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There are many pathways to becoming a professional writer. Sally J. Pla, for example, cycled through jobs as a waitress and front desk clerk before becoming a freelance writer and, eventually, author of wildly popular children’s books. Other second-career writers include novelist Sherwood Anderson (paint factory manager) and Man Booker Prize winner George Saunders (geophysical engineer).
For Hayley Milliman, who presents the 5 Principles of Writing Clear Prose on Oct. 26, the entryway to the field was elementary school teacher. “It was not the plan!” she says about stumbling into her current career as an author and content writer.
Hayley taught grades 2 to 6 when she began transitioning into curriculum development in the private sector. “It was a tiny [ed-tech] startup, so we all wore many hats,” she says. “I had to do a lot of writing, both for the assessments that we were creating and for marketing materials talking about the assessments.”
Writing had always been her passion (second, maybe, to Harry Potter — but more on that later). Equipped with digital expertise and motivated to find freelancing gigs, Hayley started blogging for popular tech sites like How to Geek and co-authored Museum Hack’s Guide to History’s Fiercest Females.
In addition to working on her first novel, she’s now content lead for ProWritingAid, a software for professional writers and editors. Just as the tool has helped over a million users tidy their prose, it’s taught Hayley a lot about the importance of clarity and brevity in writing.
We’re excited for Hayley to share her five writing principles, but if that’s not reason enough to register, we’re giving away a one-year membership to ProWritingAid! That’s a $79 USD value for a ~$7.50 USD ticket (registration ends 1pm ET).
In the meantime, we caught up with Hayley to talk about how being an elementary teacher made her a better storyteller, how she uses technology as a writer, and that thing with J.K. Rowling.The 5 Principles of Writing with Clarity (C$10)
What did your teaching background teach you about connecting with your reading audience?
How you say things is more important than what you say. Two teachers can teach the exact same content but their effectiveness is all about delivery. Same with writing. Any topic can be engaging if you write about it clearly.
When it comes to the simple yet vital goal of writing with clarity, what are a few of the most common mistakes writers make?
The most common mistake I see is making your work too difficult to read. Audiences don’t necessarily want to work to understand your work. They want to disappear into your world. If you hide your meaning behind fancy constructions and complicated words, it won’t be as engaging.
You blog about tech for How to Geek and LifeSavvy. How has technology shaped your own style and process of writing?
I use technology at every step of my process: to brainstorm, to outline, to write, to edit. I really love learning about new tech tools and testing more ways to make myself more efficient and effective.
Audiences don’t necessarily want to work to understand your work. They want to disappear into your world.
What’s your favourite Pro Writing Aid feature?
It catches all my stylistic bad habits. I tend to be overly wordy and repetitive. ProWritingAid helps me identify those types of errors and fix them.
You co-wrote PWA’s resource book, How to Build Your Author Platform on a Shoestring. What’s the most important takeaway from it?
You don’t need a huge budget to successfully market your book. You can do it with a little bit of money and a clear, simple marketing strategy. Build an audience of loyal fans, and you’ll have all the readers you need.
I’m dying to know, what’s the story of WizardU, the adult only Harry Potter convention you co-founded?
Ha! So, my college roommate is a screenwriter and started hosting a yearly Harry Potter-themed standup show for her birthday. Eventually, it got enormous and then became a monetized show called PotterCon. A few years later, she met some agents who took PotterCon on the road and she asked me to support her as the COO. We did thirteen sold-out shows across the US and then had to pivot to a non-IP version (Wizard U) and did a few more shows. We both got tired of touring though, it’s not really our style. We probably had shows for about 25,000 people total. It was unexpected and very nuts.
It’s obviously not a great time to run a Harry Potter convention right now, not in the least because of the pandemic. How do you think the controversy over J.K. Rowling will affect fan culture? How has it affected you?
I used to read all the Harry Potter books at least once a year and haven’t touched them. It’s hard for me to separate my burnout on HP from how I toured with PotterCon/Wizard U, because I definitely got burnt out on it during that time. But JK Rowling’s controversies have not made me want to dip back into that world. It started with her new film series and has continued with her public transphobia. I don’t think I’ll be returning to that world anytime soon and I know a lot of friends who feel similarly.
The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.The 5 Principles of Writing with Clarity (C$10)