent, whichever style you choose.

Pay attention to the ingredients listed and those used in the directions as well. Are they the same? For example, if a recipe lists egg whites under ingredients, make sure the directions don’t say egg yolks. Ingredients should also be listed in the order they are used.

Consistency also applies to recipe book formats, which can take a number of shapes. The most common is a standard recipe format, where a list of ingredients is followed by step-by-step directions. Another popular format is where the ingredients are embedded in bold within the context of the directions. Whichever format is used, keep it the same throughout the recipe book.

4. Edit and Organize Cookbook Sections

Cookbooks aren’t just a compilation of recipes. They usually contain some front and back matter, too. This might include a preface, acknowledgments, table of contents, index, and glossary. All of these sections must be reviewed for errors, clarity, and consistency.

Sidebars, or separate bits of information related to the recipe (such as helpful hints, baking tips, brief histories, etc.), are also not to be overlooked in the editing process. A cookbook reader will pay close attention to sidebars, so getting them looking and sounding perfect is worth the work.

Finally, make sure all cookbook sections are in order. For example, start with the preface and table of contents, follow this with recipes that are organized in a sensible manner (appetizers, salads, main courses, and so forth), and end with an index. Pay close attention to the recipe section of the book to verify that each recipe falls in its proper category.

Editing a cookbook for errors, consistency, clarity, and organization will help make the recipe book as useful and valuable as it can be. And for the book’s cooks and writers, there’s no better recipe for success than that!

See also Nine Reasons to Take Self-Editing Seriously.

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Spring Bluebell Flowers Purple Blue Scilla Bloom

It’s that time again in Minnesota—time to get ready to enter a spring writing contest. This year’s offerings target everyone from fiction writers to poets to students in the great North Star State, so you’d be hard pressed not to find something that suits your style and interests. Check out the list of Spring 2017 writing contests for Minnesota writers below, then gear up to get creative, share your writing, and earn some recognition—and cash—for your work.

2017 GPS (Geek Partnership Society) Writing Contest

Topic: Sci-fi, fantasy, supernatural, graphic, poetry & short fiction pieces, youth and adult.

Deadline: May 1, 2017

Prizes: $50 - $75 Amazon gift cards

Basic guidelines: Submit original, unpublished works on the above topics to open, youth, poetry, and graphic novel (comics) divisions. No entry fee. This contest is not exclusive to Minnesota writers; the organization is simply based in Minneapolis. For more info, click here.

Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis 2016-2017 Student Essay Contest

Topic: Can the U.S. economy still grow the way it once did?

Deadline: March 31, 2017

Prizes: $100 (for 30 finalists) - $500, plus a paid internship for first place winner. Cash prize for teacher of winners, too.

Basic guidelines: Open to high school students in the Ninth Federal Reserve District, which includes Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Montana, northwestern Wisconsin, and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. For contest rules, check here.

2017 Great American Think-Off

Topic: Has the 2016 election changed our perception of truth?

Deadline: April 1, 2017

Prizes: Four $500 cash prizes and invitation to debate in New York Mills, MN

Basic guidelines: This contest is sponsored by the Cultural Center of New York Mills. Submit an essay of up to 750 words on the topic using personal experience and observations. Enter online, no fee, and all ages welcome. See the website for further details.

Minnesota Christian Writers Guild 2017 Writing Contest

Topic: Everyday people who are making a difference for Jesus.

Deadline: March 13, 2017

Prizes: $25 - $75 cash, plus a mentor session with an editor

Basic guidelines: Submit a personal experience article between 800 and 1,200 words. You must be a member of MCWG to enter, plus pay a $5 entry fee. For more information, click here.

2017 Maria W. Faust Sonnet Contest

Topic: Unpublished sonnet written in Shakespearean, Spenserian, Petrarchan, or Non-traditional rhyme scheme.

Deadline: June 1, 2017

Prizes: Cash totaling over $2,000 in several categories, including Local Area (Winona, MN, and adjacent counties), Best Youth, and Laureate’s Choice.

Basic guidelines: $5 entry fee; free for youth 17 and under. Click here for more info.

2017 LSW (Lake Superior Writers) Writing Contest

Topic: Rivers: mapped and unmapped

Deadline: April 1, 2017

Prizes: $250 per category for winner, plus publication

Basic guidelines: Theme of submissions must be real or metaphorical rivers. Categories include poetry, short-short fiction, creative nonfiction, and short story. Free to LSW members, or you can join and pay a membership fee of $35 to enter. Visit the site for complete rules.

BestPrep and Thomson Reuters High School Essay Contest

Topic: Martin Luther King famously wrote: “Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education. Why is it important for students to develop their character alongside academics? How has your educational journey and life experiences developed your character?

Deadline: April 15, 2017

Prizes: MacBook Air, iPads, Beats headphones, Google Home, and Walmart gift cards, plus an invitation to an Education Forum and private reception at the Saint Paul River Centre in October. Visa gift card for teachers of top five winners.

Basic guidelines: Open to Minnesota high school students. Submit an essay of 600-750 words on the above topic. See website to download essay competition packet.

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Valentine’s Day is all about love, sweets, roses—and writing ideas. What better way to prepare for the upcoming holiday than to write about something reminiscent of it? These Valentine’s Day writing ideas won’t just inspire and uplift you; they’ll help set you up for a sale. So head to your computer and get your creativity—and heart—flowing:

Valentine’s Day History

For history buffs, Valentine’s Day is more than a holiday; it marks an important day in history. Check out this list of key events that have occurred on Valentine’s Day. Any would make an interesting story topic.

A Famous Couple

Bonnie and Clyde? Franklin and Eleanor? Kim and Kanye? Whoever interests you—or not—find a juicy detail about a famous couple and bring it to life.

Puppies

Who doesn’t love puppies? And what puppy doesn’t remind us of love? Craft a story for kids, a piece for a pet magazine, or a personal essay about puppies.

The Color Red

What does the color red signify besides the color of a heart? Write an article on the color red—or pink, white, or purple, other common Valentine’s Day colors. Research what the color signifies to others, or write about an object or event associated with a Valentine’s Day hue.

Heart Health

Heart health is a popular topic today—and not just physical heart health. Broken hearts and how they affect mental well-being makes big headlines too. Actually, just about anything related to the human heart is a marketable story idea and one that's gratifying and potentially lifesaving.

Chocolate

Writing about chocolate might be the sweetest idea yet. If you like this tasty treat, you’ll have even more reason to pen a story or article about it. Plus, there’s plenty to talk about—a new type of chocolate, a favorite family recipe, a country known for its chocolate, you name it. When it comes to writing about chocolate, the sky’s the limit.

Flowers

You might think roses are the flower of Valentine’s Day, but many people get bouquets of lilies, carnations, tulips, or a mix. Which flower do you like best? Find out what’s unique about it—does it have medicinal properties or an interesting past? Even if you’re not a gardener, writing about flowers is a great way to recognize Valentine’s Day, prepare for spring, and sell your work.

Valentine’s Day is more than a time to celebrate love—it’s filled with unlimited writing ideas, too. Pick one of the above, and take advantage of all the great writing potential packed into the sweetest day of the year.

Image by Peggy2012CREATIVELENZ

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Having trouble deciding on a New Year’s resolution? Why not look to your writing for help. Even if you’re satisfied with how things are going, there’s always room for improvement. Take a minute to reflect on your writing life during the past year—what you liked about it, what you didn’t, and what you could do differently. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you come up with a New Year’s resolution—or a whole list of them. To help you get started, here are some ideas to consider:

Set Higher or Lower Goals

If you feel like you’re putting too much pressure on yourself to produce, maybe you need to scale back this year. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to set a high standard to stay challenged. Re-evaluate what you know you can and cannot accomplish in the next year, and resolve to meet your goals.

Try a New Writing Genre or Market

Have you been unhappy with the type of writing you do? This could be the year you begin your mystery novel or try your hand at children’s writing. Maybe you just need to look into new markets for your work. Do some research and see what piques your interest for the upcoming year.

Acquire Knowledge

Learning helps you advance your craft, plus it’s a good way to avoid burnout. If you’re writing life feels stagnant, make it your New Year's resolution to taking a writing class—or a class on any topic that appeals to you and helps you further your career. Or, join a writer’s group or organization. You’ll learn from your peers and make some friends in the process.

Start Submitting Regularly

How often do you submit your work? If the answer is very little, it’s time to step up your game. Pledge to submit a certain number of articles or queries weekly as your New Year's resolution. Remember, the more you submit, the more likely your chances of getting published—which will help keep you happy and inspired this year.

Talk Openly About Your Writing

Many of us are quiet about our writing. No one asks, so we don’t talk about it. Telling the world you’re a writer, though, may open up good discussion and new opportunities. One thing’s for certain: it’ll validate to you and others that you’re a writer—and that can be just the motivation you need for a fruitful year.

New Year’s resolutions are good for writers. Spend some time coming up one or more. You’ll approach 2017 with a much better outlook and a greater likelihood of success.

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img_0864Despite what anyone says, writing a book is never a solo endeavor. As a self-publisher and e-book author, I’m especially aware of the amount of help that goes into writing and publishing a book—and the thanks owed to each contributor. Which is why including a section for acknowledgments is so important.

That said, writing acknowledgments doesn’t necessarily come easily or naturally. Common questions include: How do you begin? Where should you place the acknowledgments? Who do you include? And will the section even get read?

For answers, follow these guidelines, and make this purposeful front matter, well, matter.

Who and What to Include in Acknowledgments

Before you begin writing the acknowledgments, reflect back on all the people who assisted with the book project—librarians and researchers, subject matter experts, other authors who offered opinions or direction, editors, critiquers, printers, publishing consultants, mentors, friends, and family members. Jot down everyone who helped. You can always go back and cross off those who played a small role. A brief note or word of gratitude may be enough thanks for minor contributors.

Now think of any organizations or other resources that played a part in writing your book. Maybe you spent a lot of time looking up records at the county historical society. Perhaps you visited the police department or another government agency for advice. Obviously, a bibliography might be the best place to credit books and periodicals, but it’s possible some held enough value that they deserve a spot in the acknowledgments section of your book too.

One word of caution: If you’re unsure whether a particular contributor wants to be mentioned in the acknowledgments, ask him or her first. Respect privacy concerns for anyone you interviewed or consulted who might not want the public exposure.

Organizing and Writing Acknowledgments

Once you have a list of all who contributed to your book project, it’s time to start writing. Here’s where you have to decide how you want to organize this section. There are no set rules. You can begin with the indispensable helpers—those you couldn’t have written the book without—or you can work your way toward the most important contributors.

When writing acknowledgments, some authors draft a collective thank you while others create separate descriptions of each contributor’s role. Either way is fine, as long as the section doesn't drag on for pages. Begin with a brief introduction followed by heartfelt, succinct gratitude. Avoid flowery language and rambling sentences. Instead, offer simple, straightforward details of how the contributor helped you. When it comes to writing acknowledgments, less is more.

Front Matter or Back Matter?

Traditional publishers typically place acknowledgments with the front matter, after the table of contents and preface but before the introduction. When the acknowledgments are exceptionally brief, they can even be included within the preface.

Of course, if you’re a self-publisher, you don’t have to follow traditional publisher guidelines. You might choose to place your thanks at the back of the book, before the other back matter. If your book already contains many pages of front matter (i.e., a lengthy preface and/or introduction, dedication, epigraph, etc.), putting the acknowledgments at the back of the book might make more sense.

A Book Section That’s Overlooked?

So do readers really read this section? The answer is yes—and no. Some readers don’t miss a page; others skip over front and back matter. If you want your acknowledgments read, make them stand out. These tips and reminders can help:

  • Place the acknowledgments where they’re most visible or likely to be read
  • Keep the section short, personal but professional, and to the point
  • Use an easy-to-read font
  • Edit, using another set of eyes
  • Read acknowledgments written by other authors for style and techniques that work

Without question, writing a book takes more than just the author to pull off successfully. The best way authors can express their gratitude and give back to all who helped—many of whom may not have been paid—is to include them in a section of acknowledgments. Done right, it’s a thank you that will never be forgotten.

 

 

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cupcakeGood holiday recipes are always in demand—which is why if you’ve got one, chances are you’ll be asked to share it. And share it, you should. Whether you’re participating in a holiday cookie exchange or bringing a crowd-pleasing dish to Christmas Eve dinner, sharing a holiday recipe is a giving gesture and a great way to pass on a holiday tradition. Plus, you'll get to hone your writing skills in the process.

There are no set-in-stone rules on writing holiday recipes, but you’ll want to keep a few things in mind before you get started:

Make Your Holiday Recipe Coherent

Recipes aren’t the place to get creative with words, especially at holiday time. Cooks and bakers want to know one thing: how to make your holiday treat just like you did. The more straightforward you are, the better for them. Write your holiday recipe using easy language, a step-by-step format, and short, succinct (not necessarily complete) sentences.

Pay Attention to Recipe Symbols and Spacing

Typing out a recipe versus handwriting it will help you avoid errors, but be sure to use proper mechanics when writing recipes. For example, 1 14 oz. can might read as 114 ounces. Instead, write 1-14 oz. can or one 14-ounce can. Likewise, 11/2 teaspoons is better written 1&1/2 teaspoons. And avoid confusing abbreviations, like "T" for tablespoon and "t" for teaspoon; spell out measurements instead.

Test Your Holiday Recipe

Holiday cooking is different than everyday cooking: time is limited and stress is often high, so there’s no room for error. If you’re giving away a new recipe—something you haven’t made yet yourself—do a trial run first. You may decide it isn’t as good as you thought or that it needs some tweaks. Test out a new recipe, and you’ll be more confident when you write and share it.

Add Helpful Tips

Do you decorate your holiday cookie a certain way? Does adding an optional ingredient to your holiday casserole make it moister? Do cooking times vary depending on the texture you prefer? If there’s something you do to make your recipe especially yummy, include it. Tips are always helpful for bakers and cooks, especially at holiday time, when success matters most.

Review and Edit

Never share a recipe without looking it over for mistakes. One tablespoon off can turn your favorite holiday treat into a disaster for the next person making it. Look over the ingredient list carefully, double check baking temperatures and times, edit for spelling and grammar, and make sure all the steps are included. Check for minor typos, too—they can throw off a cook.

‘Tis the season of giving, so go ahead, share a favorite holiday recipe. And help make someone else’s holiday as bright—and tasty—as yours.

Image: Courtesy of tawest64

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fall-park-benchEvery year, I get excited about fall. It’s not just because I can start wearing sweaters and jeans again; I like everything about fall - the weather, the changing colors, the approaching holidays, and especially the peace and quiet. Fall is my favorite time to reflect. And write.

But if you’re like me, sometimes it takes a minute to get out of summer mode. The slower pace of August isn’t that easy to part ways with, even though the computer beckons.

What works well for me is doing something new and different to jumpstart my Autumn writing routine. Fortunately, fall is rife with options that are motivating, fun, and profitable. Check out these fall writing activities, and make this autumn your best writing season yet.

Write a Halloween Article or Story

If you’re a web content writer, there are all kinds of Halloween-related article ideas that are sure to sell, like Halloween safety tips, nutrition-based treats, modern-day costume ideas, or the latest Halloween apps. Halloween stories and articles for kids are big sellers, too. Look for Halloween writing contests for places to submit.

Get Ready for the Holidays

October is a great month to start writing for the winter holidays. Article buyers seek material months in advance, so get writing and submitting now. You may have a quick sale if it’s unique and well written. One thing’s for certain: holiday-themed writing is always in demand.

Write Outside

What better time to write outside than on a beautiful fall afternoon? The gorgeous colors, cool temperatures, and light breezes make being outside refreshing and inspiring. Head to the park, sit outside at the public library or pull up a comfy chair on the patio. A change of scene can be highly fruitful for your writing career.

Take a Hike with Your Notebook

Fall hikes are full of adventure - and writing ideas. Take a nature hike with your notebook and jot down whatever captures your attention. Hikes are exceptionally visual activities that can spark all kinds of thoughts, emotions, and sensory descriptions. Be sure your notebook fits in a pack or your pocket, and don’t forget a writing utensil.

Attend a Conference

Fall is loaded with conferences and the perfect time of year to attend one. If you’ve got kids, check into writing conferences that you can do together. Not sure where to look for a conference? Try local writing organizations, colleges or the public library, or look online.

Don’t let fall slip by without taking advantage of this great writing season. Try any of the above fall writing activities, and make autumn productively pleasing from start to finish.

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writer-605764_1280So you’re done writing an article for the web. You’ve polished it, collected images, done your final edits, and put it in the proper format. Before you press submit, hold on. Did you include a bio? Writing a bio may not have been part of the assignment, but rest assured, it’ll be needed. Bios aren’t just for print magazines; they’re used on websites and blogs too. And that’s a good thing for you. It gets your name out there and can bring exposure—and more work.

A bio is basically a short summary of a writer’s credentials and interests. As small as they are, bios have a big job—to describe you in a way that grants you readership and credibility. So don’t take writing a bio lightly; done well, it can do wonders for your career.

So how can you write a top-notch bio that’ll get you noticed? Here are six tips to help put you on the right track:

Choose a Voice

Should you write in first or third person? Good question—and one only you can answer. Often it depends on who you’re writing a bio for. If you’re not sure, ask. Some editors prefer third person; others first. For your personal blog, first makes more sense. Do what’s stylistically appropriate.

Focus on Brevity

It’s great if you have a lot of credentials; just save them for your resume or you might lose readers. If you’re not required to stay within a specific word count for a bio, offer a few sentences—powerful yet succinct is the goal. Be sure to include the obvious: your name, position, and key accomplishments.

Home In on the Significant

Sometimes it’s hard to decide which parts of your background to use in a bio, especially when they all seem important. Look to your audience for help. Readers will want to know what makes you an authority on the subject at hand. If you’re writing about pets, for example, mention your expertise in pet training, competition, or veterinary care.

Add Something Fun

Do you have a unique hobby or skill that would interest readers? Maybe you’re a fitness writer who has an affinity for ballroom dancing and a dream of joining a dance competition. Offer a side of your personality that makes you relatable to your audience.

Link Up

Your bio is just a sampling of who you are professionally, but some readers will want to know more about you. Give them the option. Add links to your resume, website, Facebook or LinkedIn profile, or blog. Pick just one or two, though; too many links gets confusing.

Include a Photo

People want to see a real person behind the article they just read. Make sure you have a photo, whether it’s of yourself or something relevant to your bio. The picture will likely be small, so don’t choose something with too much detail. Make it simple—a head shot of you works well.

Writing a bio is an important task for any writer. Give yours the attention it deserves, and see what a huge impact it can have on your career.

 

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writing v editingMost of us writers know that writing and editing have a lot in common. For one thing, they both need each other. You can’t write, or write well, without editing, and you can’t edit without a piece of writing. For another, they both involve words, grammar, mechanics, communication, headwork—and the list goes on.

But writing and editing are actually very different disciplines, and understanding those differences can go a long way in making you better at either—or both. Check out these five, and learn what skills you need to use for each process. You might even discover which one you’re best suited for.

Writing is about creating; editing is mending.

Writers are creators of stories. They know how to tell a tale or put an idea into readable form. A thoughtful, creative mind is a quality of a good writer. Editors are fixers. They’re good at cutting, pasting, adding, revising, restructuring, and rewording.

Writing requires finding research; editing corroborates it.

While writers must find resources to back up their facts, editors do the fact-checking. They need to verify that the writer is telling the truth. Fact-checking is a good skill to have as a writer, but it’s essential for an editor.

Writing uses the heart; editing relies on the head.

Writers are a passionate bunch. They write with heart, soul, and all the senses. Editors make sure the writing isn’t overly emotional, flowery, or opinionated and that it appeals to the intended audience. Editors must be mindful and objective.

Writing takes reading; editing takes resourcefulness.

Most good writers are avid readers. Reading makes writers better at their craft. Editors benefit from reading, but they must be good at using resources even more. Knowing how to make something read better by consulting style guides is key for editors.

Writing can’t be interrupted; editing can.

Writing is something you need hours of quality, uninterrupted time to do. Editing can be done in pieces—a paragraph or page at a time. It helps to have continuity when editing; writing, on the other hand, depends on it.

Writing and editing go hand-in-hand, but they’re not the same thing. Even though many writers are editors and vice versa, each requires a different set of skills. Know what it takes to do either job and learn how to become better at what you do best.