It seems as though the new search engine optimization (SEO) aspect to freelance writing is two-fold: The whole concept of SEO has created many more jobs for writers, yet it has created a lot of new and different work for a writer that doesn’t always seem to fall under the “writing” category. For the latter reason, many freelance writers are not overly interested in learning SEO and would rather continue being an “old fashioned” freelance writer. After all, SEO can get complicated for someone new to the field. Although SEO is a thrill for some writers, many writers cannot help but ask themselves: Do I really need to understand SEO to be a writer?
The freelance writing community is getting a little paranoid. I find I can’t hold a casual online conversation with someone without that person apologizing for typos or errors. It’s getting a little silly. Excellent writers are posting thought provoking comments on blogs and in forums, and then turn around and post again apologizing for typos most others wouldn’t have noticed in the first place.
Relax, people. You’re human. You’re allowed to make mistakes.
When Freelance Writers Should Mind Their Typos
The purpose of this post isn’t to say we shouldn’t be diligent about our writing and do our best to ensure clean writing every time. Mostly it’s to say we don’t have to be so paranoid about our writing when we’re having an online water cooler conversation.
Just as there are times we should take extra care, there are times when we can relax a bit. I am always extra careful when turning in client projects or when applying for gigs, sending official correspondences, and on anything I consider “formal” writing. However, when I’m writing a letter to Dear Diary, I’m pretty sure I don’t need the grammar police looking over my shoulder. While I do try and be conscious of my errors (and many of you write to let me know when I miss the mark ) my genuine rule of thumb is to be particularly mindful when I have something to gain. For example, if a client is paying me, I’m creating a sign, or if I have to write a letter to my Congressman. If I’m posting a comment in a casual discussion forum and I “your” when I should have “you’re ‘d” I’m not going to be bothered by it too much.
You shouldn’t take it to heart, either.
Very Few People Give a Crap if You Forgot a Letter or Added an Apostrophe
I’m not decrepit, but I’m no spring chicken. I like to think I’ve been around the block a few times. Over the past four and a half decades, I have yet to find a person who is perfect. I’ll even go as far as to say that most people make at least a mistake a day, and many go beyond that. Yeah, there are the sticklers (Lynne Truss, I’m talking to you!), but I’m sure even the sticklers would agree that it’s OK for folks to let their guard down once in a while. If I’m having a conversation with another writer, I’m not going to be talking in the AP Format. I might notice horribly poor grammar (My pet peeve is “Where’s it at?” ) but there’s a difference between improper usage and honest mistakes. Only people with superiority complexes complain about honest mistakes in casual conversation , most people couldn’t care less or they realize a mistake for what it is and mind their manners.
Lighten Up, People. Everyone Make Mistakes Once in a While
Because the not-so silent minority are now policing the social networks to ensure we’re not “righting” when we should be “writing,” freelance writers are paranoid they’ll be called out as bad writers if they make the slightest mistake. Not a day goes by that I don’t see a casual conversation among writers where one apologizes to another for a typo. Both sides need to lighten up. We’re people, people, and we make mistakes. No one is going to think you’re a poor writer for having typos. Show me a writer who has never made an error, and I’ll show you a liar.
You know why you don’t see popular novelists or journlists making many mistakes in their writing? Because editors are proofing their work. What you see is the finished product. Chances are, those writers made a few errors before going to press.Of course I cringe when I see major gaffes in magazines or misspelled signs, but having gaffes get past a professional proofreader is a hell of a lot different than than a misplaced apostrophe in a Facebook comment.
You’ll probably find typos all over this blog, and even some on Twitter and Facebook…and you know what? I don’t care. If Facebook wants to pay me for turning in clean writing, I can certainly be more diligent. However, if I’m participating in casual conversation and the odd typo comes out, I don’t owe anyone an apology.
There’s no excuse for improper grammar, but we don’t need to be so paranoid we’re constantly (publicly) apologizing for forgetting a comma or adding an apostrophe.
Go ahead, make a typo. I’ll still respect you in the morning.
A couple of days ago I wondered if it’s OK for freelance writing bloggers to talk like they speak. After all, blogging is a much more casual form of writing than what most of us are used to. While some purists don’t always appreciate a conversational tone when reading the news or learning about vitamin supplements, the truth is, that’s where we’re headed. The Internet has turned writers into bloggers and everything is all so ultra-cas now.
Writing for Short Attention Spans
Look around at your favorite news, medical and even government sites and what do you see? News sites feature more bloggers than journalists. News is no longer a one way show. We can digest and then discuss. We can even counterpoint if we want to – and receive more traffic with our rebuttal than the original post.
We’re told Internet readers have short attention spans and would much rather scan headlines and look for juicy bits than commit to an entire article.
Everyone giving a web writing lesson encourages us to:
- Write short sentences
- Use a conversational tone
- Break up text with sub heads, lists. and bullet points
- Keep it to 500 to 1,000 words
Twenty years ago it wasn’t so easy being a freelance writer. Now? Not so much. Anyone can become published on the web and many of us are even paid for it. The new breed of writers don’t have to have a degree in journalism or mass communications, heck, they don’t have to finish school at all if that’s not how they roll.
I’m not saying all this is a bad thing, but I often pause to consider where we’re headed.
Are we still interested in a formal tone?
I wonder what all this means for writing and writers now and in the future. Is America getting used to casual, short attention span reading? Are we doing the bulk of our reading via smartphone on the morning commute?
Do we trust a conversational tone over a formal tone?
It was announced yesterday that Newsweek is up for sale as newsweeklies lose their influence. We’re now learning what we need to know in 140 characters or less, so who has time for an entire magazine? If our trusted sources can’t be considered influential anymore, what can?
Where are we headed ?
I know there are many of us who still enjoy holding books or newspapers. As loyalists get older and the younger generation finds new methods of reading, paper copies are going to be a thing of the past. Why buy books and magazines when we can listen to them or download them onto electronic readers? Why recycle or dust worn volumes when there’s no need? Even I, the daughter of a librarian, am moving towards more electronic reading and fewer physical copies.
It’s no secret that it’s more difficult to read on a screen, which is why we teach short and sweet web writing now. Does that mean we’re going to be writing more to accommodate laptops, electronic readers and short attention spans? As more “citizen journalists” try their hand at this blogging thing, what will happen to the old school way of writing?
I recently wondered about the future of reading. To be honest, I’m more interested in the future of writing.
What are your thoughts on this? Does our future show a more casual way of reading and writing?
The other day I was introduced as a “thought leader.” As you can imagine, I was flattered, but I was also confused and amused. I was confused because I’m still not so sure what it means to be a thought leader, and I was amused because if I’m the one leading your thoughts you’re all in a lot of trouble.
I’ve been hearing this term “thought leader” for some time now, but never really sat down to explore what it means before today. Heck, I have some time.
What is a Thought Leader, Anyway?
As everyone knows, Google holds the power to reveals answers to all life’s little questions. So where else better to search for definitions of thoughts leaders than Google?
What I found out is that “thought leader” is another term for guru.
Again, I laugh.
In my experience, the folks who are doing the best thinking aren’t the ones screaming it from the mountain tops. They’re the quiet leaders who keep their thoughts to themselves and lead by their actions.
I’m anything but quiet and I’m certainly not a guru.
I’m not sure I like the idea of “thought” leaders. To me it’s saying that someone else is doing all the thinking for us. Right now is the best time to march to our own drummers and let our creativity shine through. With all the mediocre writing out there, who wants to think like everyone else?
I don’t want to be your thought leader, that’s too much of a burden to bear and I don’t want to be responsible for your thinking. Instead, I don’t mind being a thought encourager or a thought stimulator but to me “thought leader” conjures up images of poisoned Kool Aid. I kind of enjoy presenting ideas and scenarios for you to think about, I don’t want to dictate how you think.
Again, if I’m a thought leader, you’re all in trouble.
I’ve been watching “America: The Story of Us” on the History Channel. Whenever I watch a documentary or read about America’s Founding Fathers, I reflect on what was at stake at the time. I don’t know how many Americans consider the magnitude of the danger involved in this major act of rebellion. Every single signer of the Declaration of Independence committed an act of high treason. If caught, they’d be hung or shot on sight.
Many sacrifices were made on our behalf, yet we don’t often think about the gory details as they’re too unpleasant and seems as if it were so long ago.
Yes, George Washington was a rebel. No, this post isn’t about taxation without representation or the Continental Congress. Instead, it’s about what happens when you go against convention and tradition to make your own life.
The birth of America is one of the most famous acts of rebellion in the history of the world, and I like to use it to illustrate how it pays to buck tradition and think for ourselves.
Let’s explore what happens when we rebel:
- Sometimes we break laws. This isn’t recommended but it’s worth noting that sometimes enough people have to break laws to show how ridiculous or how unfair they are. For example, in my home state of New Jersey it’s against the law to pump your own gas. There’s really no good reason for this and as a result many New Jersey residents have no idea how to fill our tanks once we drive over the border into New York, Delaware or Pennsylvania. It’s a dumb law. If enough people are arrested for filling their own tanks, it would probably change. Again, I’m not recommending we all break the law, just saying that sometimes if a law is broken enough, it proves how dumb it is to begin with.
- Sometimes we create something unique: When writers, actors, and artists go against the grain and break away from tradition, people talk. We marvel. We comment. We may not like what we see, but we take notice. We get ideas. We become inspired. Is it better to stimulate a discussion or keep quiet so as not to make waves? I’m guessing the former.
- Sometimes our voices are heard: As writers, we have power. We can bring light to issues and events. We can expose tyrants and scammers. We raise money and awareness and change the world with our words, but only if we’re not afraid to be the first. What would have happened if Woodward and Bernstein didn’t expose a Presidential Scandal?
Rebelling is resisting without bullying and disagreeing without insulting. It’s not being afraid to follow your own definition of success. Rebelling is important and necessary sometimes, in order for people to see things that are a little unpleasant.
No one is saying you have to break any laws, but try rebelling sometime…you may just change the world.
When was your last act of rebellion?
At SXSW last weekend I had a chance to attend a small, intimate gathering made up of many of the top writing bloggers and social media professionals in the space. We had an interesting conversation regarding email and how many people write to us on a daily basis requesting advice. Most of us described receiving hundreds, if not thousands of emails each day requesting advice for getting started, setting rates and other questions.
So herein lies the dilemma….
Every bit of advice folks email to ask about can be found on this blog. For example, I receive mail asking for tips on getting started, how much to charge clients, if something smells like a stinky gig, how to give oneself a raise and more. Every day. All day.
So put yourself in my place:
You receive between 500 and 1500 emails each day, many asking the same questions. Every single one of those questions can be found on your blog. Do you:
- Respond to everyone right away?
- Refer everyone to your blog?
- Say, “Here’s my coaching fee?”
- Respond when you get a chance which can mean months from now?
Remember, we’re not talking about a few emails each day. We’re talking about hundreds of questions.
- If I respond right away to everyone it cuts into work time as it will take several hours to get to it all.
- If I don’t respond right away there’s a chance people are going to fall through the cracks.
- If I tell people to search my blog for the answers it’ll get all over the blogs and forums about how I’m this b*tch who won’t answer questions.
- If I charge for advice I’ll also get called out for being a money-grubbing b*tch.
At the above referenced party, we discussed each scenario. I ended with the question, “when do I draw the line and stop giving away free advice to the folks who write asking questions?” The response, from every single person there, is that I should never give away free email advice in the first place.
It’s interesting, isn’t it?
The pros tell me not to give it away, but the freelance writing community tells me I have no choice but to give it away. Considering the pros aren’t my community, I’m thinking it’s you who I should be listening to. The funny thing is, the same people writing to me for free advice would never give away writing for free. You let me know when you don’t approve of my sponsors, don’t approve of a recommendation for gigs out of your price range, don’t approve of writing for exposure or a byline, but you also let me know that you don’t think I should charge for my services.
This isn’t a martyr post. I’m not looking for the sympathy vote, I’m thinking aloud more than anything. There are so many pros who tell me I’m doing it wrong, yet if I do it their way I’m going to lose my community. The problem with free advice is that once you stop giving it away, you risk losing it all.
What are your thoughts on this. Say you’re a popular freelance writing blogger who receives so much email each day. How would you handle it? Where would you draw the line?
“Yankee Doodle went to town,
riding on a pony,
stuck a feather in his cap
and called it macaroni.”
I must have sang “Yankee Doodle” at least a thousand times over the past 45 years and never really gave a second thought to its meaning. Today, while attending a second grade social studies presentation about the beginnings of our wonderful country, we learned the true meaning of this song.
You see, it was written by the British in order to cast Americans in a negative light. The British soldiers sang “Yankee Doodle” to boost morale and feel superior towards “the enemy.”
“Yankee,” of course, referred to a name given (by the Dutch) to American settlers. “Doodle” was a derogatory term put on the end of Yankee in order to make Americans seem like bumbling idiots.
The macaroni part
The part about macaroni was probably the most confusing. I mean, what does a feather in a hat have to do with macaroni? It turns out back in the day, this made a lot of sense. The British were fond of curly, flamboyant wigs. These hair styles were called, “macaroni,” I guess because in some sad way they represented pasta. They poked fun at the American soldiers who adorned their hats with feathers, saying they were trying to emulate their hair styles but not coming close.
What really happened
Americans embraced “Yankee Doodle” and sang it every chance they got. A song that was supposed to be negative and derogatory turned out to be a rallying cry. Imagine fighting in the British army and a brigade of American soldiers marches by jauntily singing a song the British composed to be insulting? Now, I can’t find anything to prove this one way or another, but I’m willing to bet the British didn’t spend too much time singing “Yankee Doodle” around their campfires. Not when the Americans were having so much fun with it.
So where am I going with this?
There’s always a story
Every song, every picture, every article, every blog post, every color and every design has a story behind it. Good writers not only dig deeper to learn origins, but they also dig a little deeper to see if there’s another side of the story they’re missing. Maybe you’re like me and you sang this silly song without wondering what a “Yankee Doodle” was or why it warranted a song. Now that I know a little background, I’ll not only sing it with pride, but I’ll have an amusing picture in my mind to accompany the music.
As a writer, Yankee Doodle reminds me that there’s a lot we take for granted and taking things at surface value isn’t enough. There’s always a story, how far are you willing to go to find it?
Negativity can backfire
So the British made up a lame little song to insult the American soldiers and what happened? The Americans not only made it their own, but they made it famous. They even added to it. You’d be surprised at how many verses there are to “Yankee Doodle” beyond what we sing at patriotic events. In this case, the negativity didn’t do much for the British morale. Negativity and insults sure feels good sometimes, but it doesn’t always have the intended results.
The Americans could have been disheartened by the picture being painted of them as bumbling idiots who can’t tell the difference between a feather and a wig, but they weren’t. They made the most of the situation. They took something that was supposed to be a negative and turned it into an extremely positive situation. So much so that it’s still with us today.
The American soldiers were outnumbered, they were short on supplies and could have been short on morale. Every little bit of negativity directed that way could have caused them to lose their self esteem and make the situation seem even more dire. It wasn’t to be though. In true American fashion, our founding fathers made lemonade.
I was so impressed by this story, I couldn’t wait to come and work out a blog post. There’s more than three lessons here for sure, but the positivity message shines through.
Have you ever taken something at face value, only later to be surprised at the truth and beauty behind it?
Does this sound familiar?
You’re an aspiring blogger looking to make yourself known in a popular niche. All the blogging books and blogs tell you in order to do this you have to network heavily including commenting at other top blogs to bring in traffic. You do. You don’t just comment you become THE top commenter. You add your opinion to every single post and even drop some links if you can get away with it. As soon as your blog starts picking up momentum you forget that other blog. You don’t come by and comment or participate in community activities anymore. There’s no need to, you only wanted to link to your own stuff anyway. You disappear into the sunset never to be seen again.
Does this sound familiar?
You have 250 Twitter followers, which is fine except there are no “big name” Tweeters who are following you in return. While you have some great conversations with your friends, Tweeting links to your stuff hardly sends traffic your way. You begin following the power Tweeters, those with 5,000, 10,000 or 50,000 followers and one or two follow you. These are the folks you care about. You begin asking them to retweet your stuff. It doesn’t matter that they don’t know you from Adam or that you don’t really care much for helping them to promote their own stuff. If they can give your blog posts a retweet or two you’d be set and never have to talk to them again.
Does this sound familiar?
Certain blogs enjoy a liberal link love policy. They don’t have to do this, they simply enjoy sharing with their communities. Thanks to them, your blog is on the map. Half of that popular blog’s community now visits your blog. You won’t come as far as to say that other blog is responsible for your beginning popularity but you know it’s true. However you never link to them in return. Not because they don’t have good stuff to share, but because you’re afraid of sending readers to the “competition.”
Does this sound familiar?
Every day after you blog you contact everyone in your arsenal and ask them to give your blog posts Stumbles, Tweets, Diggs and more. Everyone says yes. However, you never take the time to see what those other bloggers are doing. You never ask how you can reciprocate. If you are asked to reciprocate you forget or you don’t don’t it because you don’t want to seem spammy.
Does this sound familiar?
You look for the top blogs so you can guest post and build awareness around your own name and brand. Do you spend time in this blogger’s community when you’re not guest posting? Do you link to his blog or participate in her discussions? Did you choose this blog for any reason other than numbers?
Does this sound familiar?
An online acquaintance knows some of the top bloggers and social media people. You approach her for an introduction so you can promote your book. Your book is an online best seller because she helped to arrange for a review by a leading social media guru. Your acquaintance never hears from you again…until you wants her to review her next book.
Are you using your online friends?
Most blogs have transient communities. Readers come by and learn, comment and share and move on. For many it’s a matter of getting a new job or having less time to spend. For others, it’s because they don’t need those blogs or bloggers anymore. Now that they’re popular, they have no use for the people who helped them to get there. Think about how you got your start in the online world. Think about how you achieved the status you have now. Chances are there are a few people who helped along the way.
When was the last time you said thank you? When was the last time you gave back in return?
Overheard at the supermarket: “I don’t like the way they do things over there. I’m going to give them a piece of my mind. There’s going to be a confrontation.”
To be fair, I don’t know what prompted the above-referenced quote. It stuck in my mind for a variety of reasons, the first is that I’m not confrontational and avoid heated confrontation at all cost. The second is that I wonder if the woman above, who was clearly on the defensive, took some time out to ask questions and discuss whatever set her off before deciding on her confrontational course of action?
When I worked as a receptionist, I was always so surprised by how many people started screaming at me as soon as I said “hello.” I didn’t know these people, nor was I the reason for their anger, but they felt that if they were “spirited” right off the bat they would get results. Later, when I worked in a customer service capacity I bore much of the brunt of customers’ wrath. One thing I learned is that the anger and abuse solved nothing. Many times the issue had nothing to do with my company at all and if the customer asked questions instead of being confrontational he would have received answers quicker and on more pleasant terms.
Here are some truths I’ve come to know as a result of working in a customer service capacity and also as a freelance writer and blogger:
- There are two sides to every story. There is no exception to this truth. Being confrontational won’t change that fact.
- If you’re too busy yelling to hear yourself yell, and you’re not willing to listen, you won’t achieve results. You have to let the other person talk to achieve any goal.
- There’s a different between honesty and rudeness. If you feel “blunt honesty” isn’t rude, think again. While some people might cower to this, most people just see it as anger.
It’s been my experience people are confrontational because they don’t know how to ask the right kinds of questions.
- Instead of saying, “I can’t believe that person did that, I’m going to give her a piece of my mind,” try saying, “Wow. I wonder why she said that. I’m going to ask.”
- Instead of saying, “So and so told me she said blah blah blah and now I’m going to rake her over the coals,” try saying, “Wow. Could that really be true? I’m going to ask her for her side of the story.”
- Instead of saying, “I don’t know what possessed him to do that,” ask. If you want to know why someone did something, don’t assume. Ask.
As writers and bloggers, it’s our jobs to seek out the answers even if they’re not what we expected. That means asking questions and allowing both sides of the story to come through. Being confrontational is one-sided. People only respond to anger because they want to get rid of you. However, if you take the time to talk and ask questions, you may find you get answers and a whole lot more.
In the past few weeks I’ve received a flurry, no a barrage, of angry emails asking why I’m qualified to be a freelance writing blogger.
Though I don’t quite get the anger, I’m happy to receive these questions because it means writers and aspiring writers are thinking about who to trust and that’s always a good thing. There’s too much blind faith in the Internet world and we need to spend more time questioning the credentials of those who claim to be authorities.
We’ve discussed my background and qualifications many times before, I’m really not going to get into that now. I mean, when you think about it, the freelance writing community is filled with bloggers who in their past life had nothing to do with freelance writing, or even writing at all. While many do have backgrounds as freelance writers, the majority of your freelance writing bloggers are folks who are doing this because they didn’t want to work at a full time day job. Seriously. The blogs you read each day are written by former publishing associates (like Yours Truly) , P.R people, print on demand publishers, attorneys and marketing execs and many of them had no writing background or interest in writing until they decided they wanted to work at home and I’m no exception.
Our backgrounds are diverse but we all share a similar quality -we all achieved success as writers. While all the different freelance writing bloggers bring unique perspectives to the field of freelance writing, what makes one blogger more qualified than another?
So let’s take it to the streets. As a freelance writing blogger I can tell you what to look for, but that’s always a little predjudicial. I mean, yeah I believe you should make your own choices and find the bloggers who best share your vision. However, my telling you which freelance writing blogs to read is like a fast food exec telling you what hamburger to buy or Toyota giving you a list of the best cars to purchase. You’re the folks who read the blogs. You’re the folks who follow the advice. You’re the folks who should be discussing this, not me.
Tell us, what makes a qualified freelance writing blogger? What catches your eye? Why do you follow a particular blog on a regular basis and what turns you off? Let’s discuss…