As much as we would like to think that our personal creative well is infinite, there are times when writer’s block creeps in and starts to make it to run a little dry. Long-term blogging gigs or bulk content assignments can put you at risk for this type of scenario.
As a writer, one of your most important jobs is to grab your reader’s attention and pull them into your blog post or article. You want to get the reader excited about what they are going to find when they delve into your words. Keep in mind that you are competing against scores of other material that is also promising to give “your” reader the same type of exciting, informative and helpful information. You have to take steps to make your writing more engaging than another person’s material on a similar topic.
We all want to be better writers, right? I’m also willing to bet that, more than that, you want to write faster. After all, if you write better and faster, the more client work you can take on, and the more you can charge for your work.
There’s no lack of articles online – and offline – giving pieces of advice on how to write better and faster. We even published one recently – How to Become a Better Writer.
Today, I came across this infographic which can serve as a quick pick-me-upper and/or guide for those who want to write better and faster.
I agree with most points – especially number 9 (which obviously doesn’t apply to those who don’t drink) – but what do you think? As fellow writers, what can you say about this infographic? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments?
Via Brennan Reid
Editor’s note: This post was written by Gary Dek, the blogger behind StartABlog123.com and Gajizmo.com. He offers small businesses and entrepreneurs SEO advice ranging from keyword density research to recovering from Panda/Penguin updates to promoting their blogs and growing traffic.
Are you inspired and motivated to become a great writer? Do you read writing blogs and get the urge to start one, too? Maybe you’re looking for a second income to pay off your debts faster or just had a baby and want to make money from home as a freelance writer.
But you’re worried that you don’t have what it takes to become a professional writer. You don’t think you’re an expert on anything worth writing about, and even if you were, why should anyone hire you specifically? Do you have the habits of a successful writer, or are you doomed to be nothing but a writing wannabe?
Here are a few tips on becoming a better writer and how to differentiate yourself.
What Is Good Writing?
Some individuals in the writing community are book snobs. They think that classic literature is more valid than ‘chick lit’ or that magazines are literary garbage. There are others who think that bloggers are wannabe journalists or that if you self-publish a book, then it must be bad because no publisher would touch it.
What is good and worthy is subjective and relative. The only way to tell if you’re a good writer is to measure the impact you have on your readers. Did you offer a solution to an everyday problem? Did you persuade them to change or improve? Did you captivate or engage them? Did you connect with them on a personal or emotional level?
These are the types of questions you should ask yourself because, at the end of the day, they’re the ones that matter. Using complex sentence structures, alluding to a Shakespearean sonnet, or incorporating SAT vocabulary that only an Oxford Scholar would understand doesn’t make you a great writer. As a freelance writer or blogger, it can make you seem cold, distant, and disconnected.
Ways you might be able to measure whether your writing affects people include:
- User comments and discussions on your blog.
- Direct emails from readers expressing appreciation or asking for additional information.
- Good reviews of your latest Kindle novel, eBook, podcast, etc.
- Social shares that demonstrate strong connections with your work.
Any kind of attention or feedback means your writing is compelling in some way. Otherwise, you’re either writing about something no one wants to read or your style is too dry and boring. Neither of those qualities is desired by publishers.
Steps To Better Writing
Before you can become a better and popular writer, you must hone your skills. While what is considered good may be relative, the habits you must acquire are universal. The following are solid, proven methods to improve your skills.
Learn The Craft
If you want to be a chef, you must first learn how to cook; and if you want to be a writer, you have to learn the principles of writing, including but not limited to: grammar, sentence structure, vocabulary and punctuation. You may have great ideas for your writing style, but for it to be any good, you must first learn the rules. Then you can go ahead and break them as you see fit.
You must also learn story-writing essentials such as purpose, tone, plot, character development, and structure. Learn how to write realistic dialogue so your characters don’t come off as wooden and one dimensional.
The best way to achieve this is to read. Ever notice how the best writers are voracious readers? This is because exposure to quality work sets a standard in your mind and what we learn as readers, we’ll implement as writers.
Write, Write, and Write
This may seem a bit obvious, but writers have to actually write. Like anything else in life, practice makes perfect. The more you practice writing, the easier you can put your thoughts into words. You must create a daily writing habit and commit to it.
If you are a new freelancer and don’t have any writing gigs yet, start a personal blog and make it a habit to write every day, even when you don’t feel like it. If you are serious about becoming a successful freelance writer, it has to feel like a job – pick a time, start working and stay until you’ve finished.
If you aren’t tech-savvy, use the step-by-step tutorial provided by StartABlog123.com to learn how to set up a blog in under 20 minutes. Once you start getting freelancing jobs, your blog will serve as your resume and portfolio.
Seek Out Criticism
The feedback you receive from peers, writers, professors, and mentors is invaluable. They may not represent your target audience, but the constructive criticism you’ll get from them will help you determine your shortcoming and where you need focus.
It may bruise the ego to hear that something you’ve written is falling flat, especially if it’s something you took a particular liking to, but this is how you learn to sharpen your instincts.
The Intangibles That Can’t Be Taught
While the above tips will strengthen your technical and fundamental writing skills, there is a bit more to “good writing” than having proper grammar and sentence structure. The easiest way to describe it is that each literary piece you produce must have personality.
Here are a few qualities that will allow you to genuinely connect with readers and evoke positive emotions with your work.
- Compassion gives you the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes, which in turn helps you create realistic and relatable characters. Empathy helps a writer tap into the audience’s emotional pulse.
- Ingenuity is what helps a fiction writer create an imaginative and intriguing setting for a story. A writer with imagination or unique problem-solving skills is able to attack an old dilemma with a different point of view. The latter is especially crucial for freelance writers trying to stand out in a crowded niche.
- Dedication is what separates a serious writer from a wishful thinker. Good writers tend to live and breathe their writing. They can’t go a day without it; they are always thinking about their next post, short story, editorial, satire, novel, etc. A great writer is passionate about language, communication and using both to tell stories that capture hearts and minds. That passion will be what keeps you committed despite the occasional failure.
These character traits may or may not be learned; it really depends on you as an individual. Sometimes experiences and environments can change people, as can purposeful behavioral modification. If you believe your writing lacks these qualities, how can you acquire them?
Get Some Life Experience and Share It
One of the oldest rules for writers is to write what you know, but in order to have anything insightful to share, you’re going to have to live a little. Step outside of your comfort zone and be adventurous, experiencing moments that challenge you mentally, physically, and/or emotionally. Make new friends and listen to different perspectives to further develop empathy.
Develop A Taste For Diversity
Open your mind to the possibility that you are wrong about everything you believe in. Exposing yourself to a wide range of topics, personalities, and philosophies rather than sticking with what you know and love, will help you build your imagination. If you tend to only watch comedy films, branch out to documentaries and science fiction. Only interested in classic literature? Try reading something from a recent bestseller list. Never been out of the country? Travel to Peru and visit Machu Picchu, the Peruvian Amazon Basin, and Lake Titicaca. Unique experiences will engage readers and spark new ideas, helping you stand out.
One of my favorite quotes to support this is from Steve Jobs:
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
Be More Open and Less Repressed
Beware of dismissing what you love out of fear of appearing uncool or weird. Indifference is a creative energy killer. Indulge your passions, share them with others, and find others who have similar interests. Learn to accept what makes you unique, and embrace being you.
Anyone Can Become A Better Writer
It takes work to be a better writer, but you can do it. You have to be willing to learn your craft, make time to write and accept productive criticism when necessary. Working with mentors, professors and other talented and dedicated writers can also increase your odds. But if you want to succeed, you can’t just mechanically follow these steps. Ultimately, you must transform yourself into someone with a unique voice worth reading. If you can educate and uplift your audience, you’ll always be in demand.
If you have ever been plagued by writer’s block, you know how painful the blank page or screen can be. While you may be concerned that the inability to get anything down is a sign of writer burnout, the two conditions are not the same thing.
I have hired dozens of freelance writers in my role as an in-house copywriter for a content conversion firm, and it never ceases to amaze me how many writers lack basic writing skills. Whether you’ve been a freelance writer for two months or ten years, there are always ways to improve your craft. Here are some specifics things writers can do to strengthen their writing:
Use “is” Sparingly
The most valuable lesson I took away from my upper graduate English coursework involves use of the word “is.” Here’s how it goes: if you can rework a sentence to remove use of the word “is,” you will create a stronger sentence. Consider the following examples:
- The violin is brown.
- The brown violin sounds beautiful.
Placing the adjective before the noun creates a clause, making the sentence more complex and descriptive.
- The reader is given new information from the text.
- The reader gets new information from the text.
The first example above uses the dreaded passive voice. By removing “is given” and changing the verb to the present tense, we remove passive voice and get a clearer sentence.
Just Say no to “due to” and “because of”
Removing these two weak phrases will vastly improve your writing. Take the noun or phrase that follows “due to” or “because of” and make it the subject of your sentence.
- Weak Sentence: Due to the economy, he foreclosed on his house.
- Better Sentence: The economy made him foreclose on his house.
- Even Better Sentence: The economy ruined his credit rating.
- Best Sentence: Being upside down in his mortgage caused John to foreclose on his home, which ruined his credit rating.
The last example is the best sentence because it answers the reason why John had to foreclose on his house.
Be Clear and Concise
Clearly communicating ideas is a key goal for every writer. We live in a fast-paced, information packed world. As writers, we have to quickly convert people to read our content. If readers have to work to figure out what you’re trying to say, you’ve lost them. If people won’t read our words, they won’t click where we want them to, like our latest article, or buy our work.
Tip: If a sentences doesn’t flow naturally when you read it aloud, odds are it won’t make sense to your reader.
Have you ever had an editor write “fluff” or “too wordy” in the margin of your writing? I have. While it is difficult criticism to take, your editor isn’t saying you’re too wordy to criticize your writing – she’s trying to help you improve.
One quick way to reduce wordiness is to use adverbs (words ending in ly) sparingly. Most of the time these qualifiers aren’t necessary. If you are going to use them, make sure they have a purpose. When you eliminate adverbs, your point comes across stronger and more direct. Take a look at this short list of fluffy words to avoid:
Too Many Prepositions
Prepositions have their place in writing, but frequent use forces the reader to struggle to figure out your point. Examples of prepositions include:
Combat overuse of prepositions by circling each one. Once you have identified and circled the offenders, ask yourself what the point of the sentence is and reword with fewer prepositions identify the sentence’s point and reword.
What tips have you received from an editor that helped you improve your writing?
Sarah is the Content Manager and a Writer at Virtual Vocations, the one-stop shop for telecommuters looking for legit jobs. With several years of marketing and writing experience, Sarah managed a group of freelance writers for a marketing firm before venturing out into the telecommute world. Follow Sarah on Twitter, Google+, and Facebook.
Travel writing gigs are not as many as one would want them to be. I honestly do not know the reason for this, but what I do know is that there seems to be a glut of “What I did on this trip” type of travel articles and blog posts.
That is quite understandable, but there is no reason for a travel writer to stay in that box. Traveling is such a wonderful experience. There are so many facets to it, which can be translated to writing. If you are looking for a little inspiration for your travel writing, take a look at these simple ideas.
Learn a foreign language while traveling
You’re a travel writer, and the chances are that you have a penchant for learning languages. Why not consider a project where you focus on a specific aspect of the country that you are visiting? Its language.
If, for example, you are planning a trip to Thailand, instead of merely focusing on the attractions there, why don’t you learn Thai and write about the experience? That will give your travel writing a different spin.
Create a themed tour
Tours can be found left and right. Personally, I don’t really like taking organized tours unless absolutely necessary. I prefer the freedom of roaming around wherever I want, whenever I want. For the purposes of adding variation to your travel writing, though, why don’t you create your own tour following a specific theme? For example, when I went to Saigon in Vietnam, I discovered that there is a huge microbrewery scene there. If I had to come up with an article, or a series of articles, for that trip, a microbrewery-themed tour would have been a great idea.
It all happened in the cafe
This is inspired by a blog that I ran across recently, It Happened In The Cafe. As the name says, the blog is all about things that happen in cafes. Wherever in the world you go, you will find cafes to hang out. If you like hanging out in cafes, you can use this as a springboard for writing ideas. People watching is the term!
Interact with the locals
Travel writing is not only about giving guides and tips. It’s also about delving into the local life and culture. Even if you do not usually talk to strangers, try interacting with the locals more. Talk to the doorman. Talk to the cab driver. Talk to the shopkeepers.
When you go out to bars, talk to the locals and ask interesting questions that you can incorporate into your travel writing. It is a good idea to have a focus. What aspect of the culture do you want to write about? That way, your questions will have a direction, and you’ll have a more insightful travel article.
Interact with fellow travellers
In addition to feeling the pulse of local life, it is also interesting to get a glimpse of the lives of travelers. If this is your cup of tea, I suggest staying at hostels, where travelers might be more into interacting with likeminded people. You may, of course, opt to stay wherever you want, but the idea is to reach out to other travelers and write a piece from that angle.
Image via Ben Beiske
I love spunky articles and blog posts. When a writer takes an unusual stance or approaches a topic with razor-sharp wit it makes me excited about a piece, often ends up in my saved/bookmarked file and is forwarded on through various social media channels. As much as I like an offbeat approach, I practically cover my eyes and cringe at some ‘devil may care’ stances that fall flat.
One reason why these posts miss their mark is they lack true understanding of who is in their audience. There was a post from a PR rep that recently made internet waves. The blogger confronted mom bloggers who want to get paid for reviews or other corporate sponsored posts. The reaction to the post – on a wildly popular blog that focuses on women building their blogging brand and growing their business – fell flatter than a souffle during an earthquake. The cutting edge/tough love tone came across as condescending to most of the businesswomen that responded.
“You’re stupid if you…” or “You’re crazy if…” or my fav “Only idiots…” abusing your audience will only get you so far. Eventually people will get tired of being berated and find someone else who can give them the same information without the insults. Make sure you don’t overplay your hand.
Another reason why certain blog posts/articles don’t succeed is they cross the line by just being plain mean. There’s nothing wrong with being controversial, there is something terribly wrong with being mean and nasty. Have an opinion, or a unique way of looking at a subject, but settling scores, consistently stoking internet wars and taking cheap shots fizzles an audience out pretty quickly, despite a brief spike in traffic and buzz.
Got a controversial stance or topic? Make sure you keep three things in mind: facts, focus and familiarity with your audience. Supporting facts will allow your piece to stand on its own merit. Staying focused on the facts will keep an opinion from turning into an unproductive (and long) rant. Finally, I cannot stress it enough – knowing your audience will make or break your piece. It’s one thing to want to fire up your audience about a subject, it’s another to have them fired up AT you because you just don’t get them.
Controversy can be an effective tool to starting a conversation, but without supportive facts, smart editing and reader connection the piece may just miss its mark.
Do you have an example of an edgy piece that worked? How about a conversation started that missed its intended audience? Share the link with us!
A bullet point is a helpful little tool that helps break up content, smooth transitions and draw out important main ideas. They also help create more white space on the text or web page. When using bullet points remember to:
- Be consistent with content and style. Start each point with the same part of speech and maintain the same length within bullet point sets.
- Use main ideas. Bullet points are key to directing the reader – and their eyes – to the ideas that count.
- Clarify complex information. Complicated topics are best explained when broken up into bite sized pieces.
- Use sparingly. An article full of bullet points isn’t an article, it’s a list!
- Avoid bullet point subpoints. It makes the piece messy and can confuse your readers.
- Be brief. Bullet points aren’t supposed to be paragraphs, just quick points.
Got any tips on using bullet points? Please share!
Article Quickie is a new series designed to provide short, bookmark-worthy article writing tips for easy reference.
Parallel structure, or parallelism, is a basic concept that students learn in writing class. Over the years, we may forget the term, but the idea should continue to be applied. Whether you are writing for your personal blog or for a big client, avoiding faulty parallelism can help you get your point across more clearly.
I think parallelism comes naturally to most people. As humans who appreciate beauty and balance, we easily detect if something is off. Take a look at this sentence:
I like to play soccer and swimming.
You don’t need to spend minutes going over that sentence to realize that something does not match! It’s one example of faulty parallelism. Here’s a better way to write the sentence:
I like to play soccer and swim.
I like playing soccer and swimming.
This is a simple example of parallelism: do not mix gerunds (-ing) and infinitives (to do). Choose one and stick with it.
Parallelism should also be followed when it comes to verb phrases. The general rule is to make sure the verbs are conjugated in the same manner.
WRONG: Her boss got mad, called her to his office, and was screaming at her.
RIGHT: Her boss got mad, called her to his office, and screamed at her.
The same thing applies to the use of adverbs.
WRONG: Can you write quickly, concisely, and pay attention to accuracy?
RIGHT: Can you write quickly, concisely, and accurately?
These faulty parallelisms are easy enough to spot, but there is one thing I struggle with – parallelism in using the active and passive voice.
WRONG: The speaker started his presentation well. He told us that he would present the outline first, go over each point thoroughly, and that there would be a question and answer portion at the end.
RIGHT: The speaker started his presentation well. He told us that he would present the outline first, go over each point thoroughly, and set aside enough time for a question and answer portion at the end.
In general, you ought to be extra careful when you are writing lists (x, y, and/or z) and working with conjunctions.
I know it may seem tedious to pay attention to parallelism when writing, but it is way easier than parallel parking, don’t you think?
Photo by richardmasoner