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My 10 tips for new freelance writers

Posted on November 10, 2012. Filed under: Improving your writing skills, Style, Writing | Tags: , , , |

1. Start a website or blog. A lot of potential clients that you find on Craigslist will ask to see links to your personal website. You don’t have to think of it as a personal journal; instead, write on current events and topics that interest you. If you read an interesting news article, write a blog post about it. Something going on in the news that bothers you? Write an opinion piece about it. You can get away with only updating your blog on a weekly basis, so you don’t have to contribute too much time to it.

2. Get your feet wet with content mills. Freelance writers can learn a lot by writing for content mills and it’s the way that most of us got our start. Taking on assignments through these sites lets you try your hand at various types of articles. Clients and editors can provide you with valuable feedback. Freelance writers will also be able to get a feel for what you should charge clients (x cents/word) once you decide to branch out. While the earnings won’t be stellar, the experience gained is worth it. These sites can also help you figure out what your niche is, which leads me to…

3. Find your niche. Have a way with words? Try writing sales copy. Are you able to use descriptive and colorful language? Try your hand at product reviews. Good at explaining things in precise detail? See how you fare with writing technical documents. All of these “genres” of writing have their place in the world of Internet freelance writing. Once you find the areas you enjoy and in which you are talented, you can start looking for sites who employ this type of freelance writer. You can also start tailoring your blog to match your nice, as this will help you to gain a following more easily.

4. Having a solid portfolio goes a long way in securing work. Potential employers will also ask for writing samples. Every freelance writer should try to have one of the following categories: Health, Technology, Product Reviews, Press Releases, Sales Copy, General Blog… and that’s all I can think of for now. Those are the big ones. Freelance writers should also have a few SEO-centric articles in your repertoire, since most clients will want SEO articles

5. If you can find a site that will let you be a contributing author, this is great for a freelance writer’s resume. You can actually point to your work on the web, and that goes a long way. Plus, it’s very rewarding to see your name next to a published article!

6. Join a discussion group or forum. There is a lot of value in becoming a member of such a community. You can find a lot of great advice from people who went through the same struggles starting out as a freelance writer. And they got through it, so they can offer you advice that’s priceless.

7. Become familiar with several writing styles. Make sure that you’re familiar with AP style. This is the most popular style on the Internet, and is found on most of the web’s news sites. However, clients will not only be looking for freelance writers well-versed in AP style, but will want writers knowledgeable in Chicago style and APA formatting.

8. Keep a good record of your articles and earnings. This is more of a practical tip then anything else (and vital for tax purposes). When it comes to tracking your freelance writing earnings, you can buy a ledger or create an excel spreadsheet. Also, try looking at your earnings on a weekly basis as opposed to a day-to-day basis; some days you won’t make that much, while you’ll rake in a fortune on other days. This prevents you from becoming discouraged when you have a bad day. Regarding your articles, you should save everything on your computer. One advantage of keeping your work is that you can go back to older writings to see how much you’ve improved over a period. You can also rewrite your previous articles for writing samples; this way you’ve already researched the topic, and you can concentrate on the writing aspect of the article.

9. Practice your writing skills. Just because you write well now doesn’t mean that you can’t improve. There is always room to learn, whether it’s stylistically or creatively. “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White should be in every freelance writer’s library. If you can, ask fellow writers to critique your work, as they may find ways to reword things that you didn’t see. You can also practice writing different type of articles, such as learning how to effectively write press releases and product reviews, thus expanding your freelance writing portfolio.

10. Always make time to write for pleasure. Internet freelance writers didn’t start their careers writing web copy. If you started as a creative writer, then devote some time each week to writing creative pieces. It’s important to go back to your roots. Taking time out to write for yourself also guarantees that you are enjoying your job, which always lends itself to good work. If you don’t make time to joy-write, you’ll find yourself becoming burnt out much more quickly. I try to take a few minutes at the start of each day to warm up with some writing for myself; as soon as I started skipping this practice to jump into the work day, I quickly found myself struggling. Writing should be fun and pleasurable!

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Does Working as a Content Monkey Stifle Your Creativity?

Posted on November 29, 2011. Filed under: Blogging, Improving your writing skills, Nerd Girl, Style, Words, Writing | Tags: , , , , |

For starters, some of you may be wondering what constitutes a “content monkey.” Its meaning is similar to that of a “code monkey,” if you are familiar with that term. As a freelance writer, the only way to make decent money is by churning out article after article. In this world, your words are used for content that your client posts somewhere on the web – or, if you’re lucky, a newspaper or magazine. Our job is to research and write about whatever topic your client has in mind; there is little to no creative process involved. If your days and nights of freelance writing consist of following a client’s instructions while composing text after text… you have probably morphed into a content monkey. I doubt that anyone who has ever wanted to become a writer aspires to write for others as their lifelong career; yet, this is how many of us get our start and pay our dues. The question now becomes can we, as writers, be satisfied by only writing for others?

content (?) monkey

The most important aspect to the writing process is creativity. How else can you come up with clever topics, witty yet poignant sentences and ultimately a piece of literature that captures the attention of others? However, just like a muscle needs to be worked out to stay in shape, so does the creative process of an author. One must practice. One must write ideas down on paper, only to crumple them up and start over. One must come up with new and innovative material. But, if all we do is write for others, how are we supposed to exercise our creativity? While one might assume that any kind of writing helps you to improve, I have to wonder if being a content monkey doesn’t interfere with our creative processes.

Unlike writing professional articles, which adhere to strict grammatical and style guidelines, writing creatively gives you the opportunity to throw out everything you ever learned and write how you want. Creative writers have to learn to dismiss these rules, writing from their heart instead of their heads — or, if you’d prefer, writing from their right brain as opposed to their left. Unfortunately, after sticking to a set of rules for so long, it’s hard to escape them. Even while I’m trying to do some creative writing, the rules are right there, appealing to the logic center of my brain and putting a halt in my creative process.

I’m not dismissing the perks of being a freelance writer. I think that every writer should strive to become a “renaissance” writer who is capable of producing any type of text required: news articles, short stories, instruction manuals, poetry, romantic copy, advertisements, website content or a novel, for example.

So, how does a writer stop from being cornered by writing manuals and grammar books? I don’t have a solid answer to that question; part of the reason I decided to write on this topic was to explore the idea more, while hoping for some thoughtful feedback from other writers. For me, I try to stay in touch with my creative side by writing blogs – although I still feel pressure to write professionally – and by coming up with ideas for stories. Don’t let this post mislead you; despite my concerns, I still love being a freelance writer. I wouldn’t change a thing… well, except maybe the pay, but that will increase with time (one can hope!)

In my next post, I am planning to talk about the life of the freelance writer in more detail, including ways to start your own freelance writing career and useful tools of the trade. 

Until then…

jt

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Introduction on How to Improve your Writing Swagger.

Posted on November 9, 2011. Filed under: Grammar, Improving your writing skills, Style, Words | Tags: , , , , , , |

(What? Two posts in twelve hours; she must be a workhorse. Nope, I’m just procrastinating.)

Some of my posts will deal with style, which in my opinion is just as important as grammar. You can know all the words and grammatical rules in the world, but without your own, unique voice, you’ll never become a great, unique and creative writer. Find your style and that’s where you’ll find your voice. It may not always be easy to hear, but it’s there, waiting to be let out into the world. All you can do is nurture it with practice and a little homework.

I like to think of developing your own style of writing as akin to showing off your swagger. Having swagger means that, not only are you confident, but you like showing it. So, why not throw some swagger into your writing? Confidence and a bit of a cocky attitude can actually help you to write more quickly, given that you are willing to go back and make revisions.

Today, and on any day I’m discussing style, I’ll be using the book, “Getting the Words Right: 39 Ways to Improve Your Writing,” by Theodore A. Rees Cheney. The table of contents for this book is almost a checklist in and of itself; just check out these two pictures from the table of contents:

Introduction; Section One: REDUCE; Section Two: REARRANGE

Introduction; Section One: REDUCE; Section Two: REARRANGE

I got nothing for ya.

Section 2: REARRANGE continued; Section 3: REWORD.

I also just discovered, while finding a link for the book, that it is now one of Kindle’s FREE books. So, go download it! 😀 I downloaded it to my tablet, so I can read it anywhere. If technology these days isn’t awesome, then I don’t know what is. Ninja kittens?

For now, I’m going to talk briefly about Cheney’s introduction. Note that I use several quotes in this post, all from Cheney; I usually dislike direct quotes, but his writing must speak for itself, as you will hear it rather clearly and loud.

In his introduction, he shares with the reader the inspiration behind the book’s title,  quoting Hemingway from an interview with the Paris Review:

Paris Review: “How much rewriting do you do?”

Hemingway: “It depends. I rewrote the ending to A Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, thirty-nine times.”

Paris Review: “Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?”

Hemingway: “Getting the words right.”

I love that quote because it resonates very deeply with my inner-writer. I don’t know how many times I’ve rewritten a sentence because it just didn’t feel right; the words weren’t working the way I wanted them to work. And, what’s the point in writing if you can’t manipulate the words to clearly, creatively and uniquely form your story.

The author also discusses several other topics in his introduction. He provides a very lengthy definition of the word “revision,” stressing the point that proofreading isn’t simply looking for mistakes, but instead it involves reworking your earlier work. For Cheney, “revision expresses succinctly most of the activities involved in getting the damned words right: writing, rewriting, rereading, reviewing, rethinking, rearranging, repairing, restructuring, re-evaluating, editing, tightening, sharpening, smoothing, pruning, polishing, punching up, amending, emending, altering, eliminating, transposing, expanding, condensing, connecting, cohering, unifying, perfecting, transitioning…” In his view, every writer should follow the above process when writing. In the real world, I realize that this isn’t always possible, as some writing assignments have deadlines that are too soon for you to spend the time reworking your article. However, I strongly agree with his point-of-view. Revision is an important process, and trying to do it while writing will only slow your work down. In order to succeed as a writer, proofreading and revision can’t be viewed as “uncreative drudgery;” one has to enjoy the revision process as much as they enjoy writing. In Cheney’s eyes, revision and writing are both identical and inseparable. ((BTW: I provided a link for the word “emending,” as I was unaware of the definition. Think of it as another word of the day.))

A great point to keep in mind when writing is a rule followed by professional authors: the best way to write is to “write in haste; revise in leisure.” In other words, just sit down and start putting down words. Don’t go back to what you’ve previously written, since that can halt and infect your creative flow. Just write and write, and worry about revisions later; this way, your inner thoughts are able to flow from your brain to your fingertips, at a pace that can build up your “creative momentum.” Once you’ve got a momentum going. and the words are flowing, try not to stop writing unless you must. Or, unless it’s time for a break, as those are important as well.

Cheney’s book is built on the premise that one should always revise. He recommends doing it at the end of each chapter or get a start the next morning by reading and revising your work from the previous day. There is no doubt that a fresh set of eyes makes proofreading much easier. Take a step back and give your article/blog/etc time to be “forgotten;” this way, when you’re making revisions, it’s almost as it you’re reading another person’s work. Once your writing has become fresh(er) to you, chances are that you’ll “find at least something you can revise to make your piece more accurate, more concise, more helpful, more euphonious, more humorous, more serious, more in keeping with the times, more appropriate, more dramatic, more heart stopping, more memorable, more — or somehow better — than the words that had originally arrived… this book, then, deals with finding the more and the better.” Revising after the writing part of the task is over frees up the energy that was being used by your creative mind. Now that the work is written, you can go back and insert the proper punctuation, making your words and ideas as clear and accurate as possible. Cheney adds that the words should be “attractive,” too. I didn’t know that words had fashion sense, let alone poor fashion sense! 🙂

He also stresses the importance of keeping the reader in mind at all times; this may seem obvious, but it’s actually quite easy to forget once you’re elbow deep in words. By keeping your reader in mind, you can act as if you are writing directly for him/her. Be as clear as possible, lest your words get lost in the “abyss” in the gap between the author’s mind and the mind of your reader. Find some way to jump across that abyss to get to the side, joining the reader and evaluating their point-of-view. Once you’re on the reader’s side, there’s no reason you shouldn’t able to clearly and precisely convey your meaning. Take as objective of a stance as possible when revisiting your work; an editor isn’t going to be biased, so you sure hell as shouldn’t be!

I found that using a text-to-speech program works great as a revision tool. Hearing your paper read aloud (by another person besides yourself) makes any errors glaringly apparent, whether they involve homonyms or phrasing problems. Depending on the version, MS Word sometimes has an add-on for using text-to-speech. If you’d rather not deal with Microsoft, there is a free program called Free NaturalReader 9 that I can vouch for. I use this program and not only is it easy, but it will read any text you ask it to, not just text from MS Word. I included a link to CNET’s site in case anyone wants to download it — I recommend at least trying it out.

I suppose I should wrap this post up for now. It didn’t go quite the direction I had planned, but that’s alright; I just hope some of the information was useful. Next time I discuss style, I’ll be listing and thoroughly describing Cheney’s different methods for revision. Once I’m done with the book, it will be a breeze to type up a “proofreading checklist.” For tomorrow, I’ll be writing a post for my friend Danielle, the author of the blog “American Wordsmith” (along with several others). She’s brilliant and an outstanding writer. The post will address the pros and cons of various content mill sites,  e.g. Textbroker, Merchant Circle or WISEgeek, including the application process, how often they pay, etc. I may have mentioned that in my previous post; if so, my bad.

I’ve got several big projects that are due tonight, so now that I’ve warmed up my writing muscle, it’s time to get to work! Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

❤ jt

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Be canny, instead of turbid, when using semicolons. And, the word “amortize.”

Posted on November 7, 2011. Filed under: Associated Press Rules, Grammar, Improving your writing skills, Spelling, Style, Vocabulary, Words | Tags: , , , , , , , |

I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to include the word “amortize” more effectively in my title. 🙂

For my first post, I’m going to stick to a few general grammar tips, along with posting several vocabulary words. My goal, which I’d like to share with you as well, is to learn something new, relating to writing, everyday. Vocabulary words will not only increase my repertoire of words, but yours as well!

Vocabulary words of the day

[Dictionary.com’s Word of the Day:]

Canny  [KAN-ee] — adjective— (1) Careful, cautious and prudent; (2)Astute, shrewd, knowing, sagacious, skilled, expert; (3) Quiet and snug.

Example: “A canny card player, good at psyching out his opponents,” or “Warm and canny under the woolen bed covers, we didn’t mind the chilly Scottish nights.”

[From Merriam-Webster’s Vocabulary Builder:]

Turbid [tər-bid] — (1) Thick or murky, especially with churned-up sediment; (2) Unclear, confused, muddled.

Example: “The mood of the crows was restless and turbid, and any spark could have turned then into a mob.”

Amortize  [a-mər-tīz] — To pay off something, such as a mortgage, by making small payments over a period of time; it is most commonly used as a legal term.

Example: “For tax purposes, they chose to amortize most of the business’s start-up costs over a three-year period.”

Some Grammar Tips: The Semicolon

My 11th grade Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. History teacher said something in class one period that has remained with me to this day. She was discussing the horrible work that some students had turned in and decided it was time to offer some grammatical advice. It was on that day that I learned how to properly use a semicolon. Shocking, I know, seeing as how I managed to pass grade school and two years of honors high school English without ever being informed about the beautiful, fluid and useful nature of the semicolon. She taught us the basic use of a semicolon… wait, no she didn’t. All she told us what that we should put semicolons before “however” or “but,” and that was about it. She was also a big fan of Tab soda. The things that stick with you after almost 15 years.

I digress…

Rules concerning the correct usage of grammar have changed since my days in high school. Hell, the world has done a complete 180° when it comes to communication and language, it seems. But, back to grammar: very few rules are set in stone these days, as we have let American language merge with popular culture to create an ever-changing vernacular. I consider myself a prescriptivist when it comes to language, so it makes me sad that the “pop culture” phenomenon has not only invaded our lives, but also our language. I could think of examples, but I think it’d be better if you did for yourself; then, you’ll be able to reflect upon how different groups and cultures within American have affected the English language.

Enough talking about language; now let us learn the proper way to use it. Semicolons separate two clauses that could normally stand on their own. As my beloved Grammar Girl refers to semicolons, this half-colon/half-comma symbol is used as a sentence-splicer; i.e., semicolons splice nasty sentences and turn them into pretty ones.

(A bad) example: “It was quite cold this morning, I wore my scarf to get warm.”

Why is this sentence in poor form? Upon further scrutiny, you can see that it contains two complete sentences on each side of the comma. A way of writing the sentence that utilizes the semicolon is to say, “It was quite cold this morning; I wore my scarf to get warm.”

If you have too many short sentences in a row, then you could benefit from changing things up a bit, such as by connecting the two shorter sentences by a semicolon. Semicolons can be effective tools: using a semicolon to join two sentences draws the reader’s attention to the relationship between the clauses.

However, the most important thing to remember when using a semicolon  is to make sure that the main clauses you are joining together are closely related to one another. Surely, you would never be caught saying, “The milk in the fridge is bad; I need to vacuüm the living room” and expect not to get strange looks. While each sentence can stand on its own, joining them with a semicolon only leads to confusion for the reason that the two sentences are not related. You have to take an axe to bad sentences such as these joined by deceitful commas.

You may ask yourself, why not just use a period? A period would have sufficed in place of the semicolon, but wouldn’t you rather mix things up a bit? Nothing conveys that you are a good writer like the ability to successfully sprinkle uncommon punctuation throughout your paper, including semi-colons, colons and “em” dashes – each of which will be addressed in upcoming posts.

Atypical punctuation not only adds variety to your sentence structure, but it makes you sound smart, too. 🙂 And, to some women, having large vocabulary is a sexy.

That’s all for today. Tomorrow I’ll try to post from the book, “Getting the Words Right.” It’s more of style guide and is a great read!

Thanks for reading my first real post on my new blog. FEEDBACK is welcome aka I never get blog comments. haha.

❤ jt

PS. If you have any grammar questions that you would like answered, leave your question in one of the comment forms and I’ll be more than happy to solve them!!! I thrive off of challenge!

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