Since this initial iWriter series is coming to a close, we don’t have a lot of time left to help you focus on what really matters as a freelance writer. So I’m going to take this time today to tell you about some things that you can do to quickly strengthen your writing ability.
For all of you aspiring writers that live outside the United States, let me start by saying that the English you speak is a lot different from American culture. We live in two very different worlds where we don’t pick up each other’s local slang, and over hundreds of years it has made a significant difference in how we actually talk and write.
Additionally, we tend to structure our sentences a little bit differently here in the USA. So even though foreign writers may speak perfect English and write fluently, almost any American can spot a foreign writer within a matter of seconds. And if you fall into that category, then it really stinks.
There are a few ways to overcome that though, and it all starts with embracing American culture. So every single chance you get, I want you to-
- Read news on major media websites like USA Today and the NY Times
- Listen to audiobooks by popular American authors (King, Grisham, Koontz, etc.)
- Read through every good novel you can get your hands on
- Post on US-based forums and communicate with Americans
- Make friends in the USA and find reasons to email them often
- Take an online writing course from a US-based college
- Consider hiring a professional writing coach
Now, this advice certainly applies to anyone who wants to write professionally- the only way to expand your vocabulary and discover new ways to string words together is by reading. And since there are amazing blogs out there on just about every subject known to mankind, you have zero excuse for not reading about some of your main hobbies.
Also, you need to learn to read critically.
What I mean by that is that reading alone is not enough; you need to become a student of the written word and pay very close attention to what works and what doesn’t. For example, if I come across an article that I really enjoy online, I’ll bookmark it to my browser and re-read it later that day…and slowly pick it apart line by line.
I want to know exactly why that particular writing style works and I’m always willing to put in the sweat equity to find out. I’ll even send a note to the writer afterwards thanking him for the piece.
Likewise, every great writer started right where you are today. And if they’re being honest with you, most will say that their earliest work wasn’t that great…it took lots and lots of repetition for them to find their true voice.
So if you want to be a writer, then you have to write a lot. As in, every single day of your life…whether you feel like it or not. Especially when you don’t feel like it.
For example, I had a pretty tough day today. My daughter has a serious ear infection and we’ve been to the emergency room twice in the past 48 hours. Nobody in my home has slept much recently and I’ve been doing all the cooking/cleaning since my wife has stayed in bed comforting my child.
In other words, my writing schedule is completely destroyed. Obliterated. You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Gosh Keith, your kid is sick and your family needs you. Take the day off already and worry about writing later.”
Ten years ago, I might have done just that. But when you’re a freelance writer that’s not punching a timeclock and collecting a paycheck, there will always be other things to do. The list of distractions in our everyday lives is almost endless. That’s why we choose this profession in the first place…the freedom is freaking amazing.
But I’ve also learned the hard way; it is very difficult to get on a solid writing schedule and actually stick to it. On the rare occasions that I do take a few weeks off, finding a good rhythm again feels almost impossible. Because once you step outside your natural groove, it takes so much more work to get back into it again. That’s why I write at least 3,000 words every single day of my life- and you need to as well.
What should you write?
Start with a few assignments on iWriter. Knock them out early, go grab a nice lunch and then be back at your computer by noon. Then, either complete a few more assignments or-
- Write a short story or work on your own book
- Send emails to friends, family, and loved ones
- Start a daily journal and write out your goals
- Create your own blog and post there daily
- Write emails to prospective clients
- Post on forums about your favorite hobbies
- Write a letter to your spouse or child
- Engage/Talk to other writers on social media
On the other hand, try your best to avoid texting, instant messaging or anything that keeps you from writing in complete sentences. If there are emoji’s involved, then it’s probably not something that will help you in the long term.
One more thing before we move on- writing 3,000 words a day should be the bare minimum if you want to grow as a writer. Anything less doesn’t give you enough repetition to develop your own unique style, and it’s almost impossible for you to make it to the elite levels without it.
So set a strict writing schedule and stick to it! You’ll thank me a few months from now.
Now for a little motivation before we part ways.
I have trained thousands of writers and business professionals over the past decade and the great ones always seemed to have three very distinct things in common-
- They had a true desire to write for a living
- They always sought opportunities to learn more
- They knew how to take constructive criticism
Now, you might have noticed that I didn’t say anything about actual writing ability. That’s because it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. After all, you’re not going for an interview to be a journalist with the Wall Street Journal- you want to write blogs and articles online.
And the key to a great blog post is engaging your readers in simple, everyday English. So with daily practice and a great work ethic, you can be a phenomenal writer within a matter of months.
Let’s talk about that list above real fast. The first point is something that I’ve said throughout this series- either you have a strong passion to become a writer or you don’t. If it’s there, then you need to start getting serious and doing the exercises throughout this guide. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ll improve.
Next, if you really love writing and you want to make a career out of it, then you absolutely must become a student of your craft. Read the blogs of your favorite authors and keep up with emerging search optimization tactics- that’s what true professionals do.
The last point is probably the most important of all- you have to take criticism in a positive manner. In fact, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had editors absolutely tear my assignments to shreds. It’s a really lousy feeling…but it is also a great opportunity to grow.
Use these opportunities! Don’t waste them feeling bitter or sorry for yourself! Whenever I take on a new writer to train, the very first thing I tell them to do is to write 100 words for me on the most amazing place they’re ever visited. I choose that topic because it’s something that everyone can feel comfortable with and just write from the heart.
But once the writer sends the assignment to me, I will literally spend an hour nit-picking over every single word. By the time I send that document back for revisions, it looks like I threw the article in a blender with a few cherry tomatoes…because there are red corrections and comments just about everywhere. Why do I do this with writers I train?
In a nutshell, the writer’s response to my overly harsh criticism will tell me right away whether they have what it takes to become a superstar in this industry. Because if they follow every piece of advice and make every correction, they’re going to have a 5-star article that could be published absolutely anywhere…and they’re going to gain all of that knowledge in a single day.
You have to realize; I don’t blast writers to be mean- it is actually the kindest possible thing that I can do for their career if they have the right kind of attitude. Because feedback means that someone actually cares enough to take the time to try and help you. I would have killed for someone to do that for me when I was starting out.
I won’t lie- maybe only one in fifty will take the criticism in the right way. The rest usually become self-righteous and defend their work, cuss me out, or simply never respond again. And guess what? People with that kind of attitude never seem to grow.
In the months to come, I am going to issue occasional contests to receive personal 1:1 training from me and a chance to achieve Elite Plus status. Each of these challenges will run for approximately thirty days and I will have very strict rules that you must follow exactly. If you overlook even one of the requirements, then you will be eliminated from the challenge.
As I said before though, this is not to be mean. If you want to become a professional writer, then you need to learn to pay attention to the fine details in order to make clients happy.
Hopefully you’ve used this lesson to your advantage and picked up plenty of pointers to become a better writer. I’ll talk to you again soon!