Developing Communication Skills: Part Two
Series Note: Career Girls founder and CEO Linda Calhoun shares insights distilled from her in-depth interviews of over 800 women role models. Each article is dedicated to exploring the skills and attitudes that advance girls’ intellectual, social and emotional learning for success in both life and career.
At our core, Career Girls crowdsources the hard-fought lessons learned by an inclusive and diverse group of women. Our Role Models define the skills you need to be successful, not only in the world of work, but in your life as a whole.
Written communication is one of those essential qualities you need to develop. When you write well, you’re not only connecting words and relaying information, you’re connecting ideas and relating to people. This knowledge has had a positive impact in my life and now I want to share it with you and the girls in your life..
Communication. Developing Writing Skills. Learning to write well and tell your story opens doors to opportunities. Good writing skills demonstrate that you have the ability to organize your thoughts and ideas clearly, and present them in your own unique, authentic style.
What does it take to become a good writer? Our role models share their strategies and tips to help build your writing muscles — whether your career goals include professional writing or virtually any other field.
If you’re intrigued about the idea of becoming a professional writer, be open, be flexible and explore the possibilities. The wide world of writing circulates through many arenas. There are niches for fiction, technical writing, medical writing, journalism, marketing communications, academic writing, screenwriting, business communications and much more.
1) Learn to Love to Read.
To become a good writer, you must first be a good reader. Be curious. Be open to reading everything: books, blogs, poems, plays, comic books, cereal boxes, anything with print — even things you think you might not enjoy. Keep a book by your bed and in your bag. Play games, like opening the dictionary at a random page and teaching yourself a new word.
“Reading is one of the most important things that will help you catapult to whatever career you want to do in life. Oftentimes, we’re so busy — we’re on social media or we’re heading off to cheerleading. I would suggest that you stop and take some time to read.
“Think about what you’re interested in. Go to the library, go to the web, find topics that interest you… The more you do it, the better off you’ll be.” — Shirelle Graves, Reading Specialist
2) Learn From the Best.
Develop your writing skills by reading works from the best writers — both classic and contemporary, fiction and nonfiction. Ask your teachers, librarians, family and friends for recommendations, or go online and explore using keyword searches such as “award-winning novels” or “best blogs.”
“The more you read, the richer your vocabulary will be and the more you will see how established authors use words to express situations. You learn from that. Use that to frame your own stories. Through time, you will see how it becomes second nature because you’ve repeatedly practiced it.” — Serkalem Tafesse, Freelance Writer
3) Be Disciplined and Set Goals.
Working toward a future as a professional writer requires discipline and determination. Practice setting and reaching goals — and meeting deadlines.
“When you set a goal, it’s really important to be specific about it. The next step is to sit down and figure out what steps do I need to take to get there. What people do I need in my life? What classes do I need to take? What skills do I need to develop to get to that goal?” — Stephanie Strickland Majoulian, Technical Operations Manager
“The discipline that I learned from practicing the piano an hour a day helped me with deadlines. I think in my 24 years as a reporter, I’ve missed one deadline.” — Vickie Newton, TV News Anchor
4) Learn Your Writing Work Style.
Open yourself up and experiment. Discover the routines, techniques and practices that will work best for you personally — to help your writing flow and to express your true voice.
“Really, the key is trial and error. Some people love to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning and write, just free-form write. Some people like to outline. Some people write late at night. I tend to write late at night because that’s when I feel most creative.” — CJ Omololu, Novelist
“I discovered my voice through a lot of experimentation. I have a very naked, emotional honesty that is in my work. That is the place I write from. I want to put myself out there and not be so afraid. So that’s how I found my voice, just by trying to be courageous, over and over again.” — Corrine Jackson, Young Adult Author
“I would say: ‘Read. Journal. And then write whatever it is you’re going to write.” — Alita Anderson, M.D., Medical Writer
5) Practice, Practice, Practice.
Realize that no writer’s work comes out perfectly the first time. To build your muscles as a writer, you must practice writing as if it were an athletic skill. First, take a few breaths and let your words flow. Then take a break. Go back and read what you’ve written. With ‘fresh eyes,’ you’ll spot ways to revise and improve your writing.
“It starts with your word on the page. Sit down and keep your pen to paper or your hands on the keyboard. It’s important to keep writing and not edit yourself or stop yourself when you write something that you’re not happy with… A lot of writing comes in rewriting and revisions.” — Cidney Hue, Sci-Fi Director and Filmmaker
“People aren’t born knowing how to be successful in any activity. It’s all about hard work and practice and learning how to perform at a high level in any situation that comes your way.” — Sian Beilock, Ph.D., President of Barnard College at Columbia University; Cognitive Scientist, Author and Public Speaker
6) Create Opportunities.
Find ways to improve your writing skills with activities like journaling, writing letters or making up short stories. Share your work with others — in a writing group, for example — and learn from their feedback.
“I encourage all young girls: Join your yearbook staff. Join your literary magazine staff. Join your high school newspaper. Join your college newspaper. Write and write and write… And don’t be scared to produce your own thoughts.” — Janet Wu, Multi-Media Journalist; Anchor/Reporter, Bloomberg
“Be very open in terms of putting out your own creative ideas into a community where you can share your work and get feedback.” — Debra Anderson, Media Consultant
7) Use All the Tools.
Make sure you take advantage of the tools available to you, such as dictionaries, thesauruses and style guides. Accurate spelling, grammar and fact-checking all demonstrate that you hold yourself to a standard of excellence and take pride in your work. Other tools include websites that can help you develop the craft and art of writing.
“Language skills are important. Really good spelling and accuracy are very important. That doesn’t mean it has to come naturally to you. But when you work at it, it’s a good discipline and you can improve quite a bit just through hard work.
“I’m not naturally a good proofreader but I’ve learned that my job sometimes depends on it, so I’ve become better at it.” — Karen Chassin, Communications Officer
“I highly encourage you to check out this website: figment.com. It’s all aimed at young adults and girls who want to write. You get to share your work with other girls. It’s a very active community with forums and contests. Authors come in and read your work too. So, it’s a great opportunity to have your work read by professional authors.” — Corrine Jackson, Young Adult Author
8) Experience Life.
To be a good writer, you need something to say. You need to fill your writing well with actual life experiences. Try different things. Be mindful and notice the details in your environment. Strike up conversations. Listen carefully to what people say and observe their emotions. Jot down a quick note or take mental ‘snapshots’ when something strikes you as interesting. It’s all great material for a writer.
“I go down South to find my stories and some of my poems. And in New York, there are stories everywhere, like on the train. I look at people and try to figure out what is their inspiration, what is their destination. I’ve made up a lot of stories about strangers I see. That’s one of the positive things you can do as a writer, you can create characters.” — jessica Care moore, Poet; Executive Producer, Daughters of Betty-Powered by Black Women Rock!; and CEO, Moore Black Press
“Have an interest in life. Have an interest in people. I love listening to people’s stories… Every experience is valid — good and bad. How I process life is through my writing.” — Regina Taylor, Writer, Actor, Director and Golden Globe Winner
The Last Word
We’ll let our Role Model Karen Murphy, Book Editor, have the last word:
About the Author
Linda Calhoun is an entrepreneur, activist, and community leader based in San Francisco, California. A graduate of Boston University with a B.S. in Mass Communication, Linda’s career path led her to work in international policy coordination, media, technology, and data management. Her work has met the unique and increasingly important intersections of STEM and Social Justice.
Linda is the Founder and CEO of Career Girls, a nonprofit that was created as a response to the inequality of opportunity that Linda encountered in her story. Linda is the President of the Career Girls board and Co-Chairs the board for the Alliance for Girls.
My own lived experiences as a Black woman today, and as a Black girl growing up in the United States, shape how I see the world — both its problems and potential solutions.
The problem I most wanted to address is what I’ve come to call the Imagination Gap. Something was holding girls back from meeting their full potential — and it wasn’t a lack of ability. For many girls, the dots were simply not being connected.
My solution was the creation of Career Girls, a nonprofit organization that now has its wings throughout the world. Its global platform speaks to girls around the globe and empowers them to take control of their lives. And, it offers useful tools for the adults and educators in their lives.
I conducted video interviews with over 800 women and now share the hard-fought lessons from this inclusive and diverse group of women we call the Career Girls Role Models. In down-to-earth, realistic videos, these accomplished Role Models clearly explain the skills needed in an array of careers. They take a deeper dive into the concepts behind these skills and provide insights gained from their own education and careers. Ultimately, they answer the all-important question as to why those skills are needed to be successful in work and in life overall.
Career Girls is founded on the dream that every girl around the world will have access to diverse and accomplished women role models — to learn from their experiences and to discover their own path to empowerment. Our mission is to Close the Imagination Gap™ for girls everywhere.
To all of the women who contributed to this article, we are inspired and grateful.
Our contributors to the ‘Developing Communication Skills — Part Two: Writing’ article are: Shirelle Graves, Reading Specialist; Serkalem Tafesse, Freelance Writer; Stephanie Strickland Majoulian, Technical Operations Manager; Vickie Newton, TV News Anchor; CJ Omololu, Novelist; Corrine Jackson, Young Adult Author; Alita Anderson, M.D., Medical Writer; Cidney Hue, Sci-Fi Director and Filmmaker; Sian Beilock, Ph.D., President of Barnard College at Columbia University, Cognitive Scientist, Author and Public Speaker; Janet Wu, Multi-Media Journalist, Anchor/Reporter, Bloomberg; Debra Anderson, Media Consultant; Karen Chassin, Communications Officer; jessica Care moore, Poet, Executive Producer, Daughters of Betty-Powered by Black Women Rock!, and CEO, Moore Black Press; Regina Taylor, Writer, Actor, Director and Golden Globe Winner; Karen Murphy, Book Editor; and Alvina Vasquez, Public Relations Vice President.
Contributors to the Career Girls ‘Developing Writing Skills’ video are (in order of appearance): CJ Omololu, Novelist; Alita Anderson, M.D., Medical Writer; Deborah Santana, Author, Peace and Social Activist for Equity for Women, Children and People of Color, and Leadership Donor of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture; Karen Murphy, Book Editor; Maggie Tokuda-Hall, Writer; Karen Chassin, Communications Executive; and Corrine Jackson, Young Adult Author.
And… You’re not on your own! Visit the Career Girls website for our ‘Developing Writing Skills Video’ and related discussion guides, activities and resources. There are no ads, and everything is completely free.
Try this Career Girls Empowerment Activity, a fun group-writing project called ‘Write and Pass.’
Check out GetUnderlined.com, the website community focusing on the creation and culture of young adult fiction.