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
If you follow me on Twitter, then you may have already seen the great list of the 100 most commonly misspelled words that I tweeted yesterday. YourDictionary.com put together the list and it’s filled with words that most people have trouble spelling.
I scrolled through the list and found several that often cause me to pause as my fingers fly across the keyboard. Accommodate and embarrass are two such words that always make me second guess myself.
The best part about the list on YourDictionary.com is that most of the words include a helpful little clue so you can remember how to spell it next time you use it in your writing. For example, remember that accommodate is big enough to accommodate two a’s and two m’s. That’s a great clue that I never heard before!
What words cause you to pause in your writing as you try to remember the correct way to spell them? Leave a comment and share those pet peeve spelling words. Maybe someone else in the Freelance Writing Jobs audience has a riddle or special way to remember the correct spelling!
As much as I love old school – old school hip-hop, pen and paper interviewing, in-person interviewing, library research, etc., I have to admit, the new school is pretty darn fun too. Everyday there’s a new blog on how writers/freelancers can maximize their efforts to get work, get noticed and build a reputation through social media. AND everyday there’s another writer who is quick to say, “Bah! I don’t use all that stuff. I’ve got a website, a solid client list and I’m good.”
Those poor souls are wrong.
They are also likely the same people who wanted to hang on to their typewriter. Then their word processor, then their 486 IBM and finally that laptop that weighed 300 pounds. If being a great writer is about growth, why can’t technology be a part of that growth?
Social media enhances the article writing experience.
Where else can you hop on your little pedestal and say, “Have you ever tried [insert random product or therapy for depression]? How did it work for you? I’m writing an article on coping with depression,” and people instantly contact you with their stories and sources? Social media tools allow for writers to reach out to the lady in California, the guy in Idaho and the professor at Carnegie Melon without leaving their homes. Why is this important?
Access to real and diverse folks. Access to a homogeneous pool of sources – the choice is yours. Social media allows you to pull sources and resources from your audience making the articles you write more insightful, richer and more appealing.
Diversify Your Social Media
I know, I should slow down. I just got you interested in how it can actually help you in your work and now I want to get all crazy with it. Yeah well..So anyway, diversifying! Even if you aren’t a social media maven, you know about Twitter and Facebook, the two biggies. They are great, fabulous and…crowded. Don’t abandon them, they are still the hotspot for the social media community, but also look at other tools in the social media belt.
Like LinkedIn. Mainly a hang out for business types, meaning you’ll find less pictures of someone’s cats, LinkedIn still provides a wealth of information and connections to sources. Join groups that not only interest you but impact your particular niche. If you don’t have a niche, it’s still important to keep your ear to the ground with what’s going on in that world. Like in social media groups.
YouTube is not the wasteland of old Michael Jackson videos and dramatic squirrels most people think it is. In fact, it can be a wealth of knowledge for a writer. Video blogs and tutorials are rich sources of information and contacting those who produced them is a great way to get off the beaten path for sources.
It’s easy to become overwhelmed in this Tweeting, linking, YouTubing, Facebooking time, but it’s better to embrace it than being the last known user of dial-up. Take a look around, focus on your niche and see what connections you can make. It’s a big social media world out there, but the key is to scoot into an area that feels like home for you!
Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to talk about some oldie, but goodie elements of article writing that are still important for writers. It’s easy to dismiss some tried and true techniques because of all the fancy, technological whiz-bangs available to writers, but when technology fails – and it will from time to time – it’s good to have something to pull out of your coonskin cap.
Do I sound 100 years old yet? Good.
Pen and paper interviews. Important. Reliable. Still in use even after the invention of the iPhone.
Because technology doesn’t have your best interest at heart. It doesn’t care about your deadline. It cares about making sure its processes work correctly and if they don’t it’ll shut down until it, you or a well-paid tech person finds a fix. I hate to get all Matrix-y on you, but it’s true.
Digital recorders, cell phones, even old-school tape recorders have been known to stop working, accidentally delete and otherwise cause massive damage to your well crafted, Pulitzer prize nominee interview. Which is why you take notes. With a pen and paper. Freaky!
The Long and Short.
Back in the days of widespread pen and inking, people took classes in shorthand – that is writing quotes and information in a symbol or code form to be able to keep up with a person’s speaking speed. Some of the chief complaints of non-pen and inkers are learning shorthand isn’t a viable skill, is too time consuming to learn or keeping up with spoken word is too difficult.
Cry me a river. Keeping up with spoken word is too hard? Hard is explaining that you accidentally hit the erase button on your iPhone and lost the entire Dalia Lama interview. Writers don’t have to learn an “official’ shorthand – making one up on your own is just as viable as long as you remember how it works. This shouldn’t be too hard considering most Americans who find themselves texting or shrinking thoughts down to 120 characters use some form of shorthand already. So take a moment and figure it out because you won’t be able to keep up using long hand. Which brings me to…
The Eyes Have It.
It’s tough – taking notes and keeping eye contact with the interview subject – but it’s a skill great writers have worked hard to develop. In a person-to-person interview, maintaining eye contact and engaging the person is key to bringing out the story. It also works to help the person forget about the ‘interview’ and just talk. If you’re scribbling furiously and barely looking up, there’s a disconnect and it’ll be tough to get back on track. This is where shorthand helps. It also helps to practice interviewing in this way. Sure it’s more work, but that’s what happens with skills – you have to work at them ;0).
Transcribing and Storing
The funky thing about handwritten interviews is going over and transcribing your notes. Now this isn’t always a necessity if you are using a digital recording back-up. Storing your notes is completely up to your discretion. I still have notes from important interviews I conducted in college. Normally, I’ll keep notes for at least two years, depending on the subject and keep them all in one place under an organized system. This keeps me from rustling papers for an hour while an editor waits for a quote confirmation or source confirmation.
Pen and paper interviews – a worthy skill and investment in your writing career. Think about it and take action now. Think about how totally cool you’ll look with your spiral bound notebook. Jeepers!
Andrew Rosen published a post on Splashpress Media’s BloggingPro.com site today called “Bringing Old Content Back to Life: 5 Ways to Revive a Blog Post” that applies to freelance writers, too, so I wanted to share it with the readers here on Freelance Writing Jobs.
A big part of writing is knowing when it’s time to remember that you don’t always have to reinvent the wheel to make an impact on an audience. If you write evergreen content for a blog or other media that can get lost in the clutter over time, then there is absolutely nothing wrong with bringing that content back out to the front and center of your stage. The trick is to revive it in a manner that makes it interesting again.
Andrew offered five great tips to do exactly that. He suggests that to revive old blog posts (and these tips work for various forms of online content) you can do the following:
- Repost old content, but do so within boundaries so your search engine rankings are not negatively impacted by it.
- Feature old content in a list such as a “Best of” list.
- Include a link in a current post to related and valuable content in a past post.
- Resubmit old posts to social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.
- Rewrite old posts so they’re not exactly the same as the original but still communicate the same evergreen ideas (with new thoughts added as appropriate).
These are great ideas, and you can follow the link above to read Andrew’s entire article with all of his suggestions for breathing new life into old online content.
The concept also works when you write for multiple clients. Just because you already wrote about a specific topic for one client doesn’t mean that topic is off limits when it comes time to write for another client. The key is to rewrite the content for the specific audience that will read it and include unique ideas and concepts each time you write about the same topic.
If you’re an expert in a particular area, then you’ll undoubtedly be called upon to write about similar topics again and again. You’d go out of business if you only wrote about a certain topic for one client then never touched it again. As long as the words, structure, and voice are unique in each article you write about the same topic, your varied clients will get a piece that their audiences will gain value from.
Bottom-line, great content can live many different lives. It’s up to you as the writer to give it the various lives it deserves and get it in front of the various clients and audiences that can benefit from it.
What’s your top trick for breathing new life into old content? Leave a comment and share your tips.