May 30

Three steps to becoming a great writer

writerEvery self-employed person needs to be an effective communicator. Being a good writer isn’t a matter of innate ability. I maintain that every single person can become a good writer. But it takes practice. It also requires a commitment to ongoing learning.

I think there are three essential steps to changing your prose from unrelenting, execrable drivel into clear, concise communication.

Follow some simple rules

1 – Avoid using more words than you need to, or verbosity

The biggest rookie error I read and hear is when someone is verbose. There is not a single occasion when using more words is better than using the right words.

George Orwell once said “If it’s possible to cut a word out, cut it out”.

I add a corollary to that; never use a long word when a short one will do.

2 – Read widely and often

The best way to learn about the craft of writing is to read widely. Don’t just stick to authors and genres you like. Read different styles. By reading you will do two things. You’ll expand your vocabulary and you’ll learn about what works and what doesn’t. Even bad writing will teach you something.

3 – Write a lot

You need to write and critique a lot of words to become a great writer. We often see sportspeople who are exceptionally skilled. Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Lebron James all make the game of basketball look easy. All three are extraordinarily talented. All three have worked incredibly hard to make the game of basketball look easy.

Science fiction and technology writer Jerry Pournelle says “I am sure it has been done with less, but you should be prepared to write and throw away a million words of finished material. By finished, I mean completed, done, ready to submit, and written as well as you know how at the time you wrote it. You may be ashamed of it later, but that’s another story”.

Practice writing every day. Set aside time every day to write. And set aside time every day to review something you’ve written previously.

Three resources

I’m going to suggest three resources to help you become a better writer. One will require a small investment of time each day. One will require a small investment each year and the third will require a slightly larger investment of time.

Subscribe to Grammarly and read it each day. It will only take a few minutes when a new post appears but you’ll pick up lots of useful tips. They also have a Facebook page.

Read The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. This is a short book that I read each year. It will only take a couple of hours to read and although it’s a little dated it provides great advice for writing clean prose.

The third is Stephen King’s “On Writing”. This is a interesting book as it plots King’s life so far and discusses what he’s learned about the craft of writing. It will take a little longer to read than The Elements of Style but it’s very valuable.

And don’t forget to keep reading

Apr 12

Be fearless – but learn from mistakes

A couple of things caught my eye this week – a comment to a recent post here and a post on LinkedIn. And together, they summarise a key element of the success I’ve managed as a freelancer. Read the rest of this entry »

Mar 31

Explore and take every opportunity

Last week, the editor of one of my long-time clients, Australian Macworld tendered his resignation. This is not all that unusual as people do move between jobs. As Australian Macworld has been a long-term client (they were my second freelance client and I’ve worked with them constantly since about 2004) I know the people, publication and business reasonably well.  Read the rest of this entry »

Nov 07

Getting stuck in the upgrade cycle

As a freelancer, you probably don’t have time to keep updating your phone, tablet and computer every few months. Aside from the time, there’s the risk involved in upgrading your equipment. Sometimes, features are changed, compatibility with critical applications is broken and, from time to time, the upgrade process breaks leaving you in a lurch.

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Sep 18

Five things to do when the work dries up

The last month has brought me a challenge that, until now, I’d not had to deal with in my freelance business. Several jobs that were booked with regular, reliable clients were cancelled meaning that my work and financial planning were laid to waste.

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