Part of succeeding in the real world is unlearning what school has taught you. This is especially true with writing.

So what are some of the lessons writers need to unlearn?

Forget minimum word counts.

School teaches us to drag out our writing, to string audiences along as we inflate our writing to meet some arbitrary minimum word count.

Enforcing a strict maximum word count would be far more effective. Teachers should ask the impossible of students. Require students to argue for or against organized religion or capital punishment in 200 words. Or 100 words.

But that doesn’t give me enough to work with, to make my point, students may complain.

Welcome to the real world, kid. Take your best shot with the parameters you have.

Get to the point.

Perhaps you’ve heard the joke about the formula for academic writing:

  1. Tell them what you’re going to tell them.
  2. Tell them.
  3. Tell them what you told them.


Tell them—and while you’re telling them, tell them why they should care. Make sure the why is woven throughout your writing.

Your teachers will read whatever you submit because they have to. That’s their job. That’s what they get paid for.

Most people outside the classroom do not have to read your writing. So don’t assume you’ll keep their attention just because you showed up.

Don’t be a grammar purist.

Writing is about communication and connection. It ain’t about having the rightest sentences.

You can start sentences with conjunctions. And you shouldn’t feel bad about it.

Don’t beat yourself up about ending a sentence with a preposition. There are more important things to worry about.

Fragments are fine. Really.

Just be sure it works for your context and audience. (That last bit is good life advice, not just writing advice.)

Study copywriting.

Copywriters are writers who consistently get paid for their writing. The best can turn a few everyday words into phrases that stick in an audience’s mind for decades.

How do they do it? What can you learn from studying copywriting? How can you bring those lessons to your own writing?

It’d also be nice if school taught more about aesthetics, a crucial aspect of copywriting materials, because writing is more than words.

That ain’t all.

This is hardly a comprehensive list.

But it’s somewhere to start learning how to put together the writer’s puzzle.