Starting Out

How Can I Hone My Skills Quickly as a Writer?

You’ve quit your boring day job.

You punch out for the last time, smiling smugly because you’ve decided on a new freelancing career. Congrats!

How Can I Hone My Skills Quickly as a Writer?

Weeks pass.

In school, you learned a lot of bad writing habits. All of that is bad for the freelance business.

Your writing pitches are met with silence. And you start worrying your freelance career is flatlining before it’s even started.

You need to hone skills as a writer if you want to start freelancing online.

But you don’t have the money or time for a fancy course.

First, give yourself some grace. Because you can be a magnificent writer and still have “meh” copy.

You read that right. And it’s not your fault, either.

In school, you learned a lot of bad writing habits. You were penalized for using contractions or not using big, fancy words.

All of that is bad for the freelance business. Unless you’re an academic.

The good news is there’s lots of ways to hone your skills (like I hone my skills) without dropping $1,000 on hefty reasources (whew!). And they’re all quick and easy steps you can start taking today.

7 Easy Ways You Can Hone Your Skills Quickly (And How I Hone My Skills)

First I’ll mention the seven ways to help you see which ones you need to focus on. Then I’ll dive deeper into each topic so that you can adopt them easily and quickly.

  1. Be brief
  2. Stay focused
  3. Watch your tone
  4. Write with your reader in mind- use the cold sweat concept
  5. Lose “Downton Abbey Syndrome”
  6. Beware the 3 amigos
  7. Use whitespace

1. Be Brief When You Write

Avoid excessively lengthy copy on your freelance website or marketing materials.

What I call “Grapes of Wrath Syndrome.” Remember reading that? The one your English teacher held up as a beautiful masterpiece. You open the book and there were big blocks of teeny text that never seemed to end.

And guess, what? You didn’t read it. Neither did I. No one did.

Lengthiness can suck the power out of your writing. It makes your message less direct and engaging. And that’s a problem.

People aren’t reading left to right online. They skim and scan from their phones.

Attention spans are getting shorter. And you’re competing with thousands, if not millions, of other content pieces.

Unless you’re writing the next “Harry Potter,” a lengthy piece of writing could cost you readers and you don’t want that if you are trying to start a freelance business for the first time.

2. Stay Focused In Your Writing

Say it with me: “I will not fall down the side tangent rabbit hole.”  Don’t. Do. It.

A few weeks ago, I was editing social media copy for a friend.

It was a pitch to attract prospective employers.

Halfway down, it went rogue. Several paragraphs about remote work.  It didn’t belong in a post marketing their skills. That needed to be a separate post.

I had to hone my skills at this moment.

Tangents make your copy unfocused and rambling. Like that one uncle at Thanksgiving. Don’t be that uncle.

Keep your copy limited to one topic. If you’re writing about cats, don’t start talking about poodles. Even though they’re magnificent, it needs to be a separate post.

Pick one topic and stick to it. Your writing will be more focused and engaging. As an added bonus, avoiding tangents also helps with brevity.

An easy way to stay focussed with your writing is to create an outline and stick to it!

3. Watch Your Tone

Remember Chandler Bing on Friends? Without a doubt the king of sarcasm. However, those same witty lines don’t work in your writing.

Your writing is your first impression. Especially during a pandemic when everything is online. It’s how potential leads get a glimpse into who you are professionally.

When you write something with the intention of being sarcastic, it’s not. It comes across as rude. And your first impression accidentally sends the message that you’re a jerk. Even though you’re lovely.

“But my friends all know I’m just kidding!” True, but your writing is a business. Leads aren’t your friends, and they don’t know you.

Plus, online, there’s no context of facial expression, tone, or body language for them to cue into.

Remember, people want to work with people they like and trust. It’s basic psychology. Resist the urge for sarcasm in your copy at all costs.

4. Use The Cold Sweat Concept

This is especially key for copywriting but works for anyone promoting their freelance business (even if you’re an administrative assistant).

Before you write a single word for your, “About,” page or client, ask yourself:

“What makes my target audience wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night?”

This is the most fundamental part of my copywriting process.

To write successful copy, you need to get in your target audience’s head.

What do they worry about? What are they do they want to accomplish? Is it more sales? Or are they lying awake thinking, “How will my small bakery survive this pandemic?”

With that, think about how you can solve their problem.

Write down a few topic ideas that speak to your audience.

These are topics you can use for writing blogs, articles, and social media posts.

People hire people that can solve their problems. If you use the cold sweat concept in your writing, you’re positioning yourself as someone who can do just that and that is how to hone your skills!

5. Lose the “Downton Abbey Syndrome”

Heed the advice of career strategist Courtney Kirschbaum. Lose what she calls “Downton Abbey Syndrome.”

From the time we’re in school, we’re taught to use the biggest words possible. Praised for achieving that higher reading level.

You start using words like “edification” or “cuneiform.” But this makes for terrible copy, and your readers will leave.

At best, you’ll confuse them. At worst, you come across as snobby. And that’s going to hurt your online engagement and chances for landing new clients.

When you write, write in a way that’s conversational. Not like you’re talking with Lord and Lady Grantham.

6. Beware The 3 Amigos

There’s three words are a pet peeve of mine because they suck the power out of your copy. I see these words creep into the content of many talented writers, and I don’t want you to make the same mistake. Stop using:

  • Very
  • So
  • Really

These words stretch out our copy, and not in the way of maximizing impact. It’s the equivalent of saying “um” a dozen times during a presentation. It zaps the power from your message and makes your writing weaker.

After you write your first draft, comb through your copy and delete them.

Make sure to check out this post on 42 writing mistakes you might be making!

7. Use Whitespace

Get cozy with whitespace, because you’re going to use it a lot. Imagine if this entire post had no paragraphs. Just sentence after sentence that never ends.

It’d look terrible. Let’s not even think about it.

Whitespace is key for attracting online readers. It makes it so much easier to digest your content.

If you refuse, remember, your competition is publishing content, too.

Think about the content that catches your eye. Is it a bunch of sentences crammed together? Or does it have lots of whitespace that makes it easy to skim on your iPhone?

Use whitespace to lessen the risk of readers scrolling by.

Hone Skills as a Writer

And there you have it. A list of tips you can use immediately to start improving your copy. Without spending a single cent.

I hope the help with honing my skills helped!

For more help, make sure to check out these posts:

Now, over to you.

What actions will you take today? What other ways can you hone your skills as a writer?

Caitlin Lemon is a Copywriter and Content Writer for hire. She enjoys helping entrepreneurs and nonprofit founders reclaim their weekends with custom copy. When she's not writing, you'll find her chasing her two dogs or planning her next trip. You can see more of her work on her portfolio.

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