It’s rare that I meet a freelance writer who thinks their writing is good enough. It’s not just that you want to know how to improve your writing, either — you want to know how to do it in a hurry.
Ideally, quick enough to get you some better-paying freelance writing gigs, real soon.
It seems no one wants to become a strong writer the way I did it — namely, to file 3-4 stories each and every week, like I did for 12 years. Or to write 72 blog posts a month, like I did when I got back into freelance writing in 2005.
Everybody wants a shortcut. OK then! I think there are a few.
Here are my top seven ways to quickly improve your writing:
1. Know the basic rules
There are a few simple changes that will always make your writing better. Know these rules, and you can go through any article or copy draft and improve it immediately:
Cut excess paragraphs, sentences, and words. If you can get the idea across without them, out they go. Your goal is to say whatever you’re trying to communicate as concisely as possible. Remember, clients don’t want the first 1,000 words you think up — they want the best, most info-packed 1,000 words you can boil down.
Fewer clauses and shorter sentences. Get to the point, and keep sentences uncluttered. If you see you’ve written this:
We spend as much time with you as you need to get properly equipped for your next outdoor adventure, whether it’s in the hills near the city or on the lake behind the mountain.
Boil it down to something more like this:
We’ll take the time you need to get equipped for your next outdoor adventure, whether it’s up in the hills or out on the lake.
Keep sentences short and punchy for anything you write online and all copywriting, and you can’t go wrong.
Active, not passive. Complex past-tense verbs bog things down. So when you see you’ve written this:
He had been going to the store on the corner, but it closed down.
Change it to this:
He shopped at the store on the corner, but it closed down.
Conversational, not formal. Unless you’re talking to an audience of Ph.Ds, use language a 9th grader would understand. It’s not “allows one to professionally faciliate,” it’s “allows to teachers to use.”
2. Write more
I rarely meet a writer with insecurities about their craft who’s cranking out great volumes of copy or multiple articles per week. When you write a lot — ideally, every day — you instinctively improve your writing over time.
If you’re a newbie writer thinking about a freelance writing career but feeling nervous about whether your writing is ‘good enough,’ or whether you could meet client deadlines, there’s an easy fix. Start writing! Give yourself daily writing assignments.
Create a blog post for a proposed future blog you want to write. Better yet, find a small business whose website could use work, and offer to rewrite it. You get the practice and a good sample, and they get marketing help. The more you write, the more confidence you’ll have that you can do this for a living.
3. Analyze your targets
One of the easiest quick ways to write better and get more gigs is to hit the newsstand, or fire up your computer.
Start reading the types of sites or magazines where you hope to appear. Don’t just read them for pleasure — read them analytically. How do they start stories? What sorts of sources do they quote? What’s their headline style? Do they use big words or small, sarcasm or seriousness?
Spend an afternoon browsing, take some notes, maybe retype a few key sample paragraphs in a file you save. You’ve instantly improved your ability to create writing that would impress your target market.
Specifically, read books about writing craft. They’re usually fairly brief — an afternoon’s read.
Of course, reading widely in general — fiction, the newspaper, biographies, quality magazines — will also help you absorb some positive writing habits.
5. Go to writers’ conferences
If you’d like to learn the fine points of how to better write dialogue, cite quotes, find research stats, construct paragraphs, develop characters — well, that’s why writer’s conferences exist. Skip the MFA or years in journalism school, and get a quick shot of writing improvement over a weekend.
There are hundreds of writer’s conferences, all over the world. Here’s a searchable list, from the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. As a bonus, you may get a chance to rub elbows with editors or agents while you’re there.
6. Get peer feedback
Know any other writers? Get up your gumption and hand them a draft of something you’ve written. Ask for honest feedback. Then, listen and learn.
The course of my whole career changed when I handed my first long article draft to a screenwriter friend of mine. She went through and crossed out all the passive “being” verbs and recast them into action verbs. She showed me how to trim repetitive sections out.
That piece ended up earning me $20,000 in movie options, by the way. I’m confident it would never even have appeared in my local alternative paper, much less been considered a tale of possible movie quality, without her help.
7. Get expert feedback
Nothing beats getting a professional, working editor to give you honest feedback on your writing. This is how you learn exactly how to get more assignments!
I know, it can be hard to get this sort of help. Most query letters we send off get no response, due to how busy editors are. If they’re not assigning your idea, you likely won’t hear anything.
But see if you can find an opportunity, because it can really be a life-changer for quickly and dramatically improving your writing.
For instance, my upcoming Article Writing Masterclass gets you a chance to get your article draft reviewed by working editors at Redbook and Delta Sky, among others. Chances like this are rare…but they do exist.
If you want to earn as a freelancer, commit to constant writing improvement. Learn from every published piece, by seeing how the editor changed it. Keep asking editors and mentors how to make your writing better.