Posts Tagged ‘writing tips’

5 Super-Easy Ways Freelance Writers Can Stand Out

Posted in Blog on May 21st, 2014 by Carol Tice – 53 Comments

One freelance writer bug stands outDo you feel overwhelmed by all the competition out there for freelance writers?

I recently got an email from a writer who told me she was frantic to find a niche where she could somehow be noticed despite all the “entrenched” writers who would be nearly impossible to beat.

Actually, it’s not like that.

Mediocrity is the norm in much of the freelance-writing world, and there’s plenty of opportunity to stand out. If you don’t believe me, go to your Chamber of Commerce, get a copy of all the brochures out of the display, and go home and read them all. You’ll see they’re not all exactly Shakespeare.

Besides simply writing competently — which in itself can make you stand out in some industries — what else can you do? Here are my top five favorite easy ways to win clients over:

1. Don’t be a flake

I wish I had a dime for every writer who told me they got an editor’s feedback on a story with some edit requests, or they got a request to pitch an editor — and then they freaked out and never sent anything back. Just walked away from the opportunity. Because I’d be retired now and not needing to write this blog post.

Why do writers do these things to themselves? I don’t know, but it means you can win points by simply being responsive.

Tell you a scary story about this point — I recommended a colleague once not long ago, whom I’d happily worked with on a previous gig, to a prospect I didn’t have time to take on. I knew her writing and interviewing skills were great, so I didn’t have any hesitation about passing her name on.

Unfortunately, the client got back to me later to share that after many delays, this writer had totally flaked out on him. She never turned in the assignment! He ended up having to change his whole project around because time ran out and her piece had to be scrapped.

Of course, I was mortified to hear someone I referred let a client down. And you know I’m never recommending her again.

You’ll be amazed how far simply being reliable can take you in the freelance-writing biz. Because a lot of writers are busy being artistes and blowing their deadlines.

2. Proof your work

I know — you’re thinking, “Doesn’t everybody?” No. They don’t.

You’d be surprised how many writers think the first thing they jot down should be turned in, or emailed off to an editor as a pitch. If you’re bad at proofing, try to swap some writing with a friend and get them to catch your typos.

Well-proofed work makes editors less suspicious that your article is sloppily researched and reported. Instead, they’ll think you’re brilliant.

3. Don’t be a diva

Writers who’re used to writing on their own blog or their novel have a tendency to fall in love with their words.

This emotion has no place in the world of freelance writing. Here, you write to please a client. Whatever they want is what you need to deliver.

After they hate your first draft and want 20 things different in it, the correct response is, “Sure thing.” Not a big snarky tantrum about how they’re killing your precious prose.

Also don’t be a boundary-pusher, always asking for more time or a cover byline. Just do you work well, and you will be rewarded.

4. Don’t be a basket case

Mentoring 1,000+ writers in my Freelance Writers Den community has taught me this: A great many of us are a tad on the mentally fragile side.

Look at a writer sideways, and often, they implode. One rough week with an annoying client, and they’re ready to pack it in. One rejection letter, and they’re devastated.

For instance, here are a couple of emails I recently got about rejected queries:

“Just got my first rejection and am heartbroken. I feel really bad, but know I should just man-up and carry on. I worked really hard on my pieces.

“How long did it take before you could just take it on the chin? This feels terrible, but I don’t want to waste time mourning.”–Michelle

“If a fairly large, local consumer magazine responds to a query with a note saying that they don’t see a place for the story in their mag but good luck placing it elsewhere, is it safe to assume it was a decent query, or is it typical for editors to send out generic rejections like that?

“It’s my first real attempt at getting into a consumer magazine, and I’m feeling despondent about the reply I got (after 2.5 weeks).”–Talia

As a freelance writer, you can’t do this to yourself. You can’t sit counting the days until you get a response from an editor. And you can’t fall apart every time you have a setback.

You also can’t waste time trying to read the tea leaves in a rejection letter to suss out what the editor’s secret meanings might be. You’ll never really know.

The correct response to a query rejection is to continue on immediately, as if nothing has happened. Ideally, you did that the moment you pressed ‘send’ on the query, and have another dozen queries out by the time you hear that ‘no,’ so it isn’t your whole world crumbling that this didn’t work out.

This is business, and you need to be mentally tough, deal with disappointment fast, and keep right on marketing. Learn more about writing queries, too. Michelle sounds like maybe she was sending in completed articles instead of writing a query, which generally gets poorer results.

If you don’t need a month off to second-guess yourself or to mourn that one single query letter wasn’t accepted, you’ll be able to get a lot more work done that could find you clients.

5. Up your skills

At this point, there are plenty of writers who can write a blog post, or a short article. The question is, what else do you know how to write that commands higher rates?

If the answer is nothing, think about learning a specialized area — how to write case studies or annual reports, for instance. I’ve done both and they pay great.

Or hit the motherlode of reliable, great pay and learn how to write a sales page. Clients will always pay well for writing when they can see it directly results in more sales and income for their business.

Maybe this one is a bit less easy than the other four tips I’ve listed, and might cost a few bucks. But investing in your business is a major way to move yourself out of the mass of starving writers and create a viable niche for your freelance writing business.

How do you stand out as a freelance writer? Leave a comment and share your approach.





How to Stop the Psychodramas and Get Your Writing Done

Posted in Blog on May 4th, 2014 by Carol Tice – 64 Comments

Too much drama keeps freelance writer from working

“My freelance writing business is in trouble,” Julia told me this week.

“It’s because I get depression, and when I’m depressed, I can’t write.”

This is a big problem, and I think all writers get something similar to Julia’s problem at some point.

Fortunately, there is a way out of this problem. It begins with understanding what the problem really is.

From writing problem to rule-making

Writers love to create rules about what we can accomplish under what circumstances.

For instance, we can’t write if we’re underslept, or it’s after lunchtime (my creative time is early in the day, please!).

Or it’s not sunny out today. Or the neighbor is mowing the lawn right near our window. Or, depending on your personal fixation, unless we have our three antique china pigs sitting on the edge of our desk in a perfect row.

This writer had a rule that she couldn’t write anything when she was depressed.

She tried to write when she was depressed, and it was difficult. Instead of pushing through it or figuring out some ways to cope with it, she began to worry that she could never write when depressed.

Soon, she had created a rule about it in her mind: I cannot write when depressed.

This rule did not create happiness. Quite the opposite — she lived in terror of getting a writing assignment with only a few weeks to complete. If depression hit, she would be unable to write!

So she wasn’t sending query letters anymore. She was frozen. And her dreams of building a viable freelance writing business were in danger of vaporizing.

Coming back to reality

The important thing to realize when we make rules about our writing is that they aren’t real. It’s just an idea that lives inside your head.

It’s not an immutable law of nature, like gravity.

Being depressed does not mean you’ve had a lobotomy, or your arms have been cut off. It is still physically possible for you to write in your less-than-ideal circumstances.

Yes, it might be harder, or take longer. You might need to rewrite more. Because it’s not perfect.

But you can do it.

When you create can’t-write rules around phobias or problems you have, you’re creating a psychodrama. A self-created world of made-up rules that exists only inside your mind. It is not reality.

If you want to be able to write anytime, anywhere, under any circumstances, you have to become conscious of this fact. That it’s just a story you’ve told yourself, about why you can’t write.

Then you’re ready to break your made-up writing rules so you can meet clients’ deadlines and earn a living at this.

Action trumps drama

If you’re wondering how I know it’s possible to write under any circumstances, it’s because I’ve had to do it. So many times.

I used to think I definitely could not produce publishable writing if I didn’t get a good night’s sleep, for instance. Also if people were yelling at me…it takes me a long time to emotionally recover from that. I couldn’t possibly be expected to write anything that day.

To name just two rules I had.

While I’m thrilled with how my freelance writing life is going, my personal life is not all sunshine. So I often find myself needing to write under less-than-optimal circumstances. Say, while children scream and fight downstairs and my husband handles that in a way other than what I’d do.

Luckily, I have my staff-writing days to pull from for the knowledge that in fact, I can write if I have to. When putting food on the table depends on you turning in four stories every week, you learn to write no matter what.

I have gone into work as a staff writer on one hour of sleep, confident that I Could Not Possibly Turn In My Story.

But somehow, faced with that deadline, I’d drink some tea, or maybe mini-nap with my head on my desk for 10 minutes. Or eat two candy bars.

And by the end of the day, my article would be written.

Do you need to write?

Here’s the magic: Once you challenge your made-up rule and prove it wrong, it dissolves. Its hold on you is lost.

You have to face the truth that your psychodrama was just in your head. It’s an excuse. Not a real thing. You can muscle your way through it and beat it, and get the writing done.

Yes, it’s harder to write when things aren’t perfect. But when are they ever perfect? Right.

So it’s an important skill for freelance writers to learn to bust their self-scripted limitations and write. It’s tough that first time that you slog through writing a story on an hour of sleep…but after that, you never doubt that you can pull it out again. You’re ready to take writing assignments with the confidence that you can deliver, no matter what life throws your way that week.

What’s often missing that allows the psychodrama to win out is the sense that you have to write. It’s important.

You may not have a deadline today, but developing the ability to write on a daily basis is critical to success in any writing field.

Life is short, and you have things you want to tell the world.

Feel that urgency, and man up and do the writing, if you want this to be your career. Even though life sucks today.

What’s your writer psychodrama? Leave a comment and tell us, and then tell us how you overcome it.

4 Reasons Why Grammar Police Make Terrible Writers

Posted in Blog on January 5th, 2014 by Carol Tice – 155 Comments

Grammar policeman points out errors in your writingby Linda Formichelli

The other day I received this email in response to a marketing message I sent out to my subscription list:

Basic grammar forbids the use of double negatives, “…using the wrong
set of skills for the wrong job”. An authority on writing must master
the rules of writing before they can be taken seriously.

(I so wanted to let this guy know that “the wrong skills for the wrong job” is hardly a double negative, and that some of the greatest writers of all times used double negatives for emphasis — Shakespeare, anyone? But I took my own advice and hit Delete.)

And here’s a small excerpt of a 400-word comment I got a few months ago pointing out two typos in a post:

This the very first article of yours that I have read and I already have an image of you built in my mind. A harried, hair all over the place woman who rushes around to get her work done! Not very flattering, is it.

I DO NOT think that of you, but I could and all because of two little mistakes in your writing! A person’s writing is a reflection of them, is it not? Given that you are teaching writers how to make a living from this wonderful craft, is it not prudent to be as perfect in your advise as possible?

I know other professional writers get all kinds of emails pointing out their typos and grammatical errors.

So what’s the problem? People need to know when they’re wrong so they can improve, so why not be the one to let them know — right?

Wrong. Here’s why you should retire your Grammar Police badge forever.

1. Grammar Police aren’t perfect

Did you notice the mistakes in these two Grammar Police messages I received? In the first one, he put the period outside of the quote marks. (And I know he’s American, so he has no excuse.) In the second, he wrote “advise” for “advice.” (And there were many more mistakes in the rest of the 400 words he posted.

People in glass houses and all that.

If you want to criticize someone else’s writing, you better make damn sure yours is absolutely perfect. And who wants that kind of stress?

2. Grammar Police waste time

The time and energy you spend policing other people’s grammar is better spent elsewhere — like, say, writing.

I just had to look up the guy who unsubscribed from my Morning Motivations emails because of a perceived double negative, and discovered that he has a book on Amazon. A book with a flabby three-star average rating (out of five stars). And reviews calling the book “boring.”

With all the time he spent getting PO’d about my grammar, writing and sending me an email, and unsubscribing from my list, he could have improved his own writing by reading a writing blog, reading chapter of a book on the writing craft, or editing some of his own work.

I guarantee you will never see, say, Stephen King shooting off an email to a writer admonishing her for a typo. He’s too busy, you know, writing bestsellers.

3. Grammar Police have bad attitudes

I love it when people write to me and say, “You may not have noticed this, but I wanted to let you know you have a misspelled word in the title of your post.” That is constructive criticism and that writer doesn’t earn the moniker “Grammar Police.”

I think the term “Grammar Police” refers specifically to people who berate you for your grammar errors — all out of proportion to the severity of said errors. Those who tell you your writing won’t be taken seriously with typos, or who paint a picture of you as a frazzled writer who can’t cope with life.

If that’s the attitude you display to other writers, you’re going to have a hard time networking and making friends in the writing community. And we all know how important contacts are in this industry, right?

4. Grammar Police have trouble writing

People who are sticklers for grammar and who blow up over typos tend to be perfectionists who never get their writing out to the world because they’re too concerned with making it perfect — which it will never be.

When you see a writer who is über prolific, you’ll find that they make the occasional error. That’s because they don’t get hung up on getting it perfect — they get hung up on getting it done.

Also, show me someone who gets hyper about grammar and I’ll show you someone whose writing is probably stilted, businesslike, and boring. I mean, “An authority on writing must master the rules of writing before they can be taken seriously”? Snooooze.

Good writers know how and when to bend — and break — the rules. For example, sometimes purposely breaking a grammar rule adds emphasis, or makes a piece of writing more conversational and reader-friendly.

Okay — time to hang up your Grammar Police uniform for good, and instead spend your time writing, writing, writing.

Ever had a run in with the Grammar Police? Let us know what happened in the comments below.

Linda Formichelli has written for over 130 magazines, is the co-author of The Renegade Writer and blogs about writing at The Renegade Writer. Her new book is Write Your Way Out of the Rat Race and Step Into a Career You’ll Love (Carol’s link there. Appreciate your support!).

Why I Won’t Say Whether Your Writing Is Any Good

Posted in Blog on November 26th, 2013 by Carol Tice – 52 Comments

Writing coach won't critique your workHave you wondered if your writing is good enough to earn a living from?

Many writers have emailed me asking this question. They’d like my evaluation of whether they’ve got what it takes.

They want to know what books they should read about the craft of writing, or what classes they should take. Sometimes I have a suggestion or two there.

But when writers ask me, “Could you read this article and tell me if my writing is any good?” I never give them feedback on their writing.

There are four reasons why:

1. Writing is so, so subjective

One reader’s masterpiece is another’s staggering bore. It’s lyrical poetry to one, puerile fishwrap to another. My opinion would be just that — one person’s opinion. I’m not the Oracle of Truth here. It wouldn’t really change anything.

2. Standards for writing success vary

There are a ton of mediocre writers earning a living (if you don’t believe me, go to your local Chamber of Commerce and read the brochures), so if you’re not brilliant it doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t make a career from writing.

Depending on the type of writing work you want to do and how much you want to make, even pedestrian skills might cut it. I know writers who earn $10,000 a year who’re thrilled with that.

3. I don’t want to kill your dreams

If your writing truly is awful, I don’t see why I should have to be the one to tell you that. I don’t enjoy being the bearer of bad news.

And — see #1 — I could be wrong, and then I would really feel horrible about telling you not to pursue writing. Or I’d feel stupid, especially if you win a Pulitzer 10 years from now or have a blockbuster novel. It’s a lose-lose scenario, from my point of view.

4. The fact that you’re asking is a red flag

Here’s the biggest problem with going around asking random people to critique your writing. If you’re doing that, it means you don’t believe you’re a good writer.

To do this for a living, you have to know you’ve got talent. Not from any outside feedback, but from deep in your soul.

If you don’t feel that writing is the talent you were meant to share with the world, my telling you your writing is brilliant won’t help. You won’t believe me.

On the other hand, if you do know you’re good, you shouldn’t need to hear it from me.

If you’re worried you aren’t a good writer, you probably need to improve. You should dedicate yourself to writing a lot and building your skills, or find another line of work.

Who should critique your writing

I’m not saying you should never ask for feedback on your writing. Far from it.

But asking a random blogger you know isn’t the best way to get input that’s truly useful.

For that, you want editors. Professional editors. Ideally, editors you are working with on an assignment.

They thought you were good enough to write for them, so you have a common understanding there. And from that understanding, you can seek to get even better.

I learned everything I know about writing by doing two things: writing tons and constantly peppering my editors with questions. When I got my first regular freelance publication clients, I would haunt the editors’ offices and ask things like:

I notice you changed my lede from X to Y in this story. Why?

You cut out my paragraph three. I thought it had really important points. Why’d you do that?

I loved this word that I used but I saw you eliminated it. Why?

Can you help me cut this 5,000-word draft down to 3,000 words?

As you’ll recall, I was kind of an idiot newbie writer, so I just kept asking. A good editor will help you improve your writing.

Even a bad editor can help. I had one editor I thought was awful, but he pushed me super-hard and helped me understand the mechanics of how to write a compelling article like never before.

Editors see a lot of writers’ work and usually have been at their gigs a long time. They look at writing in an analytical way, all day long. Drink up their knowledge.

How to become a great writer

There is one more reason why I turn away writing-critique requests.

It’s that your writing is evolving, every day. Maybe you had a bad day when you wrote the piece you’re handing me. Maybe you’ll write like mad the next six months and you’ll improve tremendously.

A piece of writing is a snapshot in time. If you’re passionate about writing, you will constantly strive to get better. Who doesn’t wince when they look at things they wrote long ago?

There is no golden moment when you achieve writing excellence and then you magically maintain that level from there on out. Think of all the writers whose second novel flamed out.

There is only trying to improve.

Recently one writer wrote me:

“How long did it take you to perfect your writing skills? Six months? A year? Five years?

“Any feedback, information, or advice would be greatly appreciated!”-Yvette

My answer: “Still working on it.”

So here’s my feedback on your writing: If you know in your heart you have writing talent, and you’re committed to working to polish that skill, my bet is you’re going to do fine.

Who do you get feedback from on your writing? Leave a comment and let us know.