In Part 1 of this series I listed seven sins poker writers (and writers in general) would do well to avoid. This time around I want to focus on some of the positive attributes and traits that will help writers get ahead.

Virtue #1: Start with a sentence.

Having a full outline for a column before you get started can certainly make things easier and help organize your thoughts, but some of my best columns have been products of a single sentence or thought, and since there isn’t always something interesting to write about (especially in this field), the ability to make something out of nothing is pretty important if you have article quotas to hit.

When you’re having trouble coming up with article ideas it’s best to start small, and try to let the words just start to flow and blossom and bloom in real-time.

What I’m getting at is, you don’t always have to have a full column mapped out in your head to begin writing. Sometimes I’ll simply type out a sentence, “Tournament poker has changed a lot since 2003.” or “Online poker sites need to reconnect with recreational players.” and then see where it goes. Other times I’ll start with an interesting tweet I read and create a column around it.

Sometimes it’s sent to the recycle bin (more on that in a moment); other times I pick my head up an hour later and realize I have 90% of a really good column written.

Bottom line: If you don’t start typing until you have a complete column in mind you’ll never produce enough consistent content to make it as a writer.

Virtue #2: Build relationships.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to get to know the people you cover, and form relationships with them.

If you’re a tournament reporter or tasked with writing tournament recaps, knowing the people you cover allows you to add interesting tidbits to the article. Knowing their back stories, or having a way to get in touch with them is invaluable.

If you deal in legislative and industry related content, it’s equally as important to get to know people working at the different companies and the lawmakers and lobbyists in key states. The more people you know the more enlightened your analysis will be, and the better positioned you’ll be to get scoops and exclusive interviews and information.

Of course, you have to offer something in return. You have to prove yourself to be trustworthy and a fair critic, and you have to know how to deal with sensitive, off-the-record information.

Virtue #3: Embrace and promote your peers.

In the same vein, it’s also important to get to know your peers.

There is plenty of work out there, so you are, and aren’t, competitors. You’re more like coworkers, even if you work for competing companies.

Knowing other writers will help you hone your craft, build the types of relationships I noted above, and keep you abreast on any potential job openings they might hear of.

This is a two-way street, and you should help out other writers (let them know about jobs) and promote their work when you feel it’s warranted.

Virtue #4: Engage with your readers.

In addition to building relationships within the industry, and with other writers, it’s also important to engage with your readers.

One of the goals you should have as a writer is to build a loyal readership. This can be done through content, but also through engagement, particularly on social media.

When people ask you questions on Twitter, or in the article’s comment section, you should do your best to answer. When people are critical of what you’ve written, you should be willing to engage and politely explain your point of view, and listen to their points.

Virtue #5: Work smart.

One of the things I’ve learned over the years is how important it is to maximize your time, and work smarter. This goes beyond creating an efficient and distraction-free workspace.

As a writer you should:

  1. Maintain important bookmarks, and links to often used resource material – and keep them updated.
  2. Have a way to scan through your old articles (mine are all backed-up to word documents on my PC) to quickly find data, research notes, and interviews you’ve done in the past.
  3. Update and maintain your email contacts, and other contact information.
  4. Make sure potential clients or contacts can find a way get in touch with you.

All of this seems obvious enough, but working smarter is more important than most people realize.

From personal experience, it’s much harder for me to be as efficient when I’m on my laptop (which doesn’t have all my old articles) or when I’m travelling (and don’t have access to all of my contact information) than it is on my PC in my home office where everything is at my fingertips.

Virtue #6: Keep improving.

Just because you’re not getting feedback or direction on your work don’t take this to mean your work is perfect.

When an editor (if you’re lucky enough to work with an editor you know what a blessing this can be) makes suggestions you should embrace it and recognize it for what it is, constructive criticism designed to make you a better writer.

You should be ready to accept feedback when it comes your way, and you should actively seek it out, and find different ways you can improve, whether it’s spending 30 minutes on trying to figure out when to use effect or affect or the proper way to use a parenthetical.

Virtue #7: Know when to throw something in the recycle bin.

In Virtue #1 I mentioned the recycle bin. As a writer the recycle bin should be one of your best friends.

Just because you spent two hours working on something, or just because the article is 800 words (so you’re tossing $50-$150 in the trash depending on what you get paid), sometimes it’s better to just toss it in the recycle bin.

I’ve come to accept this is as a price of doing business as a writer, and I’d rather wash my hands of an article rather than submit a disjointed or rambling column that’s below what I consider to be my usual standard.

A solid clue that something belongs in the recycle bin is when you’ve worked on it on five or six different occasions over the course of a week and still aren’t happy with where it’s going.