With the rise of remote work and the freelance economy, many people make good livings and successful careers off of freelance writing. The internet is vast, and real, substantive opportunities exist for those willing to hustle and embrace the entrepreneurial spirit.
To consistently get work as a freelance writer, your product (i.e. your written content) has to speak for itself, which means a strong grasp of grammar and a vocabulary that is wide-ranging enough to communicate accurately and articulately. Below are some grammar and vocabulary tips for current and hopeful freelance writers.
Use a Grammar, Vocabulary and Spell Checker
If you speak to established writers, most will acknowledge, begrudgingly, that it is difficult, if not impossible, to catch all of your own errors. It is very rare, even for talented and prolific writers, to turn out flawless prose, on their first try, every single time.
While you work largely alone as a freelance writer, which means it is not usually possible or feasible to have someone look over your work before you turn it in, there are surprisingly sophisticated applications out there that do a good job of pointing out grammar, spelling and vocabulary errors. Many freelance writers swear by Grammarly, one of the most popular applications.
Use Simple, Direct Words Whenever Possible
A common mistake even good writers make is to confuse complexity with quality. They believe that flowery language, whether because it involves the use of obscure words or intricate sentences, will automatically impress readers. Writing that distracts from the message or point with too much ornate language is often referred to by readers, editors and writers as “purple prose.” You don’t want to be known for writing purple prose.
One of George Orwell’s rules for writers was that anytime a simple word could be substituted for a complex one, it should be. Write to the point and only rely on technical language, jargon and less common words when absolutely necessary. You can write eloquently and intelligently with simple, direct language.
Master Grammar Basics But Don’t Get Lost in Them
There is a long list of common errors that even experienced writers continue to make, and many of them can be quite glaring. Sentence fragments, subject-verb agreement, misplaced and dangling modifiers, vague pronoun references and run-on sentences are hard to ignore. Depending on your audience and how often such mistakes appear, you can discredit your writing right out of the gate.
But there are plenty of great writers who urge caution when it comes to obsessing over every single alleged “rule.” Acclaimed linguist and author Steven Pinker, for instance, believes that, while a firm grasp of grammar is necessary for a writer, style, clarity and audience consideration should not be sacrificed to overly rigid grammatical rules. As a freelance writer, you should know the rules, try not to flout them too outrageously, but understand that there are many different opinions on when and how they apply.
Get Your Prepositions Right
Another important grammatical tip for freelance writers is to make sure your prepositions–words such as like, of, for, in, with–are correct. Do you have high expectations “of” or “for” someone or something? Did she run “in” the room crying, or run “into” the room crying? Good readers and writers will pick up on these missteps and they can make you seem like an amateur.
They are also one of the most common grammar mistakes made by writers because there are few hard and fast rules dictating which prepositions to use with which nouns. When in doubt, a good tip is to search for the exact combination of preposition and noun in Google. The chances are very high that many people have searched precisely the same thing.
Look Up Words You Don’t Recognize
If you want to be a freelance writer, looking up words you don’t recognize or understand, wherever you encounter them, is a necessary habit to get into. If it is not something you already do, it may seem tedious at first, but after a while, opening a new tab and typing “(word) definition” into the search bar becomes second nature.
This is a great way to build your vocabulary and simultaneously make yourself a more proficient reader. The wider your vocabulary and your understanding of syntax, the more varied your sentence structure and more precise your writing will be. This will help you stand out among the competition, get work, build your portfolio and make a success of freelance writing.
Build Your Vocabulary With Word Games and Puzzles
Building a more extensive vocabulary can also be done by playing games focused on language development and recognition. Popular games such as Scrabble, for instance, which can be made even more fun and entertaining using word unscramblers like UnscrambleX, help add new words to your lexicon.
There are plenty of paid and free-to-play mobile language games which also operate on the same principles and can have unscramblers applied to them as well. The more you play these games, the more you train your brain to store and recognize language.
Whether you are looking to freelance writing as a potential full-time career, as a way to supplement your income from other employment, or simply as an enjoyable hobby, a superior understanding of grammar and language is a prerequisite. Keep the above tips in mind, never stop building your portfolio and you will find clients that are eager to work with you.