6 Lessons I learned From Writing Weekly Columns for Four Years


I wrote my first article for WorldMag.com in January of 2012. I had been blogging for about six months at that time, and they took a flyer on me. It worked out pretty well. Every week since then with only three or four exceptions they have published a 500-word sports commentary piece of mine. Last week I turned in my final article for World. I am grateful for the chance to write for them and for the opportunities it afforded. But I am especially thankful for the writing lessons I learned over four years and two hundred and twenty articles.

Lesson 1 – How to Hit a Deadline

Every week I had a deadline. Every week I needed to write something that was better than terrible by the end of Wednesday. The consistency and constancy could be oppressive, but they were precisely what a procrastinator like myself needed. It provided the structure I needed to be productive. I learned that I always need deadlines to complete projects so if one is not assigned to me I must assign it to myself.

Lesson 2 – How to Find a Story

Some weeks not much happens in sports. Or something happened that is a thing I wrote about just a few weeks earlier. Sometimes there isn’t a new controversy or mega-event. I was a commentator, not a reporter, so I had to find a message and a perspective – not just tell stuff that happened. I had to learn to keep my eyes and ears open, to listen to broadcasters and commentators keenly, to read columnists with a curious eye, and to examine even the mundane from as many perspectives as I could think of. Over time I learned to see and hear connections between seemingly disparate or mundane events and meaningful ideas.

Lesson 3 – How to Write Within a Structure

Five hundred words – that was my word count. Make a point to help people think or live differently. That was my aim. So every week I had to structure a story with enough details for the uninformed and enough thought to make it meaningful into a five hundred word bucket. More often than not I had to go back and cut what seemed like pertinent details or ideas in order to tighten the piece. Sometimes I resented the word count; I wanted to rant or explicate or explore ideas. In the end I came to appreciate it. Five hundred words – how to ebb and flow an idea, how it looked on a page – became almost instinctive. As a young writer having that limit was a boon for me.

Lesson 4 – How to Write for An Audience

World reaches a relatively defined demographic. I am not in that demographic, though I am familiar with it, so I learned how to write in such a way as to connect with the audience (I think. I hope?) but also stretch them. My inclination as a writer is to pay little attention to audience and simply write the idea, the story, the concept. So to have a proto-reader in mind challenged and improved me.

Lesson 5 – How to Trust the Process

Some weeks I would sit down on a Wednesday evening, my allotted writing time, and have no ideas, no outline, no story, and no energy. Those were panic moments, at least for a couple years. What would I write? How would I finish? Would it be terrible? Inevitably, though, I would find an idea and grind it out. Over time the panic instances diminished. Then the worry diminished. I realized I had found a process I could trust. No matter how empty my brain or my page, I knew I could find five hundred words worth writing on sports and faith. Week in and week out I followed the same steps, developed and worked the same mental muscles, and practiced the same skills. The process worked.

Lesson 6 – How to Gauge My Own Work

Nobody gets a hit in every at bat. The trick, as a writer, is to recognize your swings and misses and your foul balls. It took me a long time to start getting the hang of this, to realize that some pieces weren’t my best work. I used to get offended and defensive when my editor would send a piece back with questions or suggestions. (I still do too often.) But I began to recognize, even predict, when this would happen. I began to respond a little better with a little more humility. This is a big step for a writer – a big step toward getting better.

Want A Free Book?!?

We'd love to give you the book Praying The Promises for free! It will walk you through God's promises and how to pray them. Just sign up below to get your copy IMMEDIATELY! It's like Christmas!

Powered by ConvertKit