FREELANCE 411: Writing Deconstructed — My Golden Nugget of Advice

by Mary Hay Davis

“Discovery consists of seeing what everyone else has seen, and thinking what no one else has ever thought.” — Albert Szent-Gyorgoi Von Nagyrapolt

There are many aspects to a freelance writing career, many of which serve as deterrents to getting any actual writing done. But when it comes down to it, what keeps us all in business is our commitment to putting pen to paper (or more likely, fingers to keyboard) and hammering out a finished product.

So let’s push aside all the other tangents that distract us from our mission, and concentrate on the craft of writing itself. What quantifies good writing? What separates all of us writers from one another? Why do we find ourselves gravitating to some writers’ works and not others?

When I first started writing, I was so engrossed in getting things right and not making any glaring typos or grammatical errors that I didn’t give much focused thought to the other aspects of what I was composing. But over time, I began to see not only a pattern emerge, but also learned to appreciate this welcome shift in the formula.

What formula is that you ask? Let me break it down for you:

Mechanics + Structure + You = Final Masterpiece

During my first six months, I focused a great deal on the first two – mechanics and structure – because I wanted my articles and copy to be technically correct in aspects such as spelling, grammar, fact-checking and logical, orderly flow.

And while I was putting some of ‘Me’ into the pieces, it was almost really an afterthought dictated by the style of the piece I’d been hired to write. In hindsight, I’d say my formula during the first six months of my career broke down to approximately 40% Mechanics / 40% Structure / 20% Me.

As I built up my skill level (and – amazingly! — gained more confidence in my abilities), I noticed a welcome trend emerge. My formula shifted and settled in to where I’m at now — 15% Mechanics / 15% Structure / 70% Me.

Care to guess what happened next? I started to stand out from the crowd, and started to get more work. New clients and editors commented on my flair and élan, and how I brought my unique view and voice to the pieces I wrote.

The literary world has a name for the ‘You’ in the formula – it’s voice. But I feel that term fails to do this trait justice. What really separates great writing from good is not the mechanics and structure of our writings, but this — our own unique powers of observation and insight, and the manner in which we express them. I refer to this individualistic and all-important concept as DISCOVERY (Voice + Tone + You = Discovery.)

I recently wrote a medical article about a children’s hospital. After I’d finished the requisite interviews and fact finding, I made an appointment and drove two hours to visit the facility. Why? Because just as a picture paints a thousand words, personal observation and impressions (combined with insight and the power to feel), propels your writing to levels of greatness not achievable just through listening or research.

Take this contest/interview process for example. Every passing week we candidates are given the exact same assignment, and yet the final writings span a diverse spectrum. Yes, much of the difference comes down to voice and style, but a great deal of it also comes from our varied abilities to observe, make connections and relate our experiences in an expressive, engaging manner.

So here’s my 24K nugget of advice: Make sure to inject plenty of Discovery into the formula. It’s the Ace up your sleeve, and the one thing that not a single one of your competitors has.

Yes, you want to utilize good mechanics and a solid structure. But you have friends, colleagues, instructors and writing groups/forums to help you with the tasks of proofreading and editing. Don’t get so bogged down in the Mechanics and Structure that you fail to inject a healthy dose of DISCOVERY into your writing.

Many people will go through life seeing the same things that you see. But it’s the thoughts you think and the insight you glean from those observations that will not only set you apart from the pack, but help you transition from a mere writer into a lifelong Discoverer – the crowning difference that will help launch your career as a successful freelance writer.

Mary Hay Davis is a professional writer whose work has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, The Costco Connection, Family Times/Parenting Today and San Diego Family, Magazine. She specializes in writing SEO web content, advetorials, informational articles and marketing material. Before becoming a writer, Mary worked over two decades as a police dispatcher, an occupation rich in anecdotes about the foibles and frailties of the human condition. You can contact Mary through her two websites: and


  1. says

    You know, I’ve read some helpful advice this week but this one really stood out to me.
    Well written and some great advice that often gets overlooked. When you’re a beginner, it’s so tempting to copy what worked for others, not realizing that the very reason it worked for them and not you is that they put themselves in it.
    Thanks #6.

  2. #6 says

    @ Rhonda, Christine, Fiona, #4 and Jay — Thanks for the great feedback and support — it is very much appreciated.

    @ Dani — Thanks for the kudos — I’ve been following your insightful commentary and assessments on many of the posts throughout the contest/interview process, and think you should have tossed your hat in the ring for this job yourself!

  3. says

    Thank you, #6 for the compliment. It’s easy to be an armchair quarterback – to read the posts and to sift out what works and doesn’t work from a personal or professional perspective.

    It is a world away from actually creating the posts, engaging readers of such diversity, having enough experience and success to merit such a position, and having the generosity of heart and spirit to respond to any type of comment in a respectful and positive way.

    I am not at that point yet, and that is one of the many reasons why I am here. I am learning from each of you – the FWJ ‘parents’, the candidates, and the other readers. You are my mentors.

    One day I will be at the level you are at. On that day I will joyfully pass on what each of you has taught me, along with my own experiences to those who will be at the place I am at right now.

    In the meanwhile, I anxiously await each and every post and comment so that I may continue my education and development in my life as a writer.

  4. says

    I just wanted to say a big thank you for this post. I usually stamp my own mark in the articles I write, but for some reason, I’d lost sight of that. Reading your post served as a very timely reminder. There’s a batch of SEO-articles I was struggling with, but I’m now finding them a lot easier to write.

    Thanks again.

    take care…

  5. says

    Let’s try that again! This is excellent advice #6 and I completely agree that to put one’s personal “stamp” or voice in their writing is vital. Hanging head in shame for the error above.:)

  6. #6 says

    @ ebele — I’m glad you found this post so helpful. I’m sure I would never have brought my thoughts on this matter to conscious fruition were it not for this contest, and I’m glad it helped you get over your hump on those SEO articles.

    @ Jenny — Thanks for the kind words and no worries about the mis-typed post — no red pens here! :)

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