Have you looked back at an article or blog you wrote as a freelance writer and cringed? I know I have, and I still do. Sometimes the issue is punctuation then I realize my flow is off or the wording is awkward. Writing can be a difficult skill to master. Fortunately you can always become a better writer.
Looked back at an article or blog you wrote as a freelance writer and cringed?
Be Honest with Yourself
Being honest starts with grabbing a piece of your writing and reading it out loud.
Though some people swear by editing on screen, others will need the printed version in front of themselves. Choose either and start. Look at the lay-out, are some pages text heavy while others appear sparse?
Where is your writing halting? Do you use superfluous words: fillers? Is your punctuation up to par?
Make and take note.
Do this for a few pieces of writing and you’ll start to see if and where your particular weak points lie; style, lack of research, lack of organization, long sentences, you get the idea.
Practice Makes Perfect
The more you write, the better you get. Even if you haven’t landed your first client yet you need to get yourself out there, through your website, your social media interactions or your future ad-campaign.
Write daily. Write and practice all different genres; copywriting, article writing, blogging or drafting a training manual. Here are some exercises and/or websites to get you started on your practice.
General Writing Skill Exercises
One of the most useful websites with a great array of exercises to address the most common writing problems is Design Sensory.
Want to learn to make your sentences shorter, use less fillers, active tenses and produce coherent features?
Then take one of their lessons. Each lesson succinctly explains what the issue is and what it may look like when you write. Practice on the online worksheet provided. Find the ‘best practice answers’ through the link at the bottom of the sheet.
Exercise 1: ‘Twitterize’
It is very hard to write informative yet to-the-point texts because we use too many adjectives, get sidetracked or lose track altogether. One way to help sharpen your brevity-skill is to make every word count. Over the next week try to limit your messages to just 140 spaces. After writing an email, see if you can condense them down. Retell your day in the same space.
Exercise 2: 100 words
Tell a story including beginning, middle and end in just 100 words.
How is copywriting different from other writing? It uses specific language to persuade someone to take action. Generally it is enticing, brief yet to the point. A great skill to have or develop for any freelance writer.
Copyblogger has the following exercise for this.
Define what you have to offer, what it will do for someone, who you are and what the customer needs to do next. Next time you need to write copy or you want to sell yourself and your services or update your website, use this method. In fact sign up and you will find tons of extra exercises specific to copywriting.
Exercise 1: Turn your 100 word story into a sell
Take the story you just created and now turn it into copy. Stay within the 100 word limit. Copy is informative, shows benefits for another person and contains a call to action.
Exercise 2: Headlines
Grab a magazine, your kids’ coloring book or one of your photo albums and select a random picture. Now write a compelling headline to sell whatever is in the picture. Try this for another couple of pictures over the next couple of weeks. Keep enticing. (Invite your friends over, do the exercise together and compare the results. It’ll make for a great laugh if nothing else.)
Article and Feature Writing
Article writing needs to be clear, informative and easy to understand. It has to flow properly with one idea organically following the other. Think about wanting to explain a difficult subject to a primary school student yet without belittling the reader. To ensure readability usually it’s best to start easy. Put your information on paper in the simplest of terms and make sure they logically flow, then upgrade your text.
Exercise 1: Research paper
Type in ‘research paper sample’ in Google and choose a paper that peaks your interest. Now copy the abstract (the condensed version of the report) and rewrite it in such a way that the general public will understand what the research is about and what the results show.
Exercise 2: Cut, cut, cut
Grab one of your writing pieces and take away every 10th word. How much sense does you piece still make? Take out every 5th word and evaluate again. For a third round, take out every second word. What are you left with? Can you use the remaining words to make a coherent version of your former text?
Business Writing Exercises
Researching these exercises I came across a great website that has lots of useful exercises for marketing and business writing. Not only will the exercises help you write better and sharper content, there are also some handy links to technology that will help you make your texts more readable.
More than in copywriting or article writing blogging is about voice. It is your voice that makes your readers come back for more. It is your way to relate to them and their struggles or highlights. Very important when you are a freelance writer; you need to engage! Voice is about emotion. And it makes you unique.
Henneke Duistermaat recently wrote this article with lots of useful exercises and blogs related to finding and developing your own voice.
Exercise 1: What moves you? (30 mins)
- Set a timer and free write about anything around you; the chair you sit on, the fridge that’s humming away, the snow outside, the wooden floor. Write for 10 minutes without interruptions or self-editing.
- Now choose a theme that moves you, whether it makes you sad, angry, happy or jealous. Whatever it is: world hunger, the Zika virus, refugees, economic down-turn….it needs to evoke an emotion in you. Set your timer again and free write about your chosen subject for 10 minutes.
- Lastly, again for 10 minutes, free write once again about a random object or something happening around you.
When you are done, compare the separate writings and see what emotion does to your writing. Did you use more descriptive terms, stronger sentiments and therefore phrases? How did it influence your third piece?
Exercise 2: Write, write, and write
This may seem like a cheap shot but the only way to develop your voice is by writing so ..
- Grab your dictionary, open it on a random page, pick a random word and write for 10 minutes.
- Switch perspectives. Write for 10 minutes about something that is opposite to what or who you are. Think about: men writing about what it is like to be a woman, republican versus democrat, being religious through the eyes of a non-religious person, a nature lover versus the city dweller, etc. Get their point, their belief across rather than yours.
Editing is a combination of several skills, you need to edit for content readability, flow and then line-edit for punctuation.
Fortunately your spelling checker and programs like Grammarly can help you with your punctuation and misspelled words. But because writing style and voice are very personal you may want to misspell particular words, use other languages and so on.
Find some great editing exercises here.
Read, Read, Read,
After these exercises, one of the most important things you can do to enhance your writing is to read. Read anything and everything. Analyze what works and what doesn’t. Why does it? How would you rewrite it?
If you find a style you like: emulate, try and write in that style for a while.
Create a swipe file where you keep all writing that you enjoy, admire or that moves you. Keeping a swipe file like that can be a great inspiration for future pieces of writing.
And lastly, find a writers group or writers network where you can give and receive constructive criticism. You often don’t see what your weak points are and having people with strengths in different skills can significantly help enhance your writing.
What is your weak spot? What exercise did you like best?