From Making a Living Writing:
Do you wonder if your writing is making the grade?
As a college dropout who got into freelance writing sort of by accident, I used to be haunted by this fear. But here’s the good news: You can learn on the job and keep improving your writing.
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For a long time, I was of the opinion that writing craft can’t be taught — you either have a gut instinct for a turn of phrase, for the flow of a good sentence, or you don’t.
But over the years, I’ve changed my mind. There are definitely some fundamental things to know that can drastically improve your writing and help you get more freelance writing jobs.
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1. Proof these 2 things
It’s weird, but I can’t tell you how many proposed blog headlines or email subject lines I’ve received with pitches for guest posting on my blog that have an obvious grammar or spelling error in them. I think we write those real quick, because we’ve been thinking on them a long time, and then don’t revisit them.
They’re worth a check-back! Otherwise, you get things like this email subject:
Interest to gust post
When I point out that someone has pitched me with an error in subject line or headline, young writers often tell me, “Hey, I was texting on my phone when I sent that, so you should excuse the error. I’ll write better for you when I get the assignment.”
Sorry, that doesn’t work. Care enough about your pitch to proof it, no matter what device you send it from. If texting is hard for you, wait until you’re at the computer to send important messages.
2. Do some ‘splaining
All good short pieces of writing have a paragraph or two near the top that explains what we’ll learn if we read through the piece. Editors call this the ‘nut’ graf.
Many pieces of writing you can find online lack a nut graf. They just being to ramble along, with no focused point in sight, and readers wonder what’s in it for for them. Then, readers give up.
Read any newspaper or magazine feature, and you’ll find yourself arriving at a nut. Maybe it starts with an example or a situation, and then you soon get a paragraph that says, ‘This is only one example of the growing trend of X.” That’s the nut.
Review your writing piece and make sure you are flashing the point of it up high in a focused paragraph or two, so readers know what your piece will deliver.
Writers are sometimes afraid they’re ‘giving too much away too early’ by doing this — but trust me, this little tweak is the one that gets you read.
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5. The dullness of being
Passive ‘being’ verbs are the enemy of interesting prose. Seek and kill yours.
Even worse are long windups into passive verbs or using multiple passive verbs in a sentence, as in, “If you’re thinking about going to the store, get some eggs.”
Solution: “If you go to the store, get some eggs.”
It’s worth a quick run back through your piece to hunt and kill those past-tense verbs, whenever possible. Even if you really are talking about the past, you can use simpler past-tense verbs, like:
“He thought about going to the store, but decided not to.”
See? Still feels more ‘active’ and like it’s happening now, compared with those deadly ‘ing’ verbs.
Link to the rest at Making a Living Writing
The OP was written primarily for those who want to write freelance articles. However, PG thinks the suggestions also work for authors of books.