Harmful Habits to Avoid When Writing

They say you should write like you speak, which is mostly true. But when you’re in a creative flow and writing just seems to come naturally, it’s easy to overlook mistakes and fall back into a safety net of repetition. You might be writing just like you speak, but it’s important to remember to avoid using the same exact words and phrases in each and every one of your written pieces. There’s a lot of mistakes that can be made with creative writing, but if you edit with a careful eye, your writing can be that much more impactful.

There’s some truth to the quote “write drunk and edit sober.”

Run-on Paragraphs

We are taught at an early age how unprofessional and awkward sounding run-on sentences can be. In an attempt to avoid these however, many writers end up creating run-on paragraphs. Most readers want clear, concise sentences that are easy to read. A huge paragraph without breaks looks like a giant concoction of information that makes people zone out.

Break up your paragraphs depending on where subjects shift. Varying lines of words are much more pleasing to the human eye, and will keep your readers’ attentions.

Long-winded Introductions

Introductions are obviously key parts of stories to lay ground for what’s to come, whether they are fiction, nonfiction, or news stories. However, a lot of writers tend to ramble with this much creative freedom. I suggest sticking to just 4 or 5 sentences when writing an introduction rather than incorporating a life story that you think a few readers might enjoy. In most cases, they’re here to read the piece of content for what it is, and nothing more.

Exclamation Points

I understand these are basic punctuation marks that are used pretty frequently, but a surefire way to lose credibility in your story is to use too many exclamation points. Personally, I think even one is too many. Unless you are quoting somebody or the situation really calls for it, try to avoid using an exclamation point at all costs. It almost forces the reader to hear the sentence in a surprised, amateurish tone. It’s a step away from using all caps, something we can all agree should never be done (unless on Twitter).

Vagueness

Reading vague sentences that don’t seem to get to the point can be incredibly frustrating for readers. The longer it takes you to clearly explain the main point of your sentence, paragraph, or entire story, the less interested your audience will be. Keep in mind that people’s attention spans are typically very short. If it takes 100 words or more for them to figure out just what you’re trying to say, readers are going to skim your writing.

Though I have just listed a few of many possible writing mistakes, many different errors can be umbrellaed under these considerations. Pay attention to your writing before you hit that publish button. Read it out loud. It’s always better to catch these things yourself, before the rest of the world does.

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The Pros and Cons of Freelance Writing

A few years ago, I decided to jump headfirst into the world of freelance writing. While scary, freelance writing can be a blissfully rewarding experience for those entering the market. However, it’s not for everyone; depending on how you like to work, and it comes with its disadvantages. If you’re looking to enter the field, it’s good to know what to expect before jumping in. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned, as you weigh the pros and cons of freelance writing.

The Pros

You set your own hours. Gone is the need to worry about waking up early, beating traffic, and other time restraints. Since you’ll be able to work on your own schedule, you also get to decide whether you work on any given day or not. When other aspects of your life require more attention, you have the power to put gigs aside completely and not worry about repercussions from a larger organization.

You pick your spaces. Related to the point above, you get to work wherever you want—whether that’s in a café, in your bedroom, or anywhere else you can bring your materials. Fixed office space can be stifling for writers, but now that you can choose where you get your writing done, you’re much more likely to enjoy it. When your work area is in a good place, your creativity can flow.

You decide your salary and clients. How much you make and how you make it is up to you, as well as who you work with to make it happen. If a troublesome client comes along, you have the freedom to turn them down; if you want to put in extra time to do multiple projects, nobody can make you do otherwise. Unless you enter into a partnership or work with a freelance program, you won’t have to answer to anyone but yourself.

The Cons

You won’t get benefits. If you’re leaving one of many full-time jobs behind, chances are you’re foregoing healthcare options as well as retirement funds. Many employees seeking freelance writers tend to not offer benefits, either. You’ll have to budget these out of your profits on your own, which can make a dent on what you keep at the end of the week.

Work won’t always be steady. There will be times when you can’t secure constant jobs, or times when payments come late. In some cases, a paycheck never comes. What’s more is the fact that freelance writing is a growing market, which means you’ll be facing other writers just as qualified and capable as you. To find a good balance in this market, you have to be able to manage your money well and prepare for dry spells.

You’ll face distractions and personal limitations. While you have the final say on much of what transpires on the job, the onus is also on you to keep at it. Working at home or in a public space alike can be distracting, depending on what’s happening around you. While you decide your clients and other personnel, you still have to deal with their schedules and any conflicts that arise. If you mess up on a project or fail to do something correctly, you’ll bear the brunt of the consequences. Since you will be running your own business, you’re responsible for both your successes and failures.
In short, while you gain a lot of freedom from going the freelance route; you lose structure from it, as well. If you can be honest with your work habits, and understand the real challenges that come with the territory, it just might be the right career for you.

Why Good Writing Shouldn’t Be Limited To Just Writers

Anyone can be a good writer. And it’s not as difficult as one might think.

Yet so many people, including those in high positions of influence, seem to fail at grasping the basics of clear, simple writing. Becoming a good writer doesn’t mean you have to write eloquent prose like Hemingway. It also doesn’t mean your words must be so big, it sends your readers off to dig up their dictionary.

No, quite the opposite in fact. A good writer simply means that people can understand what you’re saying, at a level that someone with a basic education can comprehend.

One of my favorite online tools is a site called http://www.hemingwayapp.com/. Simply paste your copy into the text body, and the tool will tell you the reading level of your written content. The idea is that the lower the grade level, the more likely it is that your writing is clear to the average reader.

Why? Because simple words are typically better, especially if you are trying to convey a relatively simple point.

A recent Harvard Business Review study showed how poor writing in the workplace can actually severely hinder a company, costing inordinate amounts of cost, due to the lack of clarity and confusion in their communications.

The study articulately conveys how clear writing doesn’t just get a point across, it exemplifies intelligence and leadership in a way that otherwise would have been lost. Texts with your closest buddies are one thing, but in a professional environment, vague writing can set you back.

Personally, my advice is to not overthink it. Don’t try to get cute, clever, or use big words that even you don’t fully understand, in order to make yourself seem smart. Use words that everyone with a basic education can understand, and you just might find yourself communicating to people in a way that people will truly appreciate. You owe it to yourself, and to those of us that have to decipher your content.

Mind Games: Incorporating Psychology in Your Copywriting

Ask most people if playing mind games is a bad thing, and they’ll say yes. Tricking people’s minds into creating an emotional connection with a product might seem morally ambiguous at first, until you realize that is how products are sold.

Think about the last time you bought a t-shirt. Did you buy it because its fabric was the perfect cotton blend? Did you buy it because of the country it was manufactured in? Or did you buy it because it looked and felt nice, and it fit you comfortably?

Psychology is behind every successful marketing campaign, because your brain allows emotion to be the driving factorbehind most of your decisions.

One of the most important things to keep in mind as a copywriter is that you are writing for real people. Real people respond better when they feel a connection to the product rather than being given a string of facts they’ll forget in five minutes. Real people also operate under a few principles that can be used to get more sales.

  1. Reciprocity: Do a favor for someone and they’re more likely to return it.
  2. Scarcity: When people think they are running out of time, they are more likely to impulsively buy.
  3. Commitment: If you continue to ask people to do small tasks for you, there’s a good chance they’ll do larger ones (i.e. buy a product) down the line.
  4. Bandwagoning: Everyone is doing it, so why aren’t you?
  5. Likability: Creating personal connections with your audience, typically through sharing personal info.
  6. Authority: Experts giving their opinion are more trustworthy than a random person on the internet.

Each of these principles are common to marketing, but are often overlooked as gimmicky. Yet there are many ways to use all of them without being totally obvious.

Bandwagoning can seem cheap if done the wrong way, but can be one of the most effective if done the right way. If you have a large following on social media, use those numbers to your advantage and ask your audience if they’ve joined yet. To further drive bandwagoning, give your fan base a catchy nickname. Exclusivity, while not a principle itself, can drive people to want to be a part of the group.

Likability can be as simple as providing great customer service and putting your name and bio online. Putting a face to your company will show people you’re just like them. In copywriting, the easiest way to provide likability is to take the audience through a success story.

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The Worst Reasons to Become a Copywriter

The title of copywriter can be attractive to anyone with a passion for writing. Getting paid to do what you love, no matter what it is that you’re actually writing, can be incredibly rewarding. However, make sure you are getting into copywriting for the right reason. That is to say, understand your strengths and weaknesses before devoting your career to a field that you may not actually be great at.

If your friends and family are daily readers of your work, take their feedback with a grain of salt. They are, in fact, friends and family members. Positive feedback from them, while sometimes genuine, is often masked by their want to avoid hurting or offending you. Going into the world of copywriting with nothing more than a few insincere comments of praise under your belt will set you up for failure. Be realistic about what you can do, and where you can improve.

Even worse, giving into these compliments can weaken your ability to accept criticism. Once you are officially in the real world, having someone with writing experience pick apart your work can seem offensive and damaging when used to the lighthearted comments you typically receive from friends and family.

If you consider yourself massively creative, copywriting may seem like an easy job for you. But, when you aren’t working on your own terms, this can actually have adverse effects. Creativity certainly is a requirement when writing, but toomuch of it can lead to those with less experience shooting themselves in the foot. You must compromise your creativity for the job needing to be completed.

Surprisingly, many copywriters choose this profession simply for the ability to say they are writers. Looking back at legends like Hemingway, Mark Twain, Tolstoy, and Jane Austen, their works can inspire anyone to want the title of ‘writer,’ rather than wanting to pick up a pen or pencil and pour their heart and soul out onto a piece of paper.
Copywriting should never be considered an outlet to market a poorly written novel. Successful copywriters understand the sacrifices they must make in order to remain successful, not letting their egos get in the way, and following instruction in order to maintain their careers. Those who wish to become writers simply because their friend and family praise their writing abilities and creativity should consider the business aspects of the field beforehand. It might be a rude wake-up call for some.