Freelance Writing

General information for freelance writers, including dealing with rejection, how to find markets for your work, and inspirational tips.

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Every writer produces work they’re not proud of. But if you feel stuck in a pattern of bad writing, don’t get discouraged. Chances are you’re not losing your mind—or your talent. In fact, good writing gone bad could be due to something much simpler and easier to fix than you think. Here are some possible culprits that could be harming your work and what to do about them:

Your Office Setup

Is your desk chair comfortable? How about your office—is the temperature too hot or too cold? How’s the lighting? Do you have enough space to spread out your research? All these things can affect comfort level, which in turn can harm your writing quality. Try rearranging your office or investing in better equipment if necessary. Make your workspace one that makes you feel good and inspires you to write your best.

Hunger

Hunger pangs aren’t just loud and annoying; they can compromise your brain power. When you’re hungry, you may feel lightheaded, tired, and fuzzy. Get your mind in good working order by making sure you’re satiated. Food boosts creativity, focus, and mental acuity. And while you’re at it, drink up. Staying hydrated keeps you energized, so be sure to sip on water throughout the day.

Unsolved Personal Problems

Has something been nagging at you, like an argument with a friend or an upcoming stressful event? Whatever’s distracting you, get it off your mind so you can devote your brain to your work. If you can’t address the problem immediately, jot it down in a notebook to deal with later. Then refocus your attention on your writing. You can return to your troubles after a good writing session—and maybe they won’t seem so bad after all.

An Overworked Mind

Sometimes bad writing days are the result of overwriting. If you haven't had a break lately, it could be time to take one. Breaks can do wonders for writers; they offer an opportunity to refresh, rejuvenate, and brainstorm for new ideas. Set your work aside, and catch a movie, have a lunch date with a friend, or go on a mini-vacation. You’ll return with a renewed sense of enthusiasm that will show in the quality of your writing.

Lack of a Mentor

When writing goes sour and you can’t figure out why, consider consulting a writing mentor or friend. Often it takes another set of eyes to figure out where you’re going wrong. It could be that your writing isn’t as bad as you think or that it just needs a few tweaks here and there. On the other hand, another writer can help you fine-tune your work and clear up any major writing problems you don’t see.

It's easy to blame yourself when the quality of your work slips. But what’s wrong with your writing could have nothing to do with your talent. Give the above ideas a try, and get back to crafting the quality stuff you’re used to.

Image by Jerry Bunkers

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Fall is almost here, but are you prepared for a new season of writing? Whether you’ve been punching away at the keyboard all summer or not, autumn is a great season to refresh, recharge, and renew your writing life. Here are five tips to help you get ready for fall writing—and produce some of your best work yet:

Collect Fresh Ideas

Think about the summer and what you learned or experienced in the last few months. Tap into your senses to discover a new twist on the changing colors, air, and pace of this time of year. Attend a lecture or do some reading. Ideas are everywhere; find something unique to share.

Write a List

Goals are important for successful writing because they keep you organized, on task, and productive. Put together a list of them. Make it as detailed as you can, knowing you can alter your list as needed. Then put it somewhere visible to serve as a reminder and motivator.

Make Some Useful Purchases

Need a new writing desk? How about a new dictionary or a style book? Now’s the time to buy. There’s a full inventory of office and school supplies available, many at discounted prices. Take advantage of the deals and get your writing tools updated.

Join a Group

Writing groups are an ideal way to advance your craft, network, and keep you inspired to write. Find a group online or in person and get connected. You might also join a writing organization related to your genre. Many writing organizations have national and local chapters.

Prepare a Schedule

After the unstructured months of summer, it can be hard to get back to a routine. Take the time to prepare a schedule—and a plan for following it. Decide when you’ll write during the weekdays and weekend. Spend a day or two trying out the new schedule to see how it feels.

Fall is one of the best times of year to get serious about your writing. In fact, many writers create some of their best work during the autumn months. Let the above tips help make this writing season a success for you.

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One of the greatest things about writing a cookbook is you don’t have to be a writer to do it. But writers know something that cookbook creators might not: editing is key. And when it comes to writing cookbooks, editing a cookbook can make all the difference to the book’s success. After all, an error in quantity or a confusing instruction can affect the outcome of the recipe—and the usefulness of the cookbook.

As time-consuming as it may be, reviewing a cookbook for accuracy, clarity, and consistency is well worth the effort. Here are four steps you don’t want to skip when editing a cookbook:

1. Look for Writing Errors

Some of the most common writing errors in cookbooks involve abbreviations of cooking terms and measurements. For example, tablespoon is often abbreviated with a capital T, whereas a teaspoon is a lowercase t. The best way to avoid confusing the two is to write out the words or abbreviate them as “Tbs.” and “tsp.”

When editing a cookbook, if you come across something that looks wrong, it probably is. That’s why it’s important to check the original recipe for accuracy. Sometimes, quantities, ingredients, oven temperature, and descriptions (such as “heaping” or “scant”) are left out or copied wrong, which can change the recipe drastically.

Finally, spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors, while they may not alter a recipe, look unprofessional and can affect the book’s readability. Proofread carefully and fix any errors in mechanics.

2. Check for Clarity of Wording

As you’re reading through the recipes for writing errors, ask yourself if the instructions are clear. Do the words explain how to make the recipe without confusing the reader? For example, if a recipe calls for cooking an ingredient, this may mean sautéing, frying, baking, boiling, or broiling. Edit to specify the proper method.

Also, be specific about certain ingredients. Is dill supposed to be dill seed or dill weed? Does the beef need to be a particular cut? Should the oats be rolled or quick? For many recipes, this won’t matter. But check to make sure.

Instructions that are out of order can also be confusing—and disastrous. If part of a recipe should be completed and set aside before the next phase begins, make sure that’s noted. Or, if an oven needs to be preheated, the recipe should say so at the beginning, not halfway through. Instructions should be easy to follow, organized, and reader-friendly.

3. Be Consistent When  Editing a Cookbook

Is “cup” spelled out sometimes and abbreviated others? Are all numbers written as numerals? (Note: Numerals are more reader-friendly than written numbers, especially in ingredient lists and instructions.) Be consistent, whichever style you choose.

Pay attention to the ingredients listed and those used in the directions as well. Are they the same? For example, if a recipe lists egg whites under ingredients, make sure the directions don’t say egg yolks. Ingredients should also be listed in the order they are used.

Consistency also applies to recipe book formats, which can take a number of shapes. The most common is a standard recipe format, where a list of ingredients is followed by step-by-step directions. Another popular format is where the ingredients are embedded in bold within the context of the directions. Whichever format is used, keep it the same throughout the recipe book.

4. Edit and Organize Cookbook Sections

Cookbooks aren’t just a compilation of recipes. They usually contain some front and back matter, too. This might include a preface, acknowledgments, table of contents, index, and glossary. All of these sections must be reviewed for errors, clarity, and consistency.

Sidebars, or separate bits of information related to the recipe (such as helpful hints, baking tips, brief histories, etc.), are also not to be overlooked in the editing process. A cookbook reader will pay close attention to sidebars, so getting them looking and sounding perfect is worth the work.

Finally, make sure all cookbook sections are in order. For example, start with the preface and table of contents, follow this with recipes that are organized in a sensible manner (appetizers, salads, main courses, and so forth), and end with an index. Pay close attention to the recipe section of the book to verify that each recipe falls in its proper category.

Editing a cookbook for errors, consistency, clarity, and organization will help make the recipe book as useful and valuable as it can be. And for the book’s cooks and writers, there’s no better recipe for success than that!

See also Nine Reasons to Take Self-Editing Seriously.

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Having trouble deciding on a New Year’s resolution? Why not look to your writing for help. Even if you’re satisfied with how things are going, there’s always room for improvement. Take a minute to reflect on your writing life during the past year—what you liked about it, what you didn’t, and what you could do differently. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you come up with a New Year’s resolution—or a whole list of them. To help you get started, here are some ideas to consider:

Set Higher or Lower Goals

If you feel like you’re putting too much pressure on yourself to produce, maybe you need to scale back this year. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to set a high standard to stay challenged. Re-evaluate what you know you can and cannot accomplish in the next year, and resolve to meet your goals.

Try a New Writing Genre or Market

Have you been unhappy with the type of writing you do? This could be the year you begin your mystery novel or try your hand at children’s writing. Maybe you just need to look into new markets for your work. Do some research and see what piques your interest for the upcoming year.

Acquire Knowledge

Learning helps you advance your craft, plus it’s a good way to avoid burnout. If you’re writing life feels stagnant, make it your New Year's resolution to taking a writing class—or a class on any topic that appeals to you and helps you further your career. Or, join a writer’s group or organization. You’ll learn from your peers and make some friends in the process.

Start Submitting Regularly

How often do you submit your work? If the answer is very little, it’s time to step up your game. Pledge to submit a certain number of articles or queries weekly as your New Year's resolution. Remember, the more you submit, the more likely your chances of getting published—which will help keep you happy and inspired this year.

Talk Openly About Your Writing

Many of us are quiet about our writing. No one asks, so we don’t talk about it. Telling the world you’re a writer, though, may open up good discussion and new opportunities. One thing’s for certain: it’ll validate to you and others that you’re a writer—and that can be just the motivation you need for a fruitful year.

New Year’s resolutions are good for writers. Spend some time coming up one or more. You’ll approach 2017 with a much better outlook and a greater likelihood of success.

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writer-605764_1280So you’re done writing an article for the web. You’ve polished it, collected images, done your final edits, and put it in the proper format. Before you press submit, hold on. Did you include a bio? Writing a bio may not have been part of the assignment, but rest assured, it’ll be needed. Bios aren’t just for print magazines; they’re used on websites and blogs too. And that’s a good thing for you. It gets your name out there and can bring exposure—and more work.

A bio is basically a short summary of a writer’s credentials and interests. As small as they are, bios have a big job—to describe you in a way that grants you readership and credibility. So don’t take writing a bio lightly; done well, it can do wonders for your career.

So how can you write a top-notch bio that’ll get you noticed? Here are six tips to help put you on the right track:

Choose a Voice

Should you write in first or third person? Good question—and one only you can answer. Often it depends on who you’re writing a bio for. If you’re not sure, ask. Some editors prefer third person; others first. For your personal blog, first makes more sense. Do what’s stylistically appropriate.

Focus on Brevity

It’s great if you have a lot of credentials; just save them for your resume or you might lose readers. If you’re not required to stay within a specific word count for a bio, offer a few sentences—powerful yet succinct is the goal. Be sure to include the obvious: your name, position, and key accomplishments.

Home In on the Significant

Sometimes it’s hard to decide which parts of your background to use in a bio, especially when they all seem important. Look to your audience for help. Readers will want to know what makes you an authority on the subject at hand. If you’re writing about pets, for example, mention your expertise in pet training, competition, or veterinary care.

Add Something Fun

Do you have a unique hobby or skill that would interest readers? Maybe you’re a fitness writer who has an affinity for ballroom dancing and a dream of joining a dance competition. Offer a side of your personality that makes you relatable to your audience.

Link Up

Your bio is just a sampling of who you are professionally, but some readers will want to know more about you. Give them the option. Add links to your resume, website, Facebook or LinkedIn profile, or blog. Pick just one or two, though; too many links gets confusing.

Include a Photo

People want to see a real person behind the article they just read. Make sure you have a photo, whether it’s of yourself or something relevant to your bio. The picture will likely be small, so don’t choose something with too much detail. Make it simple—a head shot of you works well.

Writing a bio is an important task for any writer. Give yours the attention it deserves, and see what a huge impact it can have on your career.

 

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writing v editingMost of us writers know that writing and editing have a lot in common. For one thing, they both need each other. You can’t write, or write well, without editing, and you can’t edit without a piece of writing. For another, they both involve words, grammar, mechanics, communication, headwork—and the list goes on.

But writing and editing are actually very different disciplines, and understanding those differences can go a long way in making you better at either—or both. Check out these five, and learn what skills you need to use for each process. You might even discover which one you’re best suited for.

Writing is about creating; editing is mending.

Writers are creators of stories. They know how to tell a tale or put an idea into readable form. A thoughtful, creative mind is a quality of a good writer. Editors are fixers. They’re good at cutting, pasting, adding, revising, restructuring, and rewording.

Writing requires finding research; editing corroborates it.

While writers must find resources to back up their facts, editors do the fact-checking. They need to verify that the writer is telling the truth. Fact-checking is a good skill to have as a writer, but it’s essential for an editor.

Writing uses the heart; editing relies on the head.

Writers are a passionate bunch. They write with heart, soul, and all the senses. Editors make sure the writing isn’t overly emotional, flowery, or opinionated and that it appeals to the intended audience. Editors must be mindful and objective.

Writing takes reading; editing takes resourcefulness.

Most good writers are avid readers. Reading makes writers better at their craft. Editors benefit from reading, but they must be good at using resources even more. Knowing how to make something read better by consulting style guides is key for editors.

Writing can’t be interrupted; editing can.

Writing is something you need hours of quality, uninterrupted time to do. Editing can be done in pieces—a paragraph or page at a time. It helps to have continuity when editing; writing, on the other hand, depends on it.

Writing and editing go hand-in-hand, but they’re not the same thing. Even though many writers are editors and vice versa, each requires a different set of skills. Know what it takes to do either job and learn how to become better at what you do best.

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some grain had been partially harvested nearby, so we could walk into the center of the field and take a few photos.

Summer’s here, which means school is out and there are lots of fun things beckoning—barbecues, a trip to the beach, biking with the kids. Who has time to write?

Just because outdoor activities are in full bloom and schedules have gone by the wayside, doesn’t mean you stop writing. Writers write—year round. The trick is to find ways to fit in time to write so you’ll feel productive and stay devoted to your craft without missing out on summer fun.

You may need to be a little creative and flexible, but finding time to write in the summer isn’t all that tough. Here are five ideas that might help.

1. Carry Your Writing Tools Everywhere

You never know when an idea might strike, so always be ready to capture it. Slip a notebook and pen in your purse, or carry your tablet or laptop in a messenger bag when you go out. Even a pencil and scratch paper stuffed in the glove compartment of your car can come in handy for those days when creativity sudden flows. Don’t count on your mind to remember your ideas; be safe, and be prepared.

2. Rise and Shine

Whether you have the birds to thank or the sun, chances are you wake up early during the summer months. It’s not a bad thing actually. Popping out of bed at the crack of dawn can be a great way to start your day, especially if you use the time productively. Grab some coffee and make a beeline to your desk for an hour or two of concentrated writing.

3. Make It a Family Affair

If you have kids at home, include them in your writing routine. Set up a workshop where everyone writes. Pick a topic that's kid-friendly. You’ll get an interesting variety of writing to read, writing practice for all, and a worthwhile use of your time. Include snacks or prizes to make it more fun. Just don’t be surprised if the kids come running back for more.

4. Be a Weekend Warrior

Summer weekdays can be hectic for families with busy summer routines. Your days of writing alone suddenly become filled with carpooling to sports, making lunches, and cleaning up after everyone. That’s where weekends come in handy. Use the time when another parent is available to hit the office. Shut yourself off for several hours and get some quality writing time in.

5. Plan a Writing Vacation

A writing vacation may not be your idea of a summer trip, but you’ll be surprised at how rewarding it can be. Not only will you get to do what you love, you’ll enjoy the break from busy summer schedules to concentrate on just you. There are plenty of writing retreats available during the summer months (check out the ones on this list), or you can create one of your own.

Summer is a time for fun, family, friends—and writing. Give your craft the attention it deserves this summer, and make the season as enjoyable as it is productive.

Image by Nosha

 

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writing.rantingWith the political atmosphere abuzz these days, there’s been a lot of ranting on the internet, especially on social media. Clearly people have strong feelings about the candidates. But sometimes these monologues go on and on, fired-up paragraph after fired-up paragraph, as if the rants are intended to be personal essays or some other, new and emerging genre of writing.

Here’s the problem with that: ranting, first and foremost, implies the use of speech. According to Merriam-Webster, to rant is “to talk in a noisy, excited, or declamatory manner.” Macmillan describes rant this way: “to complain or talk loudly and angrily for a long time, sometimes saying unreasonable things.” Vocabulary.com agrees and adds something else—a rant is “fueled by passion, not shaped by facts.”

Writing, on the other hand, doesn’t use the voice, not the physical one anyway. It’s usually done with the hand, on paper or a screen. More important, writing takes much more than mere passion, calling us to delve deeply into our minds, hearts, and souls.

Now don’t get me wrong, ranting serves a purpose. It’s a way to release energy and get things off our chests. It’s a self-indulgence we all partake in now and then because it offers immediate gratification. No doubt, ranting can be satisfyingly fun. But ranting is better left to the speaking world, where we can spew words out and then forget about them—because usually, that’s exactly what the ranter wants to do.

Writing is different. It requires time, to gather and corroborate facts and think about what we’re going to say; insight, to understand and formulate truths; and care, to express ourselves in a sound-minded fashion, with honesty, caution, and consideration. Unlike ranting, writing gives us healthy pride and deep, long-lasting satisfaction because it brings meaning to those we share it with. In short, writing is simply too important to waste on ranting. Leave the latter for your vocals.

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pagesWhen writers look for places to submit their work, they often choose markets that require a query letter first. Submitting a query letter definitely has its benefits. It saves time and the effort of writing a piece, which is especially helpful if you don’t get positive feedback from the editor. If you do get a green light, you might also get a better idea of how to hone your story idea. Plus, most writing markets prefer a query letter, so it’s a practice that comes with lots of sales potential.

The problem is, not everyone likes drafting those query letters, including me. In fact, I actually prefer markets that accept unsolicited manuscripts. It may sound counterproductive, but submitting a completed story to an editor who didn't ask for it does have its perks—and, at times, can be the most practical way to submit.

The Pros of Submitting an Unsolicited Manuscript

Here's why I like to submit an unsolicited manuscript rather than a query:

  1. The piece is done. When you submit a completed manuscript, you have a polished piece that’s ready for sale. Even if the market you submit to rejects your work, you still have a finished product to send elsewhere—right away.
  2. You can save time. With the query method, you save time writing a piece that an editor doesn’t want. But writing a good query letter often requires as much effort as writing a good story. With a completed manuscript, you skip the query step entirely, thus saving precious writing time that you can devote to crafting a high-quality piece.
  3. Rejection odds don’t change. Whether you’re submitting an unsolicited manuscript or a query letter—assuming you follow editorial guidelines—your chance of getting rejected remains the same.
  4. You get to write your way. Submitting a completed manuscript is the best way to show an editor who you are as a writer—your style, tone, personality, ideas, and writing ability. Sometimes, a great idea needs the full story to impress an editor; submitting a completed manuscript can do just that.

Tips for Submitting an Unsolicited Manuscript

Of course, submitting an unsolicited manuscript is one thing; doing it right requires a few tips and tricks:

  1. Edit well.  An error-free manuscript has a much better chance of grabbing an editor’s attention and keeping her fixated on your piece than one full of typos and grammatical problems. Make sure you edit well and send in the best, most polished work product you can. It’ll make all the difference between moving past the first reader and landing permanently in the slush pile.
  2. Follow guidelines to a T. If your word count is too high or low or you’re writing about a topic that doesn’t fit a publication’s theme or style, you’ll be out of luck before your story even gets read. Adhere to editorial guidelines to a T, and you’ll have a much better chance of finding a home for your story.
  3. Don’t forget a cover letter. A cover letter is different than a query letter—lots less work but still important. Read up on writing a quality, brief cover letter, and be sure to include biographical and contact information.
  4. Find several markets. If you’re going to take the time to write a full story, also take the time to research and find several markets for it. Don’t bank on just one publication for a home because you may end up with a huge letdown—and a story that sits on your desktop for good.

Five Markets That Accept Unsolicited Manuscripts

So where do you find markets that accept unsolicited manuscripts? Writer’s Market is a good place to start, but freelance writing sites and newsletters can supply you with all kinds of submission requests, many of which accept unsolicited manuscripts. Here are some markets to consider:

 

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people talkingAs writers, we’re often reticent about telling non-writers what we do. Maybe it’s because we’re not like most working adults. We don’t leave our homes in the morning to head to the office. We don’t put on suits or skirts or “business casual” attire. We work odd hours with no set schedule. We don’t have regular paychecks, and we can’t refer to our co-workers because, generally speaking, we don’t have them.  So what’s there to tell?

On the other hand, by not telling people what we do, we risk getting them to come to their own conclusions. Some non-writers think we write just for fun, like it’s an activity similar to gardening or pottery. Others wonder how we can spend so much time punching away at our keyboards, alone, with no formal structure. Still others don’t think anything about our writing at all, like it doesn’t really exist.

Of course, there are some non-writers who take a great interest in what we do. They want to know what we’re writing about, how they can get a copy of it, and whether we have a future project in the works. It’s nice to have those select few to discuss our writing with. But maybe that’s not enough. Maybe it’s time to spread the news to other non-writers. It might be awkward at first, but there’s a good chance we’d gain some important benefits—like new contacts, meaningful conversation, and additional supporters. Besides, there really isn’t anything to lose, other than a misperception of what we do.

So how do you go about discussing your writing with people who don’t know or wonder or ask about it? Here are five ways to start the conversation:

  1. Share a piece of writing. Are you especially proud of something you’ve recently written? Share it with non-writers. Ask if they’d like to read it and give you feedback, or describe the piece and let them know why it's special to you. Sharing your writing doesn’t just get others to notice your work; it’s also a great way to fine-tune and strengthen your writing—free of charge!
  2. Find a connection. While visiting with a non-writer, try to connect your writing to the topic at hand. If you’re discussing music, for example, tell about the piece you wrote on a famous musician or how you’d like to try your hand at composing lyrics. A conversation about difficult co-workers might be an opportunity to describe a disagreement you had with an editor.
  3. Conduct an interview. Think of a good writing idea that involves interviewing non-writer friends, family, or acquaintances. Get them involved in your project by making them a part of it. Explain what your objective is in writing the piece and why their expert opinion is important. You’ll be surprised at how quickly they’ll take an interest in your writing.
  4. Announce your successes. Don’t be shy about telling non-writers when you’ve sold an article, won a writing contest, or finished a book manuscript. These are all major feats, worth announcing and celebrating. Other people don’t hesitate expressing their recent promotion, pay raise, or kudos for a job well done; neither should you.
  5. Just say it. Sometimes, you just have to be bold and start a conversation about your writing without being provoked. Explain what you do with your time and how your writing, like any job, helps define you. Let others witness your passion and devotion toward your work.

Give the above conversation starters a try. Discussing your writing with non-writers is easier done than said—and may benefit you more than you think.