As freelance writers, we don’t necessarily have the freedom to pick and choose the topics we are going to write about all the time. There may be times when you end up writing about a boring topic. The good news is there are some strategies you can use to engage your reader and make your content interesting even when the subject is not one that happens to be one of your personal favorites.
It’s no secret missed deadlines are a great way to end a professional relationship with a publication. They are a nightmare for both the writer and the editor. The editor is left holding the bag with thousands of dollars on the line waiting on a late article and the writer is off somewhere sweating bullets trying to pull a rabbit out of a badly squished hat.
And, while the entire FWJ blogging crew can take turns yelling out into the world wide web that writers should NEVER miss a deadline, it is going to happen. The best we can do is try to arm writers with ways to stay on track.
I’m a mother of three children under 7, I write full-time and run a business with a life thrown in there. I’m REALLY busy and if I don’t write an appointment, due date or event immediately on my calendar it disappears from my brain after 10 minutes. So, it’s sad but I can easily trick myself into thinking an article is due earlier. I give myself several days leeway because life happens. Kids get sick, clients have emergencies, somebody spills milk on my laptop… A few days cushion can make the difference between a heart attack and a mild headache.
A disorganized is a writer who misses deadlines. The long loved image of the disorganized writer not only does a disservice to writers it’s a falsehood. Maybe novelist can be disorganized, they only have one due date looming over them. Bloggers, columnists and article writers juggle multiple dates and if they do not have a way to keep track of important dates, ideas and information they are a deadline time bomb waiting to go off.
Even if they have the date correct, they can spend days digging through piles of paperwork and notebooks to find all of the notes or research related to the article. Or worse, an editor calls to clarify something and you’ve got to spend three hours looking through your ‘files’ for the correct information. Get rid of the clutter.
They say it’s not good to bribe children into good behavior. Well, for adults it works very well! Reward yourself when you turn in assignments early. Building your reputation with a publication is a great reward, but an in-hand treat is a visual motivator that’s hard to beat.
Staying on task is difficult in any profession, and writers often juggle dozens of deadlines at any given time. It doesn’t matter the reason, missing a deadline is unacceptable. Working ahead, staying organized and rewarding oneself for good behavior are just a few ways writers can make deadlines manageable. How do you manage your deadlines? Got any tips for other readers? Tell us below!
“My words were taken out of context.”
Two phrases no writer, nor their editor, want to hear. Quoting sources is not as easy as people make it out to be. There are rules to quotes and too often those rules are ignored.
” ” Means Exactly Said
First big point. When you put a person’s words in ” ” you are telling the reader that the words within the quotation marks are written exactly the way the person said them. Word for word. No fudging. If you miss words or add words you are then changing the quote. The quote is now a lie. It doesn’t matter if you think they meant to say something. If they didn’t say it, it doesn’t belong there.
[ ] Comes in handy
Now, I just said you cannot add words to a quote. Actually you can, but I really wanted to drive the point home first 🙂 [ ] – these handy little brackets can be used to clarify a quote. Sometimes, actually quite often, when people are talking they’ll skip words or give a good quote, but within that quote they don’t mention the subject. That’s when you can add words with a bracket around them. For example:
“I really hated it [cooking with chefs], but it gave me the experience I needed to grill a great salmon.” or “It’s an important time in [a] teen’s life, getting their license is so exciting.”
The brackets either help clarify who or what the person is talking about for the reader or inserts a minor word that doesn’t change the scope, meaning or intention of the quote. Back in the day, one of my journalism teachers said, if you have to add too many words to make the quote make sense, it’s not a good quote.
Great advice – and did you notice how I didn’t add quotations? It’s because I’m not sure of the exact wording he used.
Brackets are also used in conjunction with [sic]. The term, without getting into the Latin behind it, means – the information you just read had something wrong with it, we know it, but to keep it as a direct quote we didn’t change it. You’ll see this often when someone is quoting a written source that has an error, but it can be used at other times. For example: The note found in the gag read, “All teachers must have a hall pass and a note from their students to use the retroom [sic].”
In writing, little things mean a lot. Take extra care with your quotes to prevent bigger headaches for you and your editor later.
Can you ever leave words out? Yep, but you’ll have to check back on Tuesday to find out more! I’ll also cover when to use quotes. Let’s have a little fun – leave your favorite quote below!
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?
In a post a good long while ago, Do you need to be a good writer to be a good blogger, Deb points out that yes, it helps a great deal to know how to write if you’re a blogger.
I agree. Knowing how to write is important. However, I know plenty of excellent writers who don’t get blogging and web writing gigs – writers who are likely better than me. I can write sure, but I’m not one of those genius born to write or die type writers, yet I still get plenty of work.
So, how do I and lots of other writers get blogging and web writing jobs, when many amazing writers are passed over? The people I know who get these jobs (self included) tend to follow some general web writing rules. If a client checks out your work and you’re NOT following these rules you may be passed over for someone who does play by the rules.
Write for the web: Writing for the web is totally different then writing for magazines, college paper, print ad copy, and other writing mediums. The best way to learn how to write for the web is to write for the web – i.e. start a blog. Another good way to learn is to read popular blogs and check out their style. Blog readers aren’t looking for the next great American novel, they’re looking for information, entertainment, newsy clips, and so fourth.
Write casual and personable text: Big fancy words, pages of text (within one post), and a dictating rather than conversational tone sets you apart as someone who doesn’t know how to write for the web. You can connect with readers better when you speak to them, or with them, rather than at them. Plus creating text peppered with jargon, smarty pants research paper college speak, or poetic nonsense is just plain annoying. There’s a place for stuff like this, but a blog isn’t that place. Use words that people understand ALL the time.
Write with a purpose: When you’re writing for the web it can feel a little more slack but you should still write with purpose. I always ask myself the ‘So What’ question and most of the time it makes me a better blogger.
Write with a style that’s all you: Not all bloggers and web writers have a completely unique style, but most have some sort of voice that comes through in their work. Say you have a cooking blog – so what? There are dozens and dozens of cooking blogs out there. What the heck sets you apart from the rest? A good example of a blog with a clear voice is Garden Rant – a typical garden blog, of which there are many, but this blog has a distinct voice. Another blog with a very clear voice is Tremendous News, which is really unfocused topic wise, but you just keep reading because it’s so damn hilarious and the blogger’s voice shines through each post.
Write in a blog or web readable style: The best writing in the world won’t get you a gig if you can’t produce web copy that’s readable. And by readable I mean easy to scan, useful, and somewhat attention grabbing. Bullets are good. Snappy titles rock. Bold print in moderation is good. Hitting enter is super excellent. Clients like to see that you can pull these simple tasks off.
Write with an honest opinion: When blogging for clients it’s typical to cover products and press releases but it’s important to be honest and opinionated. Anyone can write about global warming or a sofa that’s on sale or offer parenting tips. What’s key is your opinion on the topic. What’s your slant? What’s your real take? A good example are blogs where you’ll see 50 product reviews and they all rock. There’s no way that 50 products all rock. If you’re just spitting out what PR folks are selling, without developing your own opinions, it looks fake, seems lame, and people won’t trust that you’re telling the truth.
It’s great if you know how to write, it’s cool if you have a writing degree, but keep in mind that web writing is different. Cultivate your skills as it pertains to this medium if you want to snag gigs.
Coming up soon… why your lack of confidence might be messing with your ability to get gigs, more tips from clients, what bloggers are making money wise, and more.
You tell me – have you adjusted your writing style so that it works for the web?
By Terreece M. Clarke
Press releases make up a nice little chunk of web writing and is good steady work if you are interested. Why? Because on any given day there are thousands of companies trying to catch the eye of the media and potential customers. Many of these companies don’t have a public relations team. Many freelance writers are curious about press releases, but are intimidated by the process. There’s nothing to fear, content is content, it is the approach that is different.
What’s the point?
Press releases are designed to get the media interested enough in a company, product or event, etc. to write an article about it. Press releases should also target clients of the company, because while the release may not crack the media for coverage, it may appeal to an alternative audience.
For example, a new business writing seminar may not attract a lot of media interest, but local writer’s groups, chambers of commerce and small business organizations are potential clients that the company can reach through a release. The key to any press release is the information to be released has to be newsworthy, like a product launch, business anniversary, mega sale, star studded event or research breakthrough. Now for the mechanics of a press release: