Five Ways to Quickly Improve Your Writing

How would you like to make a LOT more money from your writing? Let’s face it, you can put together a slam-bang query, get the editor’s attention and land the gig; if what you turn in doesn’t live up to the hype, you’re dead in the water with that editor for another assignment. Good freelancers are the ones who learn the value of establishing a relationship with your editor. The only way to do that is to get past the first assignment with a new publication. Editors hate nothing more than the writer who presents well because of a an agonized-over query letter, but didn’t live up to the promise with the completed article. You might not think you’re guilty, but if you aren’t doing at least two of these five steps, you could be cheating yourself out of more money.

Here are five ways you can attack your writing to make your editor appreciate your work:

1. Read Strunk and White before starting a new article. The eternal one-liner “Omit needless words” is only a single nugget of genius–The Elements of Style has the power to change your writing style in ways you can’t even imagine. Read the section on misused words and phrases and watch your copy change practically overnight.

2. Scour your copy for “garbage words”. Garbage words include therefore, occasionally, and so forth, hopefully, and extremely. We know the crash was horrific. It’s overkill to say “extremely horrific”. Strong writing does not need these things. I just heard a character on a television show say someone was “extremely dead,” and if you REALLY need an explanation why that is poor writing (when said without irony), I suggest you go back to Strunk & White and read some more.

3. Omit statements when questions are more concise. Let’s consider the dilemma of the radio advertising writer. Here is someone who needs to convey a large amount of information, but only has 30 seconds to do it. Instead of writing “People looking for used automobiles should check out Uncle Harry’s Used Car Lot,” a good radio ad will ask “Are you looking for a used car? Try Harry’s Used Car Lot”. To put this in article context, consider the following statement: “20 million consumers purchased at least two handguns in 2002 because of fears over high profile crimes such as murder and bank robberies.”

The question format is more to the point, and punchier:

“Why did 20 million people buy two handguns in 2002? At least some purchased out of fear.”

4. Check for run-on sentences and clunky paragraphs. The semi-colon or em dash can be your friend, when used properly. Don’t bore the reader with endless text and commas. Don’t drive your editor nuts with ’em, either.

5. Read your work out loud. You will feel silly doing this at first. If you feel so foolish you can’t stand yourself, don’t bother doing this one–but I promise you, somebody out there IS doing it. When and editor compares your work to theirs, you will lose.

None of this stuff is rocket science, but it will definitely improve your work. Remember, even seasoned vets do this stuff–especially the reading aloud part. When your editor reads your work after trying these five steps, you are definitely one step closer to getting paid. Want to make more money as a writer? Try these five steps.

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