Tag Archives: advice

Today’s Writing Tip: Clarity


You know what you want to say but sometimes it’s hard to express.

Try to imagine your reader. Could anything you’ve written be ambiguous? Could it be confusing? Don’t assume that the reader knows what you are thinking. Step back and fill in certain details or clarify to be as precise as possible.

Take this sentence: “That ended her short life in Shadow Lakes.”

What ended her life there? Did she die or simply move? Or did she stay but she never had a decent quality of life afterward?

Think like a reporter and ask yourself all the W’s: who, where, what and why (and, of course, the non-W, how). Once you’re clear about those, convey them to the reader.

“Marrying Stephen ended her short life in Shadow Lakes because they moved into the city right after their honeymoon.”

Sigrid Macdonald is an editor and the author of three books. This is an excerpt from her last book, Be Your Own Editor, available on Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/c3az54r

Spot Check Your Writing

by Catherine L. Tully

Freelance-Zone Editor, Catherine L. Tully
Freelance-Zone Editor, Catherine L. Tully

Just finish a draft and want to check your writing? Here are some top tips for making sure everything is in tip-top shape!

  • Spell check. Sound basic? It is. Even so, as an editor I’ve gotten documents from people – writers who should know better – with simple errors I have to fix because they didn’t run a spell check. And as an editor, it really is annoying. Take that step.
  • Read aloud. This is another great way to catch mistakes. I’ve found things by doing this that I missed after reading something three times over.
  • Get another opinion. If you have a writer (or editor) friend you can run the piece by, it’s good practice to do so. Perhaps you can swap articles/chapters/posts on a regular basis to keep that workload even.
  • Walk away. Taking some time out to clear your head is a good thing. After a break, go back to your writing and re-read. Your fresh perspective will help.
  • Look it up. Not sure about how to word that sentence? Does something look off grammatically? Don’t just lament it and try to figure it out on your own…look it up. Every writer should have a copy of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style somewhere nearby. Seriously.

Got any tips to share? Leave one here in the comments section below!

Making Money as a Book Reviewer

by Helen Gallagher


By its nature, the life of a freelancer requires adaptation to changes circumstances, markets, and the

all-important bank balance. Like most freelancers, my list of services is often expanding. It grows to meet the needs of clients who request services I’ve never offered before.

One field that is apparently lucrative for freelancers is writing book reviews. Some of us write reviews without pay to stay current with the literary marketplace, grow our library with all the free books sent by publicists, and of course, to expand our visibility and popularity. Reviews can be posted on blogs, review sites, even national newspaper and magazines.

A recent Sunday New York Times article might enlighten you further — writing book reviews can be lucrative. The article, The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy, covers the growing landscape of reviews for the explosive amount of new books published.

“For decades a largely stagnant industry controlled from New York, book publishing is fragmenting and changing at high speed. Twenty percent of Amazon’s top-selling e-books are self-published. They do not get to the top without adulation, lots and lots of it.”

With self-publishing increasing, it creates more opportunities for good reviews to spread the word about a new title.

“It used to take the same time to produce a book that it does to produce a baby. Now it takes about as long as boiling an egg.”

Consider all the facts, ethical as well as financial, before saying yes to becoming a paid reviewer. But done well, it might be a wonderful late-night sideline that can bring you and the author greater notoriety, in a good way.

BIO: Helen Gallagher’s no-fee book reviews appear at BlogCritics.org, New York Journal of Books and Open Salon. She  blogs at Freelance-Zone.com to share her thoughts on small business and technology. She writes about, coaches and speaks on publishing. Her blogs and books are accessible through www.releaseyourwriting.com.

Recycling Your Own Content

By Mandy Smyth ConnorImagine Book

Jonah Lehrer, hugely popular author of “Imagine; How Creativity Works,” admitted last month to falsifying quotes from Bob Dylan. After further research, it was uncovered that his facts were flimsy at best, totally incorrect at worst. Finally, it was revealed that he had re-purposed and recycled a large amount of his previously published work, essentially receiving payment for work that he stole….from himself.

This raised a huge amount of controversy regarding Lehrer and other journalists in the field, and the lynch mob formed outside his door. Yet as the story developed, something remarkable happened – many supporters, and fellow journalists, demanded sympathy on Lehrer’s behalf. Supporters called upon others to show compassion for a young journalist who painted himself into a corner where he felt pressured to write another successful book with a turnaround time that would come hot on the heels of his previous successes in the publishing world (“hot on the heels” by publishing standards.)

In light of this controversy, I initially took up a torch and sided with the lynch mob. How could he possibly misquote Dylan?! DYLAN IS STILL ALIVE! Anyone could simply call up Dylan’s people to verify the quotes! And his falsified “scientific reasoning” based on neuroscience could obviously have been (and was) dis-proven by authorities in the field. Anyone with access to Google can search for his work and find duplications. So how then could he have been so brazen as to think that he would not be caught?

But over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself feeling more compassion as I realized that I too have used my own previous work as inspiration for blog posts, articles and speeches. Now, I am no a professional author, nor am I backed by a hugely successful publicist and publishing house. It’s easy enough for me to validate having used my own work in a recycled fashion because there is such limited exposure to what I write. But at what point have I committed a crime? Does a writer owe it to his readers to publish work that is original in thought and execution at all times? Or have you, like Lehrer, ever found yourself using previous work as inspiration for future work? And no, I’m not talking about cutting and pasting exact text, but I am talking about repurposing writing and thoughts.

I’m not asking you to show compassion for such blatant laziness in reporting. I am asking you to look back on your own writing, when it was midnight, you were under deadline, behind schedule and totally devoid of inspiration. Have you been guilty of this crime, if only to a lesser extent?

Share your opinion on this. We’d love to hear from you.

Is It Really a Vacation If You Work?

My wife and I recently took our summer vacation — a 12-day trip that took us to Massachusetts, where we enjoyed the company of family and lobster; Las Vegas, where I can’t tell you most of what we did, because that stays in Vegas; and San Diego, where we chartered a sailboat and alternated between utter peace and quasi-mayhem in one of the world’s busiest harbors.

Now, here’s the confession: We both had our laptops and iPhones (mine equipped with a mobile hotspot) in tow, and I had my digital recorder and earbud microphone.

It’s a shame to ruin your time off with work, isn’t it? Doesn’t that just defeat the whole principle of getting away and decompressing?

Meh, not really. There have been times where we’ve taken completely unplugged vacations; this time, it wasn’t really an option. My wife is finishing up her master’s degree and had assignments due. I had received a plum writing assignment two days before we left from one of my longest-term and most lucrative clients. (I didn’t even tell her I was going on vacation.) I’d need to do the interviews, though not the actual writing, from the road. At the risk of sounding like a professional athlete, “It is what it is.”

And at the risk of sounding like a politician, make no mistake: We didn’t work the whole time. Indeed, we compartmentalized our work bouts to as short time frames as possible — and were 100% in vacation mode every other waking minute. And that, right there, is the key.

Yes, it required a mind-shift and significant self-discipline to leave a hot craps table to interview a CPA about tedious multistate tax issues and the rapid increase in IRS audits. In an ideal world, I surely wouldn’t check emails from a secluded little harbor where we were the only ones anchored.

But at the risk of sounding like a goon in a mafia movie: It’s just business.

Jake Poinier is the owner of Boomvang Creative Group, a Phoenix-based editorial services firm, and writes an advice column for freelancers at DoctorFreelance.com.

Mid-July Bulletin: Summer is Passing You By!

Every writer needs rest. And sometimes, especially if your life is
particularly harried, you simply need to stop and "be" for a while.
Great writing doesn't flow from an exhausted, frustrated heart.

Source: Beth Erickson, filbertpublishing.com

Mid-July Bulletin:  Summer is passing you by!

We’re one month into the season and too many of us are tethered to a wi-fi signal instead of a beach ball.

Need some inspiration to help you make a few changes before we run out of summer?

  • Take a Friday off…  Get any deadlines finished early, and go outside Friday morning for some fun.
  • Swim… Get to the water, either a nearby pool, a lake, or a good walk along a calm river. Let your mind float.
  • Eat out… Work-at-home freelancers eat from hand to mouth – usually a sandwich or handful of snacks from the kitchen. Enjoy summer by eating at an outdoor cafe. Nothing formal, just a flatbread and a glass of wine, a good burger, or a great ice cream sundae. You deserve it.

Freelancers aren’t alone in our relentless workload. Corporate employees also fail to take enough time off.  A Harris Interactive study states nearly 57 percent of working Americans had unused vacation time at the end of 2011.

So shake off your Monday routine. Tonight, go out and watch the stars, and enjoy the richness of quiet relaxation.

Helen Gallagher it the author of Release Your Writing: Book Publishing Your Way. She shares her advice and ideas on small business and technology here at Freelance-Zone.com and through her books and blogs, accessible through www.releaseyourwriting.com. She is a member of ASJA, National Book Critics Circle, Small Publishers Artists & Writers Network, and several great Chicago-area writing groups.