Writing Better Articles: Outlining with the Questions People Ask and The Questions They Should Be Asking
Some of the best advice I've ever read on outlining came from the book “How to Write a Book for Beginners" by Ryan Stephens. This advice had to do outlining a nonfiction book, but it’s applicable to any kind of nonfiction writing.
Ryan asked his friend about how he outlines his books. He told him it's as simple as this: answer two types of questions. There are the questions people actually ask and the questions they should be asking. In the case of a nonfiction book, you want your chapter titles to be the questions people ask. Then, the subheadings are made from the questions you find people should be asking.
The best part about this advice is that it works for article writing, too. As someone who used to be rather allergic to traditional outlining, I find this simple approach refreshing. But while it looks simple on the surface, how easy is it to know what questions to ask?
What Questions Do People Actually Ask?
Fortunately, good old Google Autocomplete can give us a treasure trove of what people actually search around a given word or phrase. This is a helpful place to begin your research. Or is it?
The funny thing that came to my head as I set to writing on this topic is this: what if the best questions people want to ask aren't even being typed into Google? This is a good thought that I don't think I've ever thought before. It's funny how when you start asking yourself questions how you come up with more questions.
This is how I knew that Ryan's friend was really onto something when he said you should outline using questions. For so long I've often used dry subheaders and even really dry titles just to get the keywords in there. Before reading that Ryan Stephens book I didn't even really consider writing nonfiction books. But the idea dawned on me that I should seriously look into it.
But did I Google it? Nope. I searched Amazon for free Kindle books on writing. That's right. People still look for answers in books. Who would've thought? Believe it or not, though, there isn't a book readily available for every topic. Even if people write a hundred thousand articles on a topic, it doesn't mean there's a good book on it. So, why does it matter if you can't find a book on Amazon for a question you have? To me, it screams opportunity. As a writer, this smells like fresh blood does to a shark.
So, now we've established that people search Amazon sometimes before they even think about Google. That's not a tip you see everyday. But there are a lot of places to look for answers to your questions. You can't possibly check them all.
So, How Do I Find the Right Questions to Ask?
The best way I've been finding questions to ask is not doing keyword research. I certainly still do some initial keyword research, because you can find some good opportunities to target your content that way. But when you set yourself to answer a question, you should never limit yourself. The best way to know what questions to ask is to ask yourself what questions you would ask.
If you have a topic or question in mind, write it down. Then, ask yourself the questions you would ask in order to be satisfied that your question has been sufficiently answered. But, how do you know I'm asking the right questions when outlining my article or book?
I'm loath to say it, but I'll say it anyway because it will help illustrate a point. There's no such thing as a stupid question. Some will rebut that with: until you ask it. Others will follow up with: only if you don't ask it. I'm inclined to agree with the latter rebuttal.
So, What’s the Best Way to Find the Questions People Actually Ask?
It turns out we are not all brilliant masterminds who have billions of unique thoughts everyday. But I do have good news. The genius is in making the connections between thoughts and ideas. Anyone can do this if you work at it. So, yeah, if you're thinking something, it's highly likely someone else has thought the same thing. But, if you're acting on it, then you're doing something creative. That's important.
As someone who usually skips outlining entirely, why do I suddenly seem keen on taking a step back and really ask some hard questions? Because by asking questions, I find myself asking even more of them. Eventually, I'll recognize which ones seem the most important to answer. Then, I set to work.
What people actually ask is what you'd probably be asking yourself anyway. Yes, seeing what people actually ask is important through some research, too. But when you are trying to write something, you turn the idea faucet on and let it flow for a bit. Then, when you’ve come to a point where you need to turn to answers, this is when you know you have a whole bunch of good questions.
So, how do people even look for answers in the first place?
Should I Google It?
Or, in place of Google, insert your favorite search engine. Keep in mind people use Amazon and YouTube to look for answers, too. Google can be a great tool, but that is all that it is. Finding the answer your seeking may in fact be a click away. But it may not be. And even if there are results, will they satisfy you?
In my experience, if it's not a simple question, most of the time you'll find irrelevant results or feel underwhelmed. Don't blame Google. No one has answered it well enough yet anywhere the Google spiders can find. For writers, this is fresh blood!
But not everyone asks Google their burning questions. And not too many people actually type into Google “should I Google it?” when they’re figuring out how best to find answers. Choosing to use Google is an internal decision. There are so many other search engines out there and while Google is the most-used, not every good question people ask will be easily revealed to you that way.
Should I Look for Answers in a Book?
Turning to books to seek an answer to your question may seem quaint to some people. Actually, if you are even considering this, though,I applaud you. There’s solid reasoning to this decision making process.
By no means is the Google searcher is being lazy or anything. But there are some questions that would seem to require some digging. You can do this through Google, too, of course, but hitting the books means you want more than online articles can give you - no matter how good they are..
And, I hate to break it to you. What you read online is not always accurate. I also hate to break it to you that what you read in a book isn't always accurate. However, books seem to be much more trusted. Why is that?
Yes, it's true that books tend to be more robustly researched, edited, and scrutinized. But, online articles can be too. And since pretty much anyone can self publish not only e-books, but print books too, there isn't too much difference between what you find online or in books, right?
Actually, here's the key difference. Books are longer. Even short ebooks are longer than most articles published on the web. Books require more effort on the part of the writer, and a lot more research. If you’re turning to books to answer your questions, you're no longer just a searcher, but a researcher. Likely, you’ll have visit your local library or buy books to seek answers. If anyone goes to that much effort, it must be important..
This is where we must bridge the gap to what people should be asking.
What Questions SHOULD We Be Asking?
Many questions people are probably only asking internally, but not actually searching. Others have questions that may require more research than many people actually want to do. So, because we writers are wonderful human beings, we go do the hard work so others may benefit.
Or we're self absorbed jerks who want to get paid the big bucks for becoming the top expert on subject X. Either way, same result.
The questions that require digging, the ones not answered well or at all through the results of a Google search, are the ones we should be asking. Those are the ones we should be writing about and answering. Yes, it can be hard work, but the end result is going to be something pretty cool that probably hasn’t been done before.
How Does Listing a Bunch of Questions Help You Outline an Article?
It's quite ironic that when I first began writing this very article that I neglected to even outline it. But as I went along, I realized that I had something pretty profound here. At first, I began to ramble and lose focus. Fortunately, I righted the ship. I started taking a step back and just asking the questions before I just took off being the rambling fool I often am.
Or am I?
Turning the more common questions into chapter titles helps you get into the mindset of your audience. If you’re writing an article, this is how people are going to discover it in search. If you’re writing a book, people will find these in your table of contents, if you choose to make that part of a free book preview (which you should). You also show your audience (and potential publishers) that you have your finger on the pulse of your audience for a certain given topic.
People also like it when you’re asking questions that echo the ones they themselves have been asking. You position yourself as an authority by asking the right questions.
While turning your article or book into an FAQ of sorts isn’t a terrible way to go, you want to get down to creating something more. That’s where the subheaders come in. They’re quite useful in keeping your audience’s attention and allow skimmers to get some value from your work without reading closely. By turning your subheadings into questions, you force yourself to really answer them.
While asking these questions are really helpful in outlining and focusing yourself on the questions you need to answer, they’re good to keep in the final version as well. Many people, myself included, have long had many subheadings that read as statements or more like commands. While there isn’t anything wrong with this, asking questions instead adds a new dimension to your writing. Not only do people appreciate that you’re asking good questions, but you make your readers ask more questions of themselves.
By asking the right questions that people really ask and those that we should be asking, your writing will be a lot more focused and you’ll find yourself driven towards writing good answers more quickly and more often. The questions people ask and the questions they should be asking can serve as the backbone to any piece of nonfiction writing that you’re doing. Once I started writing this way, I can say I write more quickly and more effectively than ever before.
Plus, I started asking a lot more questions. Is that ever a bad thing?
by Phoenix Desertsong, The Perpetual Prose Machine
During my later high school and earlier college days, I found myself becoming an obsessive note-taker. At times, I found that these notes helped me to write essay assignments and to do better at remembering material for tests. But nearly a decade out of school, I finally thought to myself that I don’t take nearly enough notes anymore.
As a writer, taking notes creates valuable raw material that you can work from to start a variety of projects. But should you just take note of everything? When is it just too much or no longer valuable to take notes? Let’s discuss the finer points of notetaking.
Is it Possible to Take Too Many Notes?
This is sort of a tough question. Too much of anything can be a bad thing. What you take note of now may seem trivial later, but the opposite can be true, too. My general thinking with taking notes is to write down what seems noteworthy. This is going to be different for everyone.
If you’re truly interested in a topic, though, you can’t really take too many notes, can you? I’ve found that I haven’t taken enough notes at times. But as I find that my notes become extremely disorganized, I’ve found that I really needed to create a system for taking notes.
Should I Have a Notebook for Every Topic?
There is such a thing as too many notebooks… or is there? Digital notetaking has made organization a lot easier. You can have a nearly infinite amount of digital notebooks without wasting lots of paper. But for things that you write about all the time, such as poetry or finance or tech or whatever your fields of interest might be, you’ll want something physical that you can carry around with you.
Obviously, you can only carry around so much. But having two or three small notebooks with you at all times allows you to take notes on your favorite topics at any time. If there’s a purpose to each notebook, you’ll find your notes becoming more organized. Also, because you’re training your mind to write more things down, you’ll have more organized thoughts, too.
What About Random Thoughts That Don’t Fit My Usual Topics?
This is when a smartphone comes in handy. You can use notetaking apps like Evernote, Google Keep, or even just Google Docs to take down notes that don’t fit in your usual notebooks. You can even email yourself or put notes in texts to yourself. Whatever you find a quick and easy way to save something, use that , and be consistent. Then, every so often, weed through and pick out what’s useful and save them in a more easy-to-find way.
I’ve actually found that most thoughts I discount at random aren’t as random as they first seem. Your mind is always making connections, even if you aren’t aware of it. Don’t discount them. The more that you acknowledge your thoughts, the more that you’ll come to better understand the inner workings of your own mind.
Whether you’re a professional writer or just someone who likes to scribble for amusement, notetaking is a great way to get not only your writing organized, but your brain, too!
Ever feel like that your writing just isn't coming out quite perfect? You may feel like there's something missing. Do you feel like what you're saying doesn't sound right? That's okay. Sometimes, you simply have to take a step back and leave your writing aside for a while. It might only be for a few hours. Sometimes, it can be a day. If you have the time to do so, it could even be a week.
But if you feel like you're on to something, but you haven't quite figured out where you're going yet, it is actually okay to let your piece of writing sit. That way, you can come back to it with a fresh perspective. The idea should be to not rush a piece of writing if you don’t have to.
Why is Sitting on a Piece of Writing for a While Actually a Good Thing?
The most important part of writing is getting the ideas out. Once you get the ideas out, the hard work really begins. How do I actually turn this piece of writing into something that people can relate to and get some value out of it? Most important of all, you want it to be something to be happy with, especially if it’s going to be published somewhere.
Unfortunately, a large percentage of what we write finds its way into the recycle bin. Even the greatest writers struggle at one point or another. What's important to keep in mind is that not everything you write is going to be good, especially on the first draft. Don't ever feel like every word that you write has to see print, even if it's on a computer screen. If you feel bad about a piece of writing, taking time away from it is probably best so that you can detach yourself emotionally from it.
When Should I Set a Piece of Writing Aside?
Trust your instincts if you really think a writing piece has potential, even it's just not going anywhere right now. Save it and set it aside. Don't hit delete until you’ve given it a second chance. You may find later that you regret hitting delete on a piece that might have had some good ideas, but just needed better organization or more work.
Yes, sometimes a piece is destined to go nowhere, and that's okay. But if you're working on something like an assignment that you really absolutely have to do, then setting it aside for a while is actually the best way to go. In fact, you know how a lot of web writers purposely hold off completing assignments until the last minute? Sometimes, this is to help motivate the writing to get done, but for some writers procrastinating actually helps it get it done better.
Even if you’re a procrastinator, you actually still want to put something down. It may just be listing subheadings or questions that you need to answer in the article. Even sticking in keyword phrases and thoughts related to the writing work gives you a place to start if you really need to set it aside for a bit.
When Should You Just Get Writing Started to Work On Later?
The most important part of writing, or doing anything in general, is to get started. As long as you're able to put something down, you’re already getting somewhere. If you really get stuck, then leave it for a while. If you’re able to come back before it's due, you're probably okay. In fact, you're probably a lot better off than when you started.
But even if you put random thoughts down, why are you able to then write better. This is because your mind has actually been able to think through what you’ve written subconsciously.Never underestimate the power of the subconscious. Even though it does sound cliche to let ideas sit around in your mind for awhile, it really does help.
Some people may wonder why writers will rush to writing assignments and try to get something out right away. Doing this gains you momentum. Once you have that momentum, even if you stop and think about it for a while, you got it started. You're not always going to be able to produce your best writing work in one sitting. You shouldn't feel like you have to do that. If you do feel overwhelmed, it’s time to step back, and reconsider what you’re doing with your writing.
Is It Possible to Sit On My Writing for Too Long?
Contemplation and reflection is very important with writing. But it is possible to let writing sit too long. It’s important to get the ideas out of your head and let it sit for a bit if you have to. But, make sure you come back to it. Then, finish it or decide what else to do with it. If you find yourself taking writing work that you’re sitting on too long and it's due, it's perfectly okay to reach out for help. Writers do it all the time.
It’s important to find your place where you feel comfortable with writing. Sure, it's fine to put yourself out of your comfort zone once in awhile. This can help expand your skills and build discipline with your writing. But, don't ever feel like you have to get your writing done in one sitting if you really can't get it done.
Sure, you can try and write fifty articles in a day, but that’s rarely possible. If you feel fine trying to do a whole bunch in a day, then go ahead. Each of us has a different limit. But, once you reach your limit, don't push yourself past that limit. Otherwise, you're going to end up hating writing.
If you do find some writing is sitting too long and you can't finish it, you then have to make a decision. Don't feel obligated to finish, if it’s not vital that you do. You don't want to burn yourself out. Sometimes, you have to just let it go and move onto something else.
But, if a writing assignment is very important to get done, get help with it if you need to. Always give yourself a break before you feel like you have to finish something. Know when you need to let it go to someone else to be done in time. If you don't do these things, you're probably not going to be happy with your writing. Letting your writing sit for awhile is important to let yourself reflect and produce the best work you can. But you also need to get back to writing in a timely manner. Finding that balance is the key to being a successful writer.
by Phoenix A. Desertsong, The Perpetual Prose Machine
For me, prewriting has always been a bit of an ironic term. After all, doesn't prewriting involve writing things down? But, really, the act of prewriting is actually helpful for a lot of writers. While I have rarely ever done prewriting in the traditional sense, there's a lot of usefulness to integrating prewriting into your own writing process.
"What the heck is Prewriting?"
In school, we were probably all taught that you needed to do prewriting before starting the first version of a writing assignment. I rarely did this, even in cases that the prewriting was part of the grade. I'd just start writing the assignment and go back and fix it later as I developed more ideas. I became a pretty good self-editor at an early stage. So, I could skip prewriting, really.
But not everyone can write a whole paper straightaway. Even the most seasoned writers sitting down to write something that isn't an assignment can find great value in old school prewriting. How do you start prewriting? You ask yourself some questions.
"What am I writing about?"
What is the topic or theme of what you're setting yourself to write? I usually am able to complete this task in the title of my work or in the first few sentences. But one benefit of prewriting is that not only can you set your topic or theme in writing efore you actually begin writing the actual work, but you can also ask yourself: "is this something I even care about?"
I used to ask myself "will anyone care about what I'm writing?" most times I set to writing. That's a question I'm sure many people ask themselves. The trouble is, writing ewhat you think people want to read often leads you to writing something you're not as invesed in.
Believe me, it's usually fairly obvious to people when someone writes about something they actually care about or are moved by. For some, prewriting is a great way to really decide the direction you want to take with your writing, whether it's for yourself or an assignment. After all, once you put something in writing, it can look a lot different.
And this is one very useful thing about prewriting. You can figure out what yu actually care to write about before writing a whole piece you're unhappy with. Now that I think about it, I could save myself some time by just doing this one part of prewriting. In a way, I already do something like that in my journals, where I often come up with my topics and themes for writing essays. In fact, this very piece came from an idea I wrote in my journal.
Still, formalizing this part of the writing process as the first step in prewriting makes a lot of sense. If you think it will help your writing, by all means adopt this idea.
But this is only the first part of prewriting.
"Why am I writing about this?"
If you're writing something for an assignment, this question seems to have an obvious answer: "duh, I have to write it!" But that's not what this second stage of prewriting actually means. This is when you decide on the purpose of your writing.
Well, the purpose of your writing should not be "a good grade" in a class or "get me paid" for a freelance assignment. No, by purpose, we want to know what this piece of writing is meant to accomplish, what job it has in life. One guide to prewriting has a great list of possible purposes to write for:
Your writing can be for multiple purposes. But typically, you're looking to focus on only one or two of these purposes – although you can do more. It's possible to entertain while also being persuasive, for example. You can narrate and move someone through your words. Really, you can mix and match any of these purposes.
If you do take up prewriting, it might be handy to keep this short list of purposes on hand. That way, you can choose the purposes that best fit what you're trying to accomplish with your writing. Sometimes an assignment will give you a strictly defined purpose. But many allow you to add an additional purpose to your writing. And, of course, if there are no exact purposes assigned, then just go with however you feel you can best write about your topic or theme.
For example, through this prewriting piece, I am informing while also hopefully explaining why I don't necessarily do prewriting myself. I find that I tend to have a purpose to explain and inform a lot in my writing, although I also aim to amuse, sometimes, too. Keep in mind you don't have to try and do all of these things in every piece you write, as you can't have any one piece do everything, after all.
"Who am I writing this for?"
Ah, yes, the ever important question for a writer: "Who is my audience?"
This is the point in the prewriting process where you may have to reconsider the purpose for your writing. Where is what you're going to write be posted? Even if it is for your eyes only, you still inevitably have to think about this.
The whole point of writing is for someone to read it, even if it's only for yourself. More often than not, you're trying to reach a specific audience. Your audience is, sadly, not just everybody. You must have an audience in mind whenever you write something.
Myself, I tend to write for other writers, authors, and bloggers, while also considering other creatives. Does that mean that my work is only meant for those specific people? Not at all. But what it does mean, then, to target a specific audience?
Targeting an audience just means that you need to decide who is most likely to get the most out of what you are writing. Then, if you decide your target audience prefers to read a more amusing piece or more of a narrative, you can adjust your "writing parameters" accordingly.
"How am I going to write about this?"
This is where things get juicy in prewriting. Some prewriting guides have choosing your piece's genre before figuring out your audience. But you kind of want to know your audience before deciding how you want to write about it. After all, you haven't actually started writing your actual writing yet, so you can go back still and adjust things.
By genres, here's what sort of things you could be writing:
Some themes are better written about through the narrative of a short story, for example. Other times, you may want to write something biographical and descriptive about someone who dealt with a certain topic or theme throughout his or her lifetime. Myself, I tend to prefer the essay, because it's versatile. I also use poems a lot to express certain ideas. But I've written all of these types of things in one form or another.
When it comes to genre, unless it's assigned, I always recommend to write to your strengths sometimes and to your weaknesses at others. Really, you should dabble in every kind of writing that you can.
The reason for this should be obvious. The more you grow as a writer, the better all of your writing will be, even if your forays into other genres seem to fail miserably. The very act of putting together a piece you wouldn't usually write makes new connections in your brain.
You can learn a lot by writing what you're weak at, because you could eventually find new strengths. After all, writing is first and foremost a skill. The more you develop your skills in different sorts of writing, the more you can do.
"OK, it's brain dump time!"
Once you have decided on the topic or theme, the purpose, the audience, and the genre for what you're writing, it's time to throw down! It's planning time! Planning my writing is something I rarely do, although I do brainstorm from time to time when I feel compelled to do so.
However, depending on what you're writing, there are lots of ways to collect your thoughts and ideas for the sake of prewriting. You can sit there and think and take notes on whatever floats through your brain for hours. Then you end up daydreaming and fantasizing and go write some poems or start some story that will go nowhere, instead. Yeah, I've been there and done that. But there are other ways.
Researching is actually pretty helpful. This is a part of prewriting that I actually have done a air amount. Reading on the topic or theme you want to write about is helpful for many reasons. Not only does it give you a ton of ideas to start from, but you also know what's already out there.
You can also interview someone. This is easier than you'd think. People love to talk. If you ask someone who you consider an expert on a subject, and you have a few good questions you're looking to answer, you'll likely get a positive response!
In fact, an interview itself makes for some good writing, in addition to what you're already writing! Plus, interviewing is an awesome skill to develop. But the greatest benefit of an interview is that you can get an expert source and those are awesome social proof for your work.
Of course, you can also discuss your topic or theme with friends and family. You may get some ideas that you don't expect.
However you pull your ideas together, it's the one part of prewriting that I actually do. You should do it, too. You'll probably end up getting more ideas than you need for the writing project you started with. As you find as a writer, too much is actually a good thing, because you have other things to write about later!
"Pull it all together now!"
The end of prewriting is now upon us! Now you have to organize your notes and put some sense to them. This is where some people engage in the dreaded outline or do some fancy flow chart or spreadsheet or whatever other crap you want to throw in Microsoft Excel. (Or OpenOffice Sheets, as I prefer!)
Myself, I just pick a few good ideas and develop them in a way that makes sense. Most of the time, I do all this organization in my head. Then again, especially with assignments, I will put headings and sections in a document first before the writing gears really start cranking. It's not an outline, per se, but it sort of serves the same purpose.
And yes, writing an outline is perfectly OK. But my own writing tends to be a but spontaneous, so outlines frustrate me. There's nothing actually wrong with them, though. And I've see flow charts and tables work wonders for some people. Really, however you best get organized in writing, go for it!
That's it! Now you're ready to start writing... even though you just did more writing in the prewriting than you'll probably actually do in the actual drafting... But hey, it's more writing, and who doesn't want to do more of that?
How do you prewrite? Or are you like me and mostly just fly by the seat of your pants? Whatever your process is, I'd love to hear about it!
~ Phoenix <3
It’s long been believed that by being an active reader, you can become a far better writer. While that is certainly true, it is only one major component to becoming a “formidable writing professional” as I have tried to be in recent years. Of course, really, the most important part to being a good writer is simply pursuing the act of writing as often as possible.
There are many folks out there who seem to believe that he or she is simply not cut out for creating good, solid writing. Yes, there are those that are simply very talented at writing. However, writing is far more about developing skill. Even those with great talent don’t necessarily hone their skills nearly to the degree that they could. But mostly, writing is about your passion. If you care about something, and want to know more about it, then you should definitely write about it. It’s hard at first, but after awhile, you’ll begin to have a lot of fun!
Myself, I’ve been writing for quite some time. But as much of a bookworm as I was in my childhood, it took many years before I actually could call myself a writer. It took lots of practice. I would copy interesting quotes from things I would read and then commenting on them. I would simply write for the sake of writing. It got to the point that writing became a reflex. Whenever something was on my mind that I didn’t know exactly how to talk to someone about, I would write about it.
Putting words on a page has always been easier to me than public speaking. That’s true of many folks. The opposite is, of course, just as true. It took me a long time to find my voice through writing, though. I must say, it’s not quite the voice I speak with. Is that a bad thing? That’s for you to decide.
Reading is definitely important. I don’t need to stress that, since so many others have and there’s no point repeating such a truth. What I do need to stress is that even the most talented writers do not write near-perfection every time he or she sits down.
Everyone’s creative process is different. Some are easier to follow than others. My personal process isn’t so easy to follow. I’ve always hated doing outlines. I just tend to draft a piece in a semi-completed form before going back and revising it to make it more coherent.
I’m very much about voice in my writing. Sometimes, I perhaps get a bit too rhetorical or state things in somewhat peculiar ways that may not always get my point across. That is because writing is a skill you can never stop developing. If one does not grow as a writer, he or she will grow stagnant.
If a writer does not strive to write as often as possible, when it comes time to write something, it will most likely be a struggle. It’s especially a struggle when you’re trying to write about things you don’t care about - even if it will make you money. Let me tell you, my voice sounds cold and uninterested in a lot of things I’ve written before for money. Others thought they were good. But I knew that they weren’t.
There have been times where I will churn out a great deal of words in a short amount of time. I may not be proud of a great percentage of that work. Still, the exercise is nonetheless extremely valuable.
One thing that I have also done to a good degree is help others with their own writing. This is perhaps even more valuable than simply brainstorming ideas. Not only are you bringing another perspective to others’ work, but you’re also gaining insight into other perspectives, as well. You’re also helping them to find just what it is that permeates their writing, picking out their strengths and helping them to smooth out the flaws. Always be carefully critical, the way you would want someone to help you along. So much of writing is just practice. Writers are more like doctors than we realize sometimes; we’re constantly practicing!
I’d love to say that everyone has a hidden talent for writing and just needs to develop the skills. But I do know that writing is a skill that many people who don’t consider themselves writers can actually develop. Through persistence and patience with their own development, anyone can learn to write fairly well.
Writing is an art form, of course. We are artisans, much like sculptors and painters. Words are our material and the pages (or digital mediums) are our canvas. That may sound a bit clichéd but I think that is the best way to express that idea.
Even highly skilled writers such as myself grow stumped on how to put certain things. Every writer does. This is why collaboration is so important. It’s important for writers to help each other out.
When it comes to writing for assignments, there’s nothing wrong with being someone’s ghost-writer. There’s nothing wrong with giving a starving writer an assignment to get an idea expressed and out into the open. But when you are writing for money, take assignments that you believe in and truly want to write for the sake of writing it.
Once writing becomes about money, you can lose focus and just write what you think people want or what the assignment says. I believe that more people should try ghostwriting, but as a way to develop their own skills. Always keep that in mind.
I’m always happy to edit and clean things up for people. But people need to learn that they need to just write from the heart. I once read something that the best content comes from the most unexpected places. It’s a trend that needs to grow.
Remember that developing any sort of useful, applicable skill is an art form. Creativity, in whatever form it may take, is art. Like with any artists, many writers become discouraged when the words just aren't fitting together. It’s hard to break out of ruts when you get into them. But even when you’re in a rut, you still have to keep writing.
It's OK to take a break for a bit, but never leave writing completely behind. Even if you sit down again and you write crap, you’re at least producing something. It's better than simply letting thoughts spin around your head without any useful application.
Writing is most certainly more skill than some realize. Talent is certainly a component, but inevitably it’s skill that wins out. But it’s mostly the passion you put into it. Without the passion, the writing will feel stale. The passion is what keeps the writing living, relevant, and good.
I just want to write something important. To me, that’s not writing just another New York Times bestseller. It doesn’t involve taking advantage of a fad. I’m not seeking a cult following. There is a deep desire within me to write something not only significant, but undeniably unique.
I long to write something that could be the epitome of whatever creativity I possess. Is this asking the impossible? Can you write something undeniably important? There is always the possibility that by reaching for what at first you deem impossible, you could get yourself very, very close to that seemingly unattainable goal. So why not aim for it?
Even as the world gives you reason after reason to be bitter, it’s vital to do whatever I can to put things into a positive light. It’s important to be constructive. This is why it’s very important to understand the true power of creativity. I know that too often I don’t exercise my mind correctly to unleash my true creative potential. I believe this is true of most of us.
Throughout my education, people have been too impressed with many examples of my academic work. That’s not to say it’s all been relatively worthless busy work junk. Still, I look back at my academic offerings and feel tremendously disappointed from what I produced in the name of education. I believe I can tap far more from my abilities. So where do I dig up the fuel, the drive, and the motivation to pursue challenging myself in new and creative ways?
Not only do I wish to master merely the act of being creative, but also better comprehend the nuances of the greater concepts that creativity involves. I don’t want only to inform or educate in a basic sense. I want to expand minds in a significant, meaningful way beyond the simple facts, figures, or concepts I’m writing about.
Before any of us can truly learn how to learn, we must understand what creativity truly is. Creativity means never simply squashing your dreams, no matter how childish they may seem. Never be afraid to tackle big ideas. Reality is always going to be fascinating, and often more horrifying than anything any fiction can produce.
Never be afraid to create something. It doesn’t matter how slowly you build on your ideas, as long as you do it consistently. Add a dash of passion to everything you do. That’s true creativity at its finest.
by Richard A. Rowell
I tend to write in bursts. I'm terrible at being creative on a schedule. Is it even possible to be creative on a schedule? It probably is, but that has never been a real thing to me. I just create whenever I do.
There's nothing really inherently wrong with that. That's why I don't want to have any expectations tied to any of my creative work - because I'll always find some excuse as to why I fell short. It's pretty much my own expectations, really. They're rough enough. I don't need someone on top of that asking me if I'll have something ready by so-and-so date and time. That's why I am so personal about my creative stuff.
I'm not an "official" poet, even though I've written hundreds of poems and most of my poetry is published online. The reason why is actually pretty simple. If you're a "poet," people will ask you, hey, can you write a poem about so and so? Can you come up with some corny verses about such-and-such? Not only do I find that demeaning, but I'm not an "on-demand" poet. Some people can do that crap.
I usually will just be laying or sitting around and a verse pops in my head. Then another, and another, yet another. I usually write 3-5 poems at a time. Sometimes even as many as 10. I think my record is a dozen in a day, but I'm really not keeping track. Heck, if I were that prolific I'd be a millionaire right now just self-publishing little collections and selling them for a dollar or two a piece. Alas, I am not. I don't really care about that part anyway. I don't care if my poems make me a cent, really.
The problem is I do care if some of my more serious writing earns nothing. Sometimes my only motivation to write about certain topics is purely for financial benefit. I've been fortunate enough to get on rolls with assignments most of the time. Even if I'm uninspired to begin with, I can usually run with an idea. But when I have to force it, well, you can imagine how it turns out.
So what gets me on a roll? Just a thought. It just has to be the right thought. There's really no secret sauce or anything like that. You just run with it when it comes. If it's a lot in one day, okay, well, just go ahead.
It's often suggested to not batch too much together. But if you're writing stuff that's going to be just as relevant ten years down the line as it is now, go right ahead. Some people work better on schedules than others. There's no right or wrong way to work as long as you find what works for you.
So hay, I'm on a roll...
Sorry, I just had to.
But while I'm at it, I'll just keep at it.
by Richard A. Rowell
It’s quite enlightening to realize others recognize fine skill in composition. It’s even better to find those that appreciate the fine details woven through even the most basic of stories. Writing is not simply a form of communication or just used for recording purposes. It can be such a wonderful way to tell the world so many things.
Some use writing simply as a way to satiate their ego. Perhaps that is why I write, sometimes, to satisfy my own ego. Of course, it’s true that I am the all-powerful narrator in my writing. I can say, do think, and feel anything I wish for anyone or anything depicted through my words. It is a beautiful, liberating feeling. It can be highly intoxicating, too.
I can write forever on pages and type forever onto various digitized media. But when it comes to sharing these words, I am often at a loss in proceeding to do so. What I do hope is that there’s something to gain by having my thoughts mirrored into words. Namely, I hope it can be better understood that everything I do in the course of my day out in society is an experiment.
I look for reactions - causes and effects. The world is like my laboratory and I am studying all that is in it. I may at times write “gems of genius.” But all too often, there are thoughts I have which are so difficult to put into words. They fly by so quickly in this brain, and if I don’t catch them, they’re gone for good.
It’s a writer’s life for me.
by Richard Rowell, Write W.A.V.E. Media Staff
There wasn’t one particular moment when I decided to become a poet. About the time I was leaving junior high I decided that I would try my hand at writing some lyrics. But as they have never been put to music, outside of the occasional ditty in my head, they became mere poetry. Some people say that I do well at poetry. But I have never really considered myself a full-blown poet. Still, that hasn’t stopped me from writing hundreds upon hundreds of verses. Some of them are much better than others. A few were actually worth publishing.
Truthfully, I’ve always leaned towards focusing on writing prose. The poetry comes and goes, often in big spurts. But it’s not something I’ve ever dedicated myself to, as much as I appreciate the art of both conventional and unconventional poetry. Writing verses was once a passion of mine, but I longed to be a songwriter, not a poet. Then again, those two things are probably one and the same in essence. Poetry, too, especially of the unconventional variety, can be so very free-form.
Strangely enough, I’ve never been much good at free-write exercises. My attempts at free-form exercise often become somewhat unfocused essays with muddled theses. Occasionally, I end up making a decent article out of some of them. I merely don’t free-write. I just follow whatever my mind wants me to write at a given moment. So I try not to give much thought to why I should write about this or that.
Perhaps I’m a poet even if I’m not. Poetry by definition is not merely just metrical writing. The word can also mean a couple other things, according to Merriam-Webster:
“Writing that formulates a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience in language chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sound, and rhythm.”
“Something likened to poetry especially in beauty of expression “
The English language is funny sometimes, with all its many meanings of singular words. But clearly, poetry is more than just rhyming verses. Any form of expression can be made into poetry. I suppose what it comes down to is that I write simply to express something and try to make it beautiful. It may not even really matter what that something actually is. Merely writing something isn’t always enough for me.
The art of writing is so important to me. Simply composing articles to inform and perhaps entertain is not all there is. There’s a clear sense in my mind now that perhaps writing poetry is both easier and harder than most people think. Poetry is about finding the beauty in something, then finding the best way to express that something.
So while I never thought myself a poet, I probably am anyway...
Most web writers will get questioned about their price at least once, but usually quite often. Who doesn't like a bargain? But your writing's worth is dependent upon what you make it. Here's why.
Discounts Are Fine, To A Certain Point
It's fine to have sales or deals for new or regular clients. But you still should keep the worth of your writing in mind. The lower you are willing to go, the less valuable people will see your content as being. Give discounts, but don't go so low that it's not worth both your time, as well as the value the client will get from it.
The Proof Is In Your Work
Quality web writing is getting more difficult to find. More and more people are discovering they can put their words online. This is a good thing, as far as communication. But those looking up specific information need accuracy and quality. This is where you come in as a web writer and prove to your client that your work is worth top dollar. Sometimes it takes that client paying a low quality writer less and finding out the hard way that they should have continued coming to you. I’ve had clients return after doing this more than once. It’s like the old saying goes “You get what you pay for.” Some people charge less than they’re worth, but in many cases, quality writing will cost more because of the time and energy put into creating a quality piece.
Word Gets Around
Remember that business owners talk to each other often. This includes many topics, but who they hire for writing and other services essential to success is very common. If you charge one client a fee that is significantly less than you usually charge, other business owners will learn this and expect the same deal. The reason for the deal often doesn’t matter. Keep things consistent and accurate where your prices are concerned. You want the word to get around regarding your quality, instead of your low price.
Price According To Actual Value
The lower your price, the less value is likely to be given to your content. Remember that word gets around. So, whatever one business owner feels it’s worth may be what others are saying as well. In order to keep your value high, you need to keep your quality high and price your work accordingly and consistently. Obviously, there is some customizing involved in most web projects, based on topic matter, research, word count, and so on. But try to be as consistent as possible and consider the value of your time, as well as what the client will potentially get from said work.
Your work is worth what you make it worth. So, be sure to price it accordingly, limit the bargaining to a reasonable point, and show your clients what your worth via quality.
Many factors go into determining work and payments from business owners and other clients. These can differ depending on several things. While following this guide may not guarantee that you will receive more work with higher payments, you may see greater opportunities by adhering to the following suggestions. The key is not necessarily to increase every single payment, but to maximize the opportunities available, as well as maximize your long-term benefits from said work.
What types of content are eligible for payment?
All of it! Whether you are soliciting jokes, articles, blog posts, recipes, web page content, product descriptions, photography, or any other creation, it deserves payment if it’s quality material. The key is to submit to the most appropriate venue for best results.
Focus on a specific issue
When you have a tight focus on one topic, readers are more likely to be looking for your content. Think about the things you look for when searching the Web. For instance, instead of general tips on pet adoption, you may want something geared specifically toward the pet you are considering adopting. “Where to adopt a poodle in Denver” should perform better than “How to adopt a pet,” as an example. Write your articles on specific subjects that will be relevant and useful to readers looking for that topic.
Follow assignment details
If you are hired for an assignment, be sure you follow the exact instructions. That means if the instructions say something different from any advice herein, defer to the assignment. When editors and business owners see that you can follow all assignment details reliably, they may be more likely to offer you future opportunities. Remember that, while you should be creative, the content you’re creating is not for you. It’s for the person you are creating it for. Therefore, it should be the way they want it. It’s good to suggest corrections of facts that might be wrong or improvements that might help the client or their website. But again, if they do not agree, unless you are breaking the law or doing something you are strongly against, just do things the way the client wants.
Do your research
When you need to back up your content with facts, be sure these facts are from reliable sources. Also, make sure to cite those sources properly, according to submission guidelines and any additional assignment guidelines. Using multiple highly-trusted and relevant sources also helps to build credibility. Wherever possible, use sources from your client’s website, in addition to the others. This helps them build more relevant inbound linking.
Examine the intended website
If you are submitting to a new client, study the website you are interested in writing for. Think of topics that could work well there but are not yet covered. Having an idea of what could potentially align with a particular property can give you a greater chance at getting accepted. Being unique is key. That means that you don't want to submit something you already see covered on the property. Instead, try submitting something that works well alongside existing content, provides a new angle, or has not been covered at all but could appeal to that property's audience.
Consider the audience behind the topic
Are you writing about parenting? What stages? Think of the age of the kids you're writing about - and then think of what ages the parents are likely to be; they are your most likely audience, and you should cater your content to them. The tone and style used in your article should be something readers can identify with. For instance, if you are writing an article for kids, using complicated business terms is not going to keep them reading. Acceptances of paid submissions are more likely on content that shows attention to detail in this and other areas.
Personalize the experience
When you write an article or blog post, readers should see the real person behind the story (unless your client is not interested in first-person accounts). At the same time, you don't want to ramble about something that has nothing to do with the subject matter. Find that perfect level at which the article provides the information needed with relevant personalization where it fits in with the main point of the article. For instance, if I'm writing an article about picking the perfect daisies, instead of telling a long story about a time when I picked daisies, I would mention how I determine which daisies to pick. I would do that in a way that readers can tell I am knowledgeable and passionate. But it would also need to be something readers can benefit from to answer their questions. When you can use your own unique experience and style, readers can relate more easily. But at the same time, you don't want to say so much that they get bored and click away.
Focus on evergreen material
Focusing on evergreen material is one way to maximize your earnings, as most business owners can use long-lasting content. Evergreen content is that which will draw a reader's interest for long periods of time, such as unique ways to solve common parenting issues. Evergreen slants can also be applied to trending topics. Some editors may value those topics that have a longer shelf life. This is not to say that other content will not be valued, as articles with a shorter shelf life can be useful as well. They each have their own place and are both great ways to maximize your work in different ways. Getting the most out of paid opportunities often involves taking advantage of more than one way to earn.
Pay attention to spelling, grammar, and style
Category and vertical style guides are used for many assignments that offer pay. For the best chances at getting those assignments accepted, be sure to follow them closely. This also goes for any and all other instructions mentioned within the assignment details. Proofreading, even after using spelling and grammar checkers, has always been a lifesaver for me when writing for any venue. Yes, I am a great editor. But, I am also human, so it’s best to double and triple check. Read silently, out loud, and even have a writing buddy take a gander. Programs can miss little things, such as skipped words or typos that are actual words, but not words you intended to use.
Optimize your content for the Web
Studying The Yahoo! Style Guide is a great way to learn basic html, grammar, editing, formatting, and style as it all pertains to writing for the Web. Most content that is submitted to potential clients must be publish-ready. While some venues may have an editor, never rely on editors to fix poor writing. If your writing needs to be thoroughly edited, it is much better to study up so that your submissions are more likely to get acceptances than rejections. You can then submit at a later date when your skills allow you to submit content that is more in line with the platform's needs.
Good Web content displays certain qualities. Apart from being interesting, it must be easy for a wide audience to read. It also must be easily found by search engines. Keep your articles concise and informative in an easy-to-scan format. Web readers often look for something that answers their question quickly and accurately in an engaging manner. For more on writing for the web, again, The Yahoo Style Guide is an invaluable resource.
Maximizing payments on your content is about taking advantage of the many ways to earn. It's also about covering your bases all-around. A solid article is not just well written, but also speaks to the intended audience, giving them exactly the information they expected and needed in a clean, easy-to-scan format.
It has always proven to be the case that when my writing becomes too predictable, I simply cannot be at my best. Whenever I have a plan going into writing something, if it's more than a simple direction or idea leading me into it, what ends up coming out is a rambling unfocused mess. When I write, the more unpredictable the course of my work takes, the better it ends up being. In a way, I'm a fiction writer writing non-fiction. I always want to keep the reader guessing.
In a world in which answer-driven content has become the most sought after, I feel like a bit of a dinosaur. I want to lead people on and help them to answer questions they never thought to ask. It's not as if that sort of content doesn't work any more. Storytelling still works, of course. But I find myself greatly uninspired reading content that attempts the answer the same questions over and over again. You can find yourself at a point where taking a fresh perspective on something becomes immensely hard to do.
Sure, it can be risky to not have a plan. Most writers would find it ludicrous to not outline where you're going with a given piece. I've rambled on for hours and hours, pages and pages, many times before. Sometimes the words go nowhere good. But other times, I'll get three or four really good ideas that I can run with, and weave them together into a complete piece. I'm one of those writers who just needs to be let loose and edit it all down later. Sometimes I'm overwhelmed with the sheer volume I produce and it can be very tricky to pare it down into anything tangible - even to myself.
Lately, my writing has just been feeling too predictable. I have a topic and I just comment on it, basically. That just has become rather stale. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with being strictly informational and coming to a sometimes fairly obvious conclusion. That sort of writing just isn't for me. There needs to be a fresh take on whatever I am doing. Having a strict topic doesn't always work for me, and for whatever reason I stopped dancing around the edges trying to make new connections. I've found when the words don't come the reason is usually as simply defined as "uninspired." Sure, what may follow many times is a hot mess of nonsense, but it's better than to not have just written it at all.
Do you ever feel like your writing has become too predictable? It's okay to shake things up. Perhaps a bit of misdirection here and there isn't a bad thing at all. Being straight and to the point obviously has its place, and I'm not saying I can't write like that anymore. My comfort zone when it comes to writing seems to be in making the reader uncomfortably unsure of where I'm going. But there's that delicate balance of losing your reader in confusion and making them think through why you're going in the direction that you are. One of the beauties of written communication is that ten people can read exactly the same words and come to ten completely different conclusions. It's also one of the shortfalls and one of the major limitations. No human communication is perfect. Nor do I think it ever should be.
It's high time I stopped being predictable and just let the randomness of life's ebbs and flow dictate where I go when I write. As moods shift and opinions waver, it's possible to stay the course while still having a few twists and turns thrown into the journey.
How you choose your words in writing is essential. As a writer, the importance of your word choice should seem obvious. But, sometimes when you sit down to write, you just write whatever comes to you. Sometimes, I’ll be thinking about something and my lips will start moving or my fingers will just start typing. I may not give myself time to necessarily make the best word choices.
On paper, rambling on and going off on tangents isn’t always a terrible thing. You can always edit your words later. But in speech, sometimes choosing the wrong words is pretty dangerous stuff. At times, a poor word choice just ends up amusing someone. But other times, the wrong word could have someone taking what you said the wrong way. The same thing can happen in writing, if you’re not careful. But what you can learn with your word choices in writing can affect your word choices in speech, too, if you really do learn from them.
It’s best to choose the right words in the first place, whether in writing or not. If you don’t feel that you’re saying something as well as you can, make sure that you don’t leave your words open to the wrong interpretation. Yes, there will be readers who will read things into your work that you didn’t intend. Those misinterpretations can lead to a learning experience for both you and the reader. It’s best to treat them as such, even if you are the only willing party to actually learn from the experience. But, sometimes both parties can be the best for it.
How Can Careful Word Choice Limit Misinterpretation
What’s one of the best ways to limit misinterpretation? Don’t be the one always trying to give answers. You should ask yourself: Should I first be asking more questions? There is always so much more to learn. Better yet, it rarely hurts to find new ways to phrase and rephrase things. There are many ideas that have never been perfectly conveyed. Then again, can any idea be perfectly conveyed in words?
As a writer, the best you can do is the best you can do at the moment that you write something. Every writer is going to write a stinker here and there, and simply not publish them. But even published works that gain a good audience are going to have their flaws. It distresses me when I see one of my works in print, even one that was well received by the intended audience, and I’m simply not happy with it how it is. If you’re not happy with some of your work, chances are you’ve learned something that you'll want to address in the future.
Can You Be Too Critical of Your Word Choices?
Sometimes, you have to be your own worst critic. So, welcome the critics when they come. At times, the critics will simply have their own opinion through no fault of your phrasing or word choices. But, before you publish anything, make sure that the piece is the best thing you can produce at the moment. Make sure your words are saying what you intend them to say in the best way you know how. True, no one is perfect. You can always learn from the mistakes. But the better you do in the first place, the more your writing, and perhaps even your everyday conversations, will be the better for it.
When first starting to write for online venues, many writers are unaware they need to edit. Sometimes there is an editor, but oftentimes this is not true. Therefore, it is safest (and most of the time your responsibility) to self edit your articles before submission.
Writing for Content Sites
Most content sites require self-editing. Some do have editors on hand that may make changes. But for the most part, the work you submit should be ready for publication. Many content sites only have people who review your work to determine if it's fit to publish. They don't have time to edit your work, nor will they do so.
They'll just decline it and move on to the next piece. Also, on some of these sites there is the option to self-publish without review. Even though some may allow you to edit afterward, you should always edit before hitting that publish button. This avoids having readers (and potential clients) see those initial typos and errors.
Writing for Private Clients
When writing for private clients, it's pretty much expected by most that your work is ready to use. When someone hires you to write content, they don't want sloppy work. They want something they can just pay for and use right away. That's why they chose to hire a professional. That's you.
By making sure you self-edit everything, you will keep clients happy. Happy clients often return to the same writer and may even recommend that person to friends and business partners. By not proofing and editing your work, you are potentially hurting your writing reputation and career.
Maintaining a Good Writing Reputation
Sure, typos are going to slip through sometimes. But, as a professional writer, you should always do your best work. Even when you know there is an editor, you should submit clean copy that can be published as is. This way, they may not need to correct as many errors. Yes, that means more work for you - in more ways than one.
It may initially be just a little more effort on your part. But in the long run, it can create more opportunity. Also, self-editing is a requirement in some situations, as mentioned above. Writers who are completely or mostly self-sufficient will likely earn more gigs and clients than those whose work requires more tweaking before publishing.
*I originally published a version of this via Yahoo Contributor Network
by Lyn Lomasi, Staff Writer
As a mentor among my online writing peers, I often get asked which route to go when it comes to freelancing. People want to know if they should take on private clients, write for content sites or contributor communities, or start their own niche sites. I have tried several different strategies. What's best for online article writers? I recently made the decision to slow down on certain work with private clients and dedicate myself mostly to my own venue, which also happens to be a contributor community. I am the happiest when mentoring peers and providing content for the Write W.A.V.E. Media network. I see the most income for the least amount of stress when I focus solely on projects that help others and make me happy, as far as writing goes. While this works for me, the best choice will vary for each person.
Know your work habits.
In any online writing, you need to be able to work independently. But if you are working for clients or content sites, you may need to pair that with teamwork. If you don't work well with others, you may want to go solo and write for your own blog or domain. But even then, you might still need to deal with people in one way or the other. If you like to be the only one to correct the work and will accept no changes to your material, you're better off writing for yourself. But keep in mind that even if you don't have to bend for editors, you still need to consider what your readers want.
Pay attention to your writing style.
What style and voice is present in your work? Can you change it up some to fit what clients want? If not, you may be better off either finding clients or content sites that align with your style or writing for your own venue. Check out contributor communities and content sites to see what the top writers are doing. Does it look like something you'd be interested in doing? If not, move on to the next or create your own venue that matches your style. When writing for private clients, I learned that analyzing their needs based on their audience and existing content helped me provide the best content for them. If you'd rather write freestyle without analyzing things, your own website may be the best option, providing you will still cater to the audience.
Consider your schedule.
Managing time and deadlines will be of more importance when writing for content sites and private clients. You'll need some sort of schedule when writing for yourself. But it will likely be more flexible that way. Some private clients may prefer to speak with you about projects during certain hours. Usually it will be normal business hours. If you cannot commit to that or are unavailable during the day, content sites, contributor communities, and your own domains may be the better option. Most contributor communities do not require you to be available during specific times. There can be deadlines if you claim certain assignments, but it is up to you at what time you write the material.
Think about your goals.
Are you looking to get your byline featured across multiple sites? Would you rather keep your name to its own venue? Do you not want your name out there at all? What are your revenue goals? Writing for private clients can sometimes involve a great deal of ghostwriting, which means your byline will not be featured with the content. Content sites generally feature your byline with the content. Some also offer opportunities to be featured on high quality web properties. It could take more time to build up a reputation on your own venue. But if that is what you prefer, the hard work can pay off, if done right.
The best fit for you is the closest to covering your main desires.
Consider all of the above, as well as any other factors that are important to you. Then, decide which option most fits that mold. You could be like me and choose a combination of two methods, choose just one, or go for something else together. Regardless of which choice you make, be sure it is one that aligns with your individual goals and dreams for the future. Remember that not everyone will have the same needs. Just because one plan works for your friends does not mean it will do the same for you. Align your writing career with your unique plans for the best results.
*I originally published a version of this via Yahoo Contributor Network
It's time to pay the bills but your freelance writing hasn't pulled in nearly what you need. Staring at the figures in black and white may make you cringe if you're a freelance writer who hasn't quite reached your ideal goal. Maybe you haven't even touched the surface. But don't give up hope. Perhaps you just need to change your strategy. If you have all the tools and talent, but still can't quite get there, try making your goals more attainable. It's easy to set goals and expectations too high or make the possible impossible by over analyzing. If you aren't meeting your goals in freelance writing, it's time do a complete overhaul of your strategy.
How high are your goals? It's good to set goals. But don't set them so high they are near impossible for you to reach. For instance, if the most you have ever written is 10 articles in a day, don;t commit yourself to writing 20 right away. Instead of saying "I am now going to write 20 articles every day," make your goal that of gradually increasing the amount of work you can handle. This makes the goal more attainable. You might even reach the initial number you had in mind. But you can do it with less stress and pressure.
Which numbers are you focusing on? When I first started out in freelance writing, I tried to figure out a workable income by making goals in terms of article numbers. While this can be logical if you make the same amount for every article, it makes no sense when it's variable. It can also get quite stressful for those who cannot produce a large number of articles every single day. In online writing, the amount made per article can vary significantly, depending on the venue, how pay is determined, and whether or not views will be calculated in the equation. To be sure my writing days are more productive, I had to change my daily goal strategy to make it more attainable.
Now instead of article numbers, I have a goal of how much money I should make in upfront payments each day. This keeps me on track and it also gives me some easy days with less articles to write when I have assignments that pay a little higher. Think about the way you make your freelance writing income and decide which numbers are the important ones to focus on. If what you are currently doing is something you consistently aren't reaching, think outside the box and adjust your focus.
Do your goals align with your schedule? It's easy to set a goal. But if that goal doesn't fit in anywhere it's going to be difficult to make it work. Determine goals not just by what you are able to do, but also by the time you have to get things done in. If you know that you have two free hours in the morning and four at night, break up your writing between those times. If you make goals that fit well with your schedule, they will be much more attainable.
*I originally published this via Yahoo Contributor Network
Tips From a Workaholic Supermom
Creating a writing schedule that works is all about making something you can stick to. Is your writing schedule working for you? Or do you wish you could get more done? Just want to try something different? Try prioritizing in various areas and losing extra commitments.
Figure Out How Much Time You Need for Work
If you have a goal of 10 articles per day, figure out how long it will take you to write them. Be sure you will have at least that much time to work with. If you prefer, the time can be spread out throughout the day as long as it fits in somewhere. If you don't have any idea how much time it takes you to work, you may not reach your writing goals. Scheduling the proper amount of time can help gauge writing productivity.
Determine if You Need Set Hours
Some people do not need set hours. For instance, if you are generally at home all day, setting particular hours may not appeal to you. Doing a little work here and there may be a better option. Yet others will need an exact time. This may be due to personal preferences. It can also be a way to let family and friends know you take your writing seriously and do not wish to be interrupted.
Schedule and Prioritize Other Tasks
Instead of, or in addition to, scheduling the writing, try scheduling other tasks. This way, you know exactly how much time you have left to work with. If it's not enough, cut out things that are less important. Create your task schedule in order of importance.
Don't Commit to Things You Cannot Do
I know firsthand how difficult this can be. But do not take assignments you cannot do. Also, do not take a larger number of assignments than is possible in the allotted time. I'm well-known for writing large number of articles at once. Some writers can do this and some cannot. Also, just because you have in the past does not mean you can work this way all the time. Know your happy medium between having enough work to pay bills and having so much work you can't sleep. Take it from one who knows.
Make Sure You Have Breaks
If you don't make room for breaks, your schedule will ultimately fail. Everyone needs rest. Yes, I do have to remind myself this as well. An effective writing schedule will include adequate rest time so that the writer is energized when it's work time.
*I originally published this via Yahoo Contributor Network
by Lyn Lomasi, Staff Writer
If you are in a bind and need to get large amounts of articles done quickly, what do you do? Perhaps this is a common thing for you and perhaps it is not. There are various things a writer can do when large numbers of articles need to be written quickly.
Sort by topic, rather than client. If some of your article topics are similar, write those sequentially or at the same time. Save them to separate folders for each client so you don't lose track. But you can do articles for various clients all at once. This is especially helpful if their deadlines are the same or close.
Do all your research first. Research your topics before writing. This makes it easier to just sit down and write. You get bonus points if you took notes in your article document during research. Medical info and other extensive topics can require a good amount of research for accuracy. Bullet point what you discover under subheadings. Then, when you write the article, you only need to turn those points into sentences.
Group by article type. If you have several list-type articles to do, it can help to do those first. Those may be easier than other formats. Articles with bullet or numbered points can go quickly as well. You also may wish to group them according to word count. When large numbers of articles are due quickly, it's a better strategy to get all the easiest ones out of the way first. This way, if you do fall behind your goal, it happens with less articles.
Write intros and subheadings first. Go through all your article files ahead of time and write all the intro paragraphs and subheadings. This way, you can run through and fill them in faster. If you already have the subheadings labeled, you pretty much know the points you need to make. You then only need to figure out how you're going to say it. This speeds productivity trick. I've written an article with this type of pre-outline in less than 3 minutes.
Write what you know. If the topics are up to you, avoid too much extra research and just write about what you already know. When writing topics you have firsthand knowledge of, it's easy to just spout off info quickly. This is extremely beneficial if you're also a fast typist. It may take a touch longer if you aren't, but it should still help considerably, compared to articles that require extensive research.
*I originally published a version of this via Yahoo Contributor Network
What’s the best way to write fiction?
What’s the only way to write fiction? It’s one word at a time. But, it’s difficult to express complete thoughts in single words. So, then, we must string these words into sentences. These will form paragraphs, which hopefully will form a coherent narrative that forms upon the page before us. Then, we continue to write paragraph, after paragraph, one page at a time.
And, yes, reader, I must involve you in this process. After all, writing is a very intimate, personal experience. Truly good writing can’t just be for the self. Yet, some writers clearly do not involve the reader. Indeed, this is a tragedy. Still, the act of writing shouldn’t produce a sermon unless you are a bona fide preacher. No, it's all about connecting with you, my dear reader.
Many authors are obsessed with trying to know who their target audience is and to know them inside and out. In some cases - say, with children's books - it’s a tactic which you may take to construct your narrative. But, some authors take too many assumptions into account on the part of their reader.
The author's job should be to not bore you. In my humble opinion, too many authors bore so many readers. Yes, maybe you'll know this or that when you come to reading my piece. You'll feel like I should already know that you know these things. But, there's a simple way around this. It's on me, the writer, to make sure if something is brought up that should be generally common knowledge that it is directly involved with what I'm getting at.
I must give you, the reader, a trail to follow. My thought process must be made somewhat intuitive through the writing. Many artists get really artsy, and this artsiness can become distracting. While there is nothing wrong with taking artistic liberties, it’s the job of a good writer to draw the reader into the narrative. Even if you may be unfamiliar with all or most of the individual points, you must be able to see a thought process behind all of it. This is the challenge that all writers face.
So why should you care? I could ramble on forever about the half-million things that go across my mind on a daily basis. It's actually rather incredible how many things actually are on one mind at any given time. The conscious and unconscious minds are so often not in sync. It's why sometimes we just get distracted and we don't really know how. Somehow, though, the act of writing actually can give one access to the nether space between the conscious and unconscious.
When a writer really applies one's self to the task of constructing a narrative, things tend to appear on the page that seem a bit unfamiliar. At times, they seem out of place within the conscious realm. The human mind is really an incredible machine. There are so many things that it can process that often get shoved aside by the conscious mind. A lot of that is simply because of how cluttered "modern" daily life has become.
It's no secret that meditation techniques can help one write better. There is often just too much clutter in our heads to be able to construct anything incredibly interesting on a regular basis, even for dedicated writers. You can't force creativity. It just sort of has to happen.
I hate to reference a cliché. But my prefacing tidbit "one page at a time" is very much like "one day at a time" in that you have to take each challenge as they come. Even if you’re not a writer by profession, you are still the scribe of your own life's story.
You may think, how can I be the author of my own life story if so many things are out of my control? I’m not here to offer you self-help or reveal some special secret to being an amazing writer. No, I am simply saying that many different aspects of life are not as disparate as they at first seem.
You may think, life is non-fiction and fiction is a way to escape that often grinding daily existence. Well, to be fair, there is a very startling similarity between fiction and non-fiction. Fiction is often compelling because of how colorful the settings and characters can be. But in non-fiction, that can also be true. You may say you like fiction because what you're reading you may be convinced couldn't really happen.
Truth is, anything is possible. Nothing is truly impossible, only astronomically improbable. So when you hear "nothing is impossible" it's not false, but it's only a half-truth. No fiction is totally made up. Fiction is always based in some bit of truth. We integrate plenty of fiction into our own lives. If you tell someone a "real-life" story, and don't have your facts straight, it's not completely true. So, guess what? It's fiction.
Am I saying that life is just a world of part-truths with more fiction than fact? Not exactly. But, daily life sometimes can seem that way. Many people I see function in such a way. We live in a world full of so many possible avenues of escapism. As soon as we step outside of what is considered "serious" there is a lot of grey area that you can play with. This is the writer's playground.
There are cold hard facts of life that need to be accounted for, yes. But, what if we play around a bit and pretend that these cold hard facts were instead fiction? How do you rearrange things in such a way to make them more interesting? It's all about making your reader look at things from a different perspective. From a certain perspective, all of our lives are just a fiction that we create in our own minds.
If you're ever stuck, remember perspective. Twist things just a little bit to make it more interesting, without losing sight of the heart of the matter. You may discover things you wouldn't have otherwise. Then, so won’t your readers.
“If the writing is honest it cannot be separated from the man who wrote it.” – Tennessee Williams
What makes honest writing? I try to be as honest as possible when I set to write anything. It’s just not always easy. Sometimes, I feel being brutally honest in writing actually stifles creativity.
There’s letting things off your chest, and then there’s saying too much. It’s not always easy to put things as succinctly as you may want to. You don't want to rant aimlessly. After all, if you're writing, you're trying to organize thoughts and get something out of them. But, you do have to be honest with yourself:
Your goal may not to be delicate or succinct at all. Still, it's often difficult to say what you mean to say without somehow saying something you didn't. It’s too easy to read between the lines and try to find double meanings to certain words or phrases.
Sometimes in the editing process, you second guess yourself. You may expound on something that you probably shouldn’t have spent time on. It’s what makes writing such a frustrating craft.
The idea of being so honest in writing that it becomes inseparable from the author who penned it is sort of an ultimate goal for all writers. The trick is to be honest, but not absolutely exhaustive in that honesty. You give away a little at a time. That’s what can make writing so therapeutic.
For those minds as busy and often overloaded as mine, it’s a sort of necessity to be just a little honest with a thing or two. You can dress it up a bit and make it less threatening; it doesn’t make it any less true, really. But having a few secrets has to be healthy, right?
Writers seem to have more reason to be mysterious than most. The more mysteries the author has, the more material to be used in the craft. That’s how I like to look at it.
"Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers." – Isaac Asimov
Have you ever found yourself not sure what to write for your blog? There may be days when you sit by yourself and brainstorm a few things that you’ll probably write about later. Likely you won't use everything that you wrote, but you may find something that you were thinking about could make a useful blog post.
But more often than not, it’s likely that you find yourself uninspired by your notes. Other times, you won’t have any notes to go off of at all for blog ideas. Fortunately, there are some easy ways to make sure that you always have something to write about. A lot of it is just letting your blog post topics come naturally.
How Do You Let Blog Posts Come Naturally?
Consider this simple exercise. Towards the end of your day, jot down some of the challenges you faced during the day. Then, tell how you succeeded, or didn’t succeed, in solving them. You'd be surprised how little solutions can make for a short, but sweet post that your audience would find interesting. You may not want to post about your failures right now, but if you take note of them and find solutions later, including those makes for an interesting narrative
Showing dedication to the little things is pretty important to people. It makes you more human to those that read your blog. Blogging effectively involves connecting with your audience on an emotional level. You want people to be delighted by what they read, and be able to connect to these “little things” sorts of posts. Over time, the little things add up. Before you know it, you can have a vibrant and interesting blog. Not every blog post is going to be a hit. But, just three or four little successes can go a long way.
Should I Write About Challenges I Haven't Solved?
What about the challenges you haven’t solved? Are you still working towards solutions? It's fine to let people know what you're working on to better improve yourself and whatever it is you do. Being natural is paramount to blogging effectively. In any case, be as positive as you can, even when dealing with bad days. Keep a bright outlook on things and your blog readers will thank you for it.
You may also want to write down any missteps you took during the day. Now, it would seem that missteps are not the best sort of thing to write about. On a blog you typically want to be as positive and helpful as possible. But, there is a way to spin such mistakes, especially if you find a solution to prevent such a mistake from happening again. You may want to write about what you do to prevent those sorts of mistakes in the future. Draw attention not to the failure, but instead to solutions.
How Do I Get Readers to Emotionally Connect to My Blog Posts?
People love success stories. Most people want to see others succeed. Admit how you’ve overcome certain challenges. It's easy to be inspired by reading about others overcoming difficulties and challenges. You can create those if you just let your successes, failures, and solutions flow naturally throughout your blog posts.
If you're ever stuck for a blog topic, just brainstorm and let the ideas come naturally. Don't self-edit until you're actually about to write the post. Just let the events of each day unfold in your mind. Recount what struggles and successes you had and the little (or big) victories of the day. You might be surprised with what you find even from little victories. What's little to you may be huge to someone else. This way, when you have dull, uninteresting days, you can still write a blog post to inspire both yourself and everyone who reads your blog.
Many times I begin writing on a project and ask myself: why should anyone care about this? Lots of times, I have an idea that I hardly care for myself. Still, I don't discard it. I make a note of it and move on. Who knows where I could find a purpose for that idea?
After several years of blogging, I found I needed to take more profound steps in my writing. In particular, I felt a burning need to write about things that seem to be often avoided. People do care when you bring something up that they don't expect. Sometimes, such unexpectedness is met with fear and negativity. But, potential negative reaction must not be a deterrent in what a writer decides to write.
Whatever You Write, There Will Be Someone Who Will Care
It doesn’t matter what type of writing you do, because someone out there will care about it. There’s nothing wrong with writing reviews, or reflective journals, or informational articles. There's nothing wrong with writing light humor or a little piece of flash fiction. There's nothing wrong with writing an adventure novel that exists purely to thrill a reader. As long as each of those writings fulfill their specific purpose, and not just some broad sense of having written something, someone will care about it.
But, there’s a bit of a paradox here, since it is important for a writer to write even when he or she isn’t finding a purpose for the words being written. Still, when publishing something, make sure people will have a reason to care about what you've written. Don't just publish something because it sounds good. I've been guilty of that myself. Publish something that actually will add something to the lives of those reading it. Share your passion to others through your words. Without adding value to your readers’ lives and sharing your passion, you're just spinning your wheels.
Feel like you might be confusing readers with your writing? Heck, I've had times when my writing even confuses myself. The entire point of writing, of course, is to convey an idea in as clear and concise a form as possible, right? But, sometimes you set out to make your readers think, and you just end up confusing them instead. So, how do you make your readers think without confusing them?
In an earlier version of this same post, I used the word confound instead of confuse. My word choice wasn't incorrect, but because "confound" isn't really a common word, I feel that it may have confused some people. That's why I decided that I should expand on what confound actually means. An examination of two definitions of confound will actually help illustrate the points I'm trying to make.
What Does it Mean to Confound Your Readers?
Confound is an interesting word because in confounding someone, you can do something both good and bad. One definition of "confound" is to "cause surprise or confusion, especially by acting against their expectations." Well, sometimes in writing you'll need to give your readers something they don't expect. But this is where this definition of "confound" gets interesting. The synonyms range from amaze or astonish to dumbfound or stagger. That is to say, a piece of writing that confounds may amaze some but dumbfound others. This isn't really what you want, is it?
The second definition of confound is to "mix up something with something else so that the individual elements become difficult to distinguish." That's to say, you may ramble on and mix things up to the point where you simply confuse people. You certainly don't want to confound your readers in this way.
However, it's not always a terrible thing to confound your readers if it leads to the benefit of making readers have to figure something out for themselves. If you're going to confound your readers for the purpose of making them think, though, you want to go into writing with that purpose.
How Do You Make Readers Think Without Confounding Them the Wrong Way?
Making people think is the core of writing in the first place. But, dumbfounding readers with your writing isn't a sound strategy. That's not to say that some readers won't be confused. You can't always help that. Still, remaining focused on your topic will help reduce confounding your readers for the wrong reason.
It's true that simply stating facts and opinions, however educated, isn't enough to hook readers. There's plenty written out there about infusing personality and "spice" into writing. But, the most important thing to do in writing is to expand one's horizons. You want to amaze not dumbfound and astonish not stagger.
This process is two-fold. First, you express an idea in a written, tangible form. Then, through the act of reading, you can identify and analyze what's been said to come to conclusions afterwards. But if a piece of writing leaves you with more questions than answers, that may not be a bad thing. Being a little confused is OK, as long as it leads the reader to actually think about what was written.
So, in this way, confounding readers may actually be a good thing. By having to think about something in more depth, readers will remember it better. Then, those ideas will have impact beyond the words on the page. Still, it needs to be a topic worth that level of reader commitment. Someone might be looking for a quick answer that could reasonably have one. In those cases, there's no point in confounding anyone.
But, there are times that connecting with the reader on a deeper level can be worth it. I've written before about whether web writers should produce more questions or answers. In that piece, I came to the conclusion that articles that engage the reader in a conversation of thought are strictly better than "free information." While it may not be as simple to digest, it's overall better for the reader. Other readers offered up the opinion that writing that really engages your mind is most rewarding. It's especially good when readers can connect with pieces emotionally. Those pieces tend to perform the best over the long term.
How Does Making Emotional Connections Through Writing Reduce Confusion?
People talk about trying to make emotional connections through writing all the time. But, this is actually incredibly hard to do when it comes to certain subjects. It's especially true with topics that many people are already confused about.
Writing through personal experience is the only way that many people are able to write on many subjects. The good news is that this is also true when it comes to readers looking for answers. People like to read about how other people have figured things out. It's good to go into a writing piece in mind that others will need to take something away from it. Make it worth their time to read.
Confounding readers may sound like a bad idea. Sure, sometimes you'll leave them confused. But as long as you stay on topic, connect with your readers on an emotional level, and ask the right questions, it may not be a bad thing.
If you feel the need to write something, and aren't sure exactly where to go with it, write it anyway. Let it sit for a bit, come back to it, and make the best writing out of it that you can. Chances are someone else will get what you were saying. The whole point of writing after all is to share your ideas. You may not even fully understand them yourself yet. But if you get readers interested in the ideas, you may start a valuable conversation that helps both yourself and many others.
by Richard Rowell, Write W.A.V.E. Media Staff
Here's a question I've been asked a ton of times: "Why can't you write a novel?" For someone whose dream as a four-year-old was to be a novelist - and a mapmaker, and a pharmacist, and a starship captain - this would be a legitimate question as I have not yet produced a novel. My obvious inability to properly compose a novel is a topic I've pondered many times. In fact, I've written a lot of drafts of pieces trying to answer that very question, but I was never happy with what i wrote on the subject. So yes, this is yet another attempt to try and answer that question, but this time, I actually have the answer.
I can't write a novel because I simply cannot write a novel. I can't do outlines, as I never have, and never will. Of course, there are novelists out there who have never outlined, either. There are novelists out there that basically just write forever, then let their trusted beta readers and editors do the rest of the work. But in my case, I simply change directions in plot too often and character development often meanders and stalls. It's not even a lack of focus. I just lose interest in what I'm writing if I spend too much time on it. That's right. I simply cannot hold focus for fifty thousand plus words. I can't even hold focus for ten thousand words, never mind anymore than that. Is it a weakness? Perhaps, it is. Or perhaps, I'm simply not a novelist.
I'm not saying that I will never, ever write a novel. But it is fair to say that my dream of being a novelist is indefinitely on hold. Truth is, I'm not even good at short stories. Flash fiction is perhaps the only creative future that I have outside of poetry - and poems are definitely a specialty of mine. The thing is, I can't combine my poetry with my stories. I've tried that, and it was a disaster. So basically, my future as a creative writer appears to be relegated to simply flash fiction pieces and poetry. I'm finally feeling content with that.
However, that being said, the truth is that writing a novel takes a ton of energy. For whatever reason, I do not ever want to expend that level of energy on one particular project ever. I feel that my energy needs to be divided more efficiently across a wider breadth of subjects. My brain is always hitting on many different things, so why should I force it to do simply one thing? Yes, I have a tendency to hyper-focus, but this hyper-focus when it comes to trying to write a novel is actually very, very bad. If I have to figure out where to take a story next, it is NOT going to follow the original path. It's going to go bonkers.
The interesting thing is if you give me someone else's story that already exists, I'm actually pretty good at identifying shortcomings and fleshing things out. So it's not that I can't tell a story. It's that the stories I try to tell are evolving so constantly in my mind that everything I write up to a point becomes obsolete. And that is so monumentally frustrating that I cannot begin to tell you how much worthless text I will have to eventually go through and pare down into flash fiction pieces. So, at least, I have a plan of what to do with all my failed stories.
So yes, it is very likely that I will in fact put out a book someday. It will be a collection of short flash fiction stories. Some will share characters. Many won't. But a novel will have to be a collaboration with someone else, because I simply do not have the capacity on my own to keep everything going in one direction or follow any logical plot structure. My brain simply does not operate in that way because real life is not that way. I am far too spontaneous to be forced into any sort of literary conventions. So perhaps one day I'll write a novel that is extremely disorganized and completely wacko. Not saying there isn't anything already out there like that, but since I doubt it will sell, I may as well just post my insane creative scribblings at will.
Have you ever considered writing a novel? Good luck. I think I'll just stick to the greatest hits from my Crazy Idea Bin. That should be good enough for me.
by Richard Rowell, Write W.A.V.E. Media Staff
The blank page is like a canvas, they say. Actually, a blank page is more like a desert. It can be the most dreaded thing known to humanity. This is why whenever you try to always start with SOMETHING. some sort of opening theme like in a TV show, or a prompt, or something. Always have something to start with. Because just when you think you can't fill a page, you probably will.
How is this? Start with today's date, then just list some things that are on your mind. If your inspiration can't be sparked by something that you just wrote, list some of your favorite things, and see if you have anything to write about them. By this point, you've probably already filled a page and come up with writing ideas for about a week. Considering this sort of brainstorming is how I practiced writing on a daily basis for years, I can say from personal experience that it works.
However, I don't really participate in brainstorming sessions anymore, nor do I use many prompts. Why is this? It's because sometimes it's okay to just let ideas come to you as they will. Unless you desperately need to fill a need for some assignment, not filling a page is not some crime. Just jot down things in a notebook or some organization program like Evernote or a memo pad app of some sort. That way when you're starved for ideas later, you still have them. Then you'll fill many pages just from that single note.
Still, I've found more often that not, as long as you go into any writing with a purpose, you will fill that page. It works similarly with art. In photography, just point at whatever and shoot. In drawing or painting, just doodle for a bit and work from that. You'd be surprised in these supposedly dark moments of lacking inspiration that you'll find the beginnings of some of your best creative work ever.
Lyn Lomasi & Richard Rowell are life & business partners. Owners of Brand Shamans & the Write W.A.V.E. Media network, we are your brand healing, soul healing, & content superheroes to the rescue!
Running our network of websites, tackling deadlines single-handedly, and coaching fellow writers, brands, & entrepreneurs to be thought leaders is our top priority.
While rescuing civilians from boring content and brands, we conquer the world, living the RV life and managing our Intent-sive Nature with our awesomely crazy family while recounting The Nova Skye Story, along with Kymani’s Travels.
We also strive to one day cuddle with lions and giraffes. Until then, we’ll settle for furry rescue kitties and doggies.
We support many causes via our business ventures, such as homelessness, support for trans youth, equality, helping starving artists, and more! A portion of all proceeds from Intent-sive Nature goes toward helping homeless pets in local shelters.
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