Back to Basics: 5 Things Editors Expect You to Fix BEFORE You Submit

You might not even realize you’re making these mistakes.

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Writing on your own, it’s easy — and acceptable — to leave small errors and ‘iffy’ sentences alone until you decide to edit later (if you ever get that far — let’s be honest). This doesn’t fly when you’re submitting your work to an editor, though. There’s a certain level of “polished” editors expect from anything they consider for publishing, and if you’re not willing, or don’t know how, to get to that stage, you’re going to have a hard time getting published.

This goes far beyond basic spelling and grammar. (If you can’t fix these obvious errors on your own, you’re probably not quite ready to submit to editors — and that’s OK.) Here’s what to make sure you’ve revised/rewritten before you send off that piece of writing.

1. Unnecessary words

Fluff is not at all an impressive thing. For many people, it’s a leftover bad habit from meeting word count or page requirements in high school English class. Even if it’s something you still do automatically, practice correcting your temptation to add extra words to every sentence. An editor would much rather read 300 words of quality, easy-to-read content than 600 words of fluff. While it’s better to write too much at first and cut it down later, if you can’t fill a word count requirement with good information, maybe don’t submit that piece of writing just yet. Or at all.

2. Hard-to-spot errors

SpellCheck doesn’t pick up everything, but 99 percent of editors do. Unfortunately, even an innocent typo can make you look careless and unprofessional, even if your writing is phenomenal. Sometimes you just don’t catch things. But the chances of this happening decrease significantly when you take the time to read and reread your content before you submit it. It is not appropriate to submit a first draft. The most common yet surprisingly helpful editing tip you’ll hear is to read your work backwards, sentence by sentence. Read it out loud, too, if you can; this also forces you to pay more attention to what the words on that page actually mean.

3. Passive voice

Editors are thrown off by excessive usage of passive voice. See what I did there? That is a horrible sentence. How many times did you have to read it before you understood what it meant? Passive voice is another one of those hard-to-kick writing habits, but it’s one you need to teach yourself to break. Always keep your writing active. Active voice impresses editors. They aren’t impressed by it. Words like “by,” “of,” and “from” are common warning sings that your sentence needs a quick makeover.

4. Complex language

Big words don’t make you sound smarter. Sometimes transitioning switching from academic formal to more familiar informal writing is challenging. But in general, you shouldn’t use words more than three syllables long if you don’t have to. Those of you whose first language isn’t English actually have a small advantage over the rest of us! You’re less “tempted” to use overcomplicated complex words because your brain is wired to use the simplest English term you know. (I wish I had that magical ability had a brain like that some days …)

5. Formatting and style

Each publication generally has their own style guide — usually a hybrid of AP Style and their own brand/company specifications. Not all editors expect you to have these rules mastered with your first submission, but it’s definitely an effective strategy for making a good first impression. Do pay attention to submission guidelines, though — if they give you a link to their style guide, or specify exactly how they want something formatted, follow their directions. I used to review applications for an online writing internship. After awhile, I started throwing out sample pieces that didn’t follow our style guide. Even if you don’t have their guide in front of you, at least follow the format of the content they’ve already published.

Good writing isn’t good enough if you continue making careless mistakes (whether you know you’re doing it or not). Impress your editors. Don’t give them any reason to doubt your skill. It’s not an editor’s job to “fix it for you later.” Never assume you have that kind of safety net. Ever.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Where to Find Writing Exposure Opportunities

There are plenty of opportunities out there – but where are they hiding?

No one particularly likes writing for exposure. But when you’re trying to break into a niche, build your portfolio, establish an online presence and get the kind of experience you need to earn paid writing jobs, it’s necessary. It doesn’t have to last forever – and really, in the beginning, it’s not so bad.

As you probably already know, there are a lot of people out there who will have no problem letting you write for them for free. Here are a few places online where you can find free writing opportunities to help get your writing career, slowly, off the ground.


Ed2010

Ed2010 is a networking and mentoring network built for aspiring writers and editors. Its job listings include everything from full-time writing and editing positions to freelance work to, yes, unpaid writing and editing internships. Jobs are either on location or remote, so if you can’t pack up and relocate, there still could be something there for you.

I found one of my long-term clients through Ed – I’d recommend it to anyone having trouble finding opportunities to write stuff online. It’s a great place to find niche opportunities, e.g., if you want to write about fashion, parenting, health, etc.

Blogs in your niche

Many blogs either offer or are primarily supported by guest posts – posts from random writers who want to add their voice to a particular blog they like and/or resonate with. Having a blog of your own first does help give you some leverage here – more than one person has approached me through Novelty to guest post for them.

You can’t always depend on other people to seek you out, especially if you’re still working on growing your presence. Bloggers are used to being bothered about guest posting – it comes with the territory. Just go for it – you never know what could happen. I get message requests on LinkedIn all the time asking me if we guest post here (we don’t). Speaking of which …

LinkedIn

I’m not a LinkedIn expert by any means, but the day I changed my featured headline to Freelance Writer/Editor, I started getting message and connection requests from people in the appropriate field. Including several “recruiters” working in PR whose job it is to literally link you to writing opportunities – most of them “for exposure,” but if this is what you need, it’s a pretty sweet start.

I haven’t found much success with finding more creative jobs on LinkedIn, but in terms of networking, it’s definitely the place to be. I can’t speak to finding paid freelance work through here, because I’ve honestly never looked, but I’ve heard it’s pretty rotten. It doesn’t hurt to connect with people, join groups, do some professional publishing and see where it takes you.

Online magazines

I launched my professional writing career at the age of 20, when I started an unpaid internship hosted by an online magazine. Many online magazines that also offer writing internships are designed for students – because, believe it or not, some people do understand that no one should ever work as an unpaid intern once they graduate from college. It’s a great way to get your name out there, get experience working with editors and practicing how never to miss a deadline.

Even if you’re not a student, though, many web-based magazines don’t pay their freelancers but still welcome wannabe writers – so go ahead; pitch some stories. Even smaller publications can help you give some much-needed sustenance to your writing portfolio. It’s better to have published articles in a variety of places – it makes your experience more diverse, and shows that you’re good at reaching out to people who don’t know you exist.


When you’re looking for exposure opportunities, my best advice is to pick blogs, websites and publications that you’re actually interested in working with. Don’t just grab at anything that comes your way – I’ve ended up writing a lot of generic productivity articles that way, all for free. Your niche is your center. It often helps to show that you’re focused in your writing – a little variety is okay, but it starts to make you look a little desperate if you’ll write about anything just to have your name on it.

Where is the best place you’ve found opportunities to write for exposure? Did these opportunities help you get any paid experience later on?


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

How to Find New Writing Opportunities | LET’S GET PUBLISHED

There are apparently hundreds of opportunities – but where are they hiding?

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Looking for new writing opportunities to boost your income, exposure and/or establish relationships with organizations you want to support? Here are some tips for finding and taking advantage of writing opportunities online – both volunteer and paid partnerships.

I’ve only been freelancing since January, but I started my writing career five years ago interning for an online magazine. I hope my tips and experience can help you advance your career and expand your online exposure.


First establish your goal – what do you want to get out of this?

With each writing opportunity you seek out, there should always be a “why.” When I decide I want to submit a proposal to a new potential client, there are two things I consider: having my name on more articles – for portfolio purposes, not because I like having my name everywhere – and being able to feed my caffeine addiction. I do this for a living, so money matters – I’m in debt and I’m trying to move out of my parents’ house. If someone approaches me about writing for free, if I have time, I’ll do it if I want to establish a relationship with that person or brand, or it’s a site or organization, niche-wise, that I want to be affiliated with for branding purposes. I don’t agree to anything that doesn’t align with my professional mission statement (because I’m a supernerd and proud of it).

Are you someone who already has a job, but wants to expand your online presence? You’re probably looking for a few free opportunities. These are easier to find – not always as easy to grab, but they’re everywhere. No one wants to pay anyone to write on the internet. Free content is a huge win for publishers and good for you, too, as long as you get a byline. If money is your main driving force – first of all, best of luck. It’s possible – but it’s hard. You can do it. It’s just going to be a rough start. We all go through it. If you have the skills and expertise and you know the proper rates to establish, you’ll be fine.


Find paid opportunities on sites like Upwork

I’ve found that many people stay away from freelancing sites because the kind of work they’re looking for isn’t offered, they’re nervous about payment and/or they aren’t sure if they can trust the clients they find there. From my experience, there’s a mix of good and bad jobs and people asking to have work done for them. Most if not all of these sites have security measures in place so that a client must pay you if you do work for them. I know Upwork best, and in its case, a client pays the funds before you even complete the work. Only when they approve it do the funds get transferred to your account.

As far as trusting clients – well, you’re doing work for people you don’t know. There’s going to be some risk. You learn to skip over sketchy postings and offers. You have to go in knowing what you are worth financially – I’ve had people ask me to do work for a penny per word. Unacceptable, for my niche and level of expertise (it sounds snotty, but it’s not – it’s business). I just don’t accept offers from clients who aren’t willing to pay. And I always ask too many questions – it’s better to know exactly what is expected of you before you say yes. That’s how I’ve found success there, anyway. Someone else may have a different opinion. I only work with two clients who ask for invoices externally. It’s not my favorite thing to do, but I trust them – there’s always a contract. That’s what legally binds them to paying you, always.


Reach out to people you’ve worked with before

And that’s professionals – probably not family and friends, who won’t always understand how this whole writing thing works. I’ve made the mistake of reaching out to friends and family, and they’ve flooded me with all kinds of opportunities I don’t actually want – especially free ones. A professional, such as a former boss, is much more likely to understand you might actually want to get paid for doing work you are qualified to do.

There’s nothing wrong with saying, “Hey, I just wanted to reach out and ask if you knew of any opportunities in which I might be able to contribute my writing skills in such and such way.” I’ve only done this once, but that person’s organization was just about to relaunch an updated version of its website. They were happy to add another volunteer writer to their circle. I had an “I’m in grad school and might want to work in this field” angle to work with, but you might be able to find your own spin.


Search online

Does this one seem too obvious? You’d be surprised how many people don’t know this is a thing you can do … or they’re too lazy to do it themselves, I’m not really sure. This requires a lot of digging and figuring out which potential opportunities align with your goals and preferred niche, but do you want to get published or not? You have to put in the effort if you want results. I’ve had hours’ worth of searching produce nothing of value, and in the same amount of time I’ve also applied for several different jobs all in a row. It’s time-consuming. Welcome to writing on the internet. :)

Which publications do you read regularly? Go to their websites and look at careers/other writing opportunities usually listed somewhere there. I’m always checking the “contact” and “write for us” pages just to see what’s available, even if I’m not currently looking for more work. You never know what could come of trying. You may never hear back from them – but you also might. What do you have to lose?


Don’t expect everything to work out the way you want

I’ve encountered many situations in which I attempted to establish relationships with potential clients and partners and things didn’t work out. I’ve gotten as far as submitting a final draft of a piece with no response or notice of publication after the fact (this was a free opportunity – if someone owes you money, you would obviously pursue them until they paid you). I’ve also been hesitant in starting with a new client and it has turned into an excellent partnership. You never know until you try – but you can’t expect everything to always work out the way you planned.

If we’re talking free opportunities, just because someone says they will accept a submission from you does not mean they are agreeing to publish it – unless they clearly say so. Don’t be afraid to follow up with people – especially if there’s a payment issue (which isn’t really an issue, as long as you sign a contract if you aren’t using a protected service like Upwork – never agree to do work unless payment is promised in some kind of contract). Always ask more questions than you think you need to before you agree to anything. And know that sometimes people do change their minds. You let it go and move on to the next opportunity.


Got any questions for me? I’m happy to answer them down in the comments. It’s impossible to cover everything in just one blog post. Apologies for the length!


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Editor’s Perspective: This is Why You Were Rejected

This is why you were rejected. It’s nothing personal.

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Rejection hurts, and every writer has a different reaction to it. You might feel angry. You might take it personally – I’ve been there; I don’t blame you. After the initial shock wears off, my hope is that you’ll first wonder what went wrong.

If an editor or publisher doesn’t “ghost” you, they’re most likely not going to be very specific about why they can’t accept your article or pitch. Likely, you’ll get something generic, like, “We’re unable to publish your work at this time.” That doesn’t seem very helpful … because it isn’t. So how are you supposed to know what to do differently next time?

I’ve edited and written for a few sites and publications since my first stint as a magazine editor, but I got my real start as the coordinator of correspondent submissions for an online publication – meaning people would (sometimes) read our submission guidelines and send their pitch emails to a given email address, which I was assigned to check and manage daily.

I’ve both accepted and rejected plenty of article submissions at various stages of the publishing process. I have a sort of inside look at rejection in online publishing, and why, sometimes, it feels like you just can’t do enough to get published. It’s not easy. But it becomes less complicated once you see things from an editor’s point of view.

Assuming that you already know to read and follow submission guidelines (do that, please), here are some of the most common reasons I’ve rejected pitches in the past, and what you can do to avoid these mistakes when pitching to online publications. Trust me, it’s nothing personal. We want you to be successful. But you have to meet us halfway.


You made your pitch all about you

“Me first” pitching does not work. It is an immediate turnoff for me, and I’m sure many other editors out there (give a shoutout in the comments if you feel my pain). Let me be honest, for a second, and explain why that is. Editors often have inboxes filled with pitch submissions. Everyone wants their article published for x reason. Editors (“content managers”) have to sort through all of them and pick the best ones to accept. Time is everything. And if you can’t convince me, in the body of your email, to download and read your article, chances are, I never will.

I would love to hear all about the long road you took to come to the decision to write the article. I would love to know how long you’ve been writing, how passionate you are about it, how you can’t wait to share your ideas with the world. But that’s not what I need you to tell me in a pitch email. A few sentences of introduction will do – My name is Meg, I am an expert nutrition and fitness writer, I’ve published in these places and served as an editor for this thing – focusing on level of expertise and writing experience/educational background if necessary, and that’s it. Why are you credible? If you’re submitting an essay, summarize, in a sentence or two, what about your experience qualifies you to serve as a messenger for the things you wrote about in your essay.

Then you move on to your article, the publication you’re submitting to and why it’s important for the audience to read. If the publication chooses to accept your pitch, or even within the article itself depending on submission guidelines, you might get to write a bio of a few sentences. Talk about yourself there. Everything you say about you in your pitch should connect to the publication and purpose. No fluff. Your life story is important, just not in this context.

For more on pitching, read my rant about bad emails.


Your article didn’t belong in the publication you pitched to

I’ve written about this before in my LET’S GET PUBLISHED series, but don’t ever shop the same piece around until it finds a home – unless you’ve rewritten it to cater to a different audience each time. You can write an article first, if you want to, you can allow yourself the “freedom” to say whatever you want, but before you pitch to a certain place, you have to make sure it fits. You wouldn’t want to write an article speaking to 18 to 24-year-old college students specifically and then pitch it to a magazine for middle-aged moms.

You’re actually much better off choosing a publication you want to submit to and then crafting it based on specific guidelines, audience and voice. You might remember that I gave the opposite advice in a post I published over a year ago. The same way I hope you’re growing as writers, I am, too. While it doesn’t necessarily matter whether you write first, search second, or vise versa, you need to make sure the editor can tell you’ve researched their publication thoroughly enough that you understand exactly what they are looking for, down to message, word choice and style.

Yes, even those small things can make a difference. I am an editor for a blog about mental health. We do not use the phrase “mental illness.” If you read through past articles, you’ll notice we use less harsh phrasing. If you were to submit an article that used the phrase “mental illness,” I’m much less likely to accept it, because your attention to detail matters to me and to the publication. Just an example.


You didn’t show your understanding of the publication

Audience, purpose, what kinds of content they publish, what they stand for … everything. I ignored every single email I ever got that started with “I stumbled upon your blog and want to pitch a guest post.” It’s one thing if you’re pitching to a blogger, I suppose (though still too generic, IMO), but this email was going to the managing editor of a magazine. The senders of those emails clearly did not look into what the publication even was – a magazine, not a blog. That tells me they did zero research and weren’t interested in writing for my magazine, for my audience. They were interested in reaching out to anyone who might consider publishing their work. Please don’t do that. Research. Research. RESEARCH.

I would suggest, before you pitch to a publication, reading as much recent material from that publication as you can, not just the about page. Most likely, the pieces that have been published have been written and edited to match exactly what an editor wants to see. If you can present a pitch and/or article that shows you’ve done this, an editor is much more likely to give you a chance.

The most important thing to know about writing for publications is that it’s about the publication and the audience who reads it. You’re not as free to write about whatever you want, however you want, as you might be when publishing on your own blog. That’s a sacrifice you have to be willing to make if you’re trying to get published to “get your name out there.” You’re writing for someone else. The more you can prove you’re capable of conforming to different standards, the more success you are likely to have.


Editors are very busy people, and they don’t get a lot of credit, if any, for the work they do. Be courteous, but also, don’t waste their time. If an editor could publish every single piece of content they received, they would. More articles often mean more ads and more money for the publication’s owner and/or company. But there are standards beyond the submission guidelines you skim before sending an email. Every pitch is about the content, the publication and who would read it if it gets published. Focus on those things when pitching, and you’ll likely have much more luck in the future.

I do not like talking about myself. That one or two sentences at the beginning of every pitch or proposal I send, where I have to tell people who I am and what I’m good at, is the hardest part for me. It makes me cringe. Get to a point where you’re more excited to talk about how your article can help other people than you are about what it’s going to do for you. Trust me, it’s worth it.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

The One Critical Thing Your Pitch Email is Missing

For anyone pitching an editor, agent or potential client.

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When I was the managing editor and writing correspondent coordinator for an online magazine, I received emails similar to this one at least a dozen times. (I am strictly paraphrasing – this is not an actual copy of an email from a real person.)

Hello editor,

My name is W. I am a student at Totally Awesome College studying A Subject. I stumbled across your blog the other day and was wondering if you would be interested in publishing some of my work as a guest post on your site. I am hoping to get my name out there and thought your web site would be the perfect place to start. Here is a link to my blog so you can take a look at my writing. I have also written an article that I think would be perfect for you to publish, so please let me know if you would like to review it.

W

Student at Totally Awesome College

I may be exaggerating just a little bit, but not my much.

This was a very small magazine, so I imagine editors from larger publications get dozens, if not hundreds of emails like this daily. Pray for them. They need it.

There are so many red flags in this short but disastrous email that I don’t know where to start. But other than the exhausting number of “I” statements and not making it very easy for the email recipient to actually find relevant writing samples (even if the email itself didn’t turn them off), there’s a huge piece missing.

W didn’t even tell the editor why they’re interested in writing articles for that publication. There was no purpose statement. There was no “why” other than the one “why” editors really don’t care about.

Publish my work. Publish my name. Look at my blog. It’s a wasted effort.

Eventually I came up with a few different formula responses for these types of emails. It always started off by pointing out that I was the editor of a magazine, not a blog, but that’s beside the point. Usually, these email correspondences never went anywhere, because these writers weren’t really interested in writing for my magazine. They didn’t know why they were pitching to me. And that pretty much ruined their chances of ever getting their work published in my magazine.

Why am I telling you all this? Because you’re going to be pitching to editors.

And if not editors, then agents, or publishers, or potential clients. It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing fiction or self-help articles or you just like posting stuff on the internet for fun. There’s a very important element to any form of pitch email that far too many people miss, and no one ever tells them about it.

What is it? Your purpose.

Not your life’s purpose, not your purpose for being a writer in general – that’s important, but not necessarily in a short pitch email. Query letters may be a little different, but full disclosure, I’ve never written one, so I’m not an expert in that particular line of communication (yet). I’m mostly talking about pitching shorter works of writing or writing services, but fiction writers can benefit from the general advice as well.

Your “why” is your ticket to ride.

It’s not about you. It’s not about what you want out of the deal. It’s about what you can – and intend – to do for someone else. The email above misses the mark because it doesn’t tell me why I should want to work with W. If all W wants is to get their name out there and doesn’t care where, that doesn’t make me want to say, “Yes! Write for me!”

Why are you interested in writing for This Great Magazine? That’s what I want to know. Why should I pick you, over the dozens of other people who have asked the same question? What can you contribute to my editorial flow? What do you have to add to the conversation? What makes you unique?

It’s not what you’ve studied in school, though for things like health, that actually does help (science needs more credibility, that’s just the way it is). It’s not even really about what you’ve done in the past. It’s what you’re going to do, in the future, to make this publication a little bit better.

Why do you want to write for me? Because you are interested in the subject, it is somehow relevant to you, and you have something of value to give to my readers.

Here’s how the email should have read.

Hello Ms. Dowell,

My name is W. After reviewing the content of This Great Magazine, I am writing to ask if you are taking any article submissions at this time. If so, I would be interested in contributing to your Student Life section.

I am currently a student at Totally Awesome College. As a new reader of This Great Magazine, I would love to be able to contribute my skills and experience as a writer and undergraduate student to a publication dedicated to helping students succeed, grow and thrive.

If you are interested in reviewing my writing samples, to better evaluate whether or not I might be a good fit for your publication, you are welcome to review my online writing portfolio here [link].

Thank you for your time. I look forward to working with you in the future.

Best regards,

W

It’s not perfect. But it’s an improvement.

Tell an editor why they should care, and they’re much more likely to care. Start with what you want. Then go into more detail about why you want it. Then, for the love of God, give them a place to look at writing samples. Don’t expect them to go digging, because they won’t. They don’t have time. They’re too busy sending off formula responses to people who never learned how to pitch to an editor.

Ask yourself that one question before you pitch. Why? If you can come up with a publication-focused answer, then you’re already halfway there. Editors will love you. Trust me.

As you can tell, I enjoy writing on this topic a little bit too much. So if you want more, leave a comment down below letting me know. I could write a whole book about this. Hmmm….

Also, if this helped you, or you have a different method that works better for you – let me know that, too! I’m only one person with one perspective on the issue. I’d love to hear what you think as well.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

How to Write Well, Fast: Fiction | LET’S GET PUBLISHED

The point is to force yourself to write regularly, as much as possible, without putting in too much or too little time on just one project.

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Writing fiction is hard. Doing it well, and doing it as quickly as possible, is even more of a challenge. You can do it. Just keep the following things in mind as you write.

Give yourself a daily word count

Not a minimum or a limit: a word count. Something you will be able to look at once and stick with for the remainder of your project. This might mean you allow yourself 1,500 words five days a week, Monday through Friday. It might mean 2,000 words seven days a week. You could potentially even set a goal to write 10,000 words daily (possible, but honestly, probably not recommended).

The point is to force yourself to write regularly, as much as possible, without putting in too much or too little time on just one project. If you write too much, chances are the quality of your work is going to start decreasing. If you write too little, you’re not technically writing all that quickly, are you?

Save research for later

Research is important even when we’re writing fiction, but you don’t have to be an expert to write about whatever you want. Eventually, you’ll have to get your facts straight (please do). But remember that no first draft is perfect, and if you spend all your time researching and none of it actually writing, you’ll never have a finished first draft to perfect.

This does NOT mean that you can or should publish something inaccurate. It means that, for now, you’re going to focus on the story and moving the plot forward, and worry about perfecting the details later. For example, if you were writing about a police officer and knew nothing about what a police officer does on a daily basis, it’s going to save you a lot of time now if you do your best with what you think you know, focus on the story itself and return to getting it all right at a later time when the story is mostly written.

Know what’s coming next

As we mentioned last week, a primary reason why we often stop writing in the middle of a good workflow is not being sure where we’re going to go next with a story. This is a lot easier to avoid than you might think: just plan it out, in however much or however little detail you want.

You might have to do some quick outlining, meaning you might spend five or 10 minutes prior to the start of your designated writing time planning out what you’re going to write that day. You don’t necessarily have to get into specifics, but in general you’ll probably have an idea in your head of what’s going to happen next in your story. Jot down some bullet points, so you don’t have too many of those “whiteout” moments (when you stop writing, intending to think through your next move, but instead just end up completely spacing out).

Check out more of our LET’S GET PUBLISHED series and feel free to leave a comment down below with any questions you have related to writing, publishing, experience, etc.

Image courtesy of edx.org.

How to Write Well, Fast: Articles and Freelancing | LET’S GET PUBLISHED

Why do people read articles (rather, why do they scan subheadings)? Because, in general, they have a problem.

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What is good writing? It’s writing that effectively and clearly communicates a specific message. The best writers out there have mastered how to say something important and say it in a way that makes people not only listen, but understand.

As a freelancer, you want to write well, but you also have A LOT of work to do. You’re likely getting paid by the word, not the hour (not always the case, but it’s a common scenario). So naturally, you want to be able to write a lot, and make it good, in as little time as possible.

It takes practice, but it can be done. Here’s how to write well … fast.

Do your research first

When writing articles, it isn’t always the writing itself that takes the longest. A lot of the time it’s the research you have to do as you’re writing the article. That’s the big difference between random blogs and legitimate content sites: research. If you make a point, you always need to back it up. Credibility is everything when you’re freelancing.

Once you know what you’re writing about, start with your research. Look into what information is already out there and think about how you can expand upon it and use it as good support. Good writing involves a lot of support, so you don’t want to skip this step. When you put it first, and have all the links you need, you can actually focus on what you sat down to do: write a high-quality article as quickly as possible.

Outline your main points (seriously)

Often what keeps us from getting more good writing done in a short amount of time is allowing ourselves to “break the flow” of writing. You might write a few really great paragraphs about one subtopic, only to have to stop and think about which subtopic you want to cover next. It’s much more effective to outline – yes, outline – your main points before you actually start writing.

Many of you do not like outlining when you’re writing, and considering the way they force teach you to do it in school makes this a completely valid stance. We’re not talking about that kind of outline, though. Once you do your research, simply list out your subheadings, otherwise known as the most important points you are going to cover in your article. This keeps you focused and makes it so you don’t have to break your flow once you actually start writing.

Follow a problem, solution, challenge format

Why do people read articles (rather, why do they scan subheadings)? Because, in general, they have a problem. They want to know if there is a solution, and how they can make that solution work for them personally. Following this article structure is not only effective in terms of readership; it also makes the writing process itself go a whole lot quicker.

Start each section by introducing the problem. Then give any credible backup info that explains the validity of that problem, its affects, etcetera. Then go into specific actions the reader can take in order to solve their problem, and/or challenge them to take action. You can pretty much never fail with this method. It’s fast and it actually works.

Next Thursday we’ll cover how to write well, fast, when writing fiction. Until then, check out other articles in this series and subscribe to our weekly enewsletter for more writing inspiration and resources.

Image courtesy of zahrauae.com.

When Is It OK to Write for Free? | LET’S GET PUBLISHED

Writing for free gets a bad rap. But when is it totally OK?

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Writing for free. The idea makes us all cringe, but the reality is, we’ve all probably done it at least a dozen times before. It’s just … what you do. At first. You still do it occasionally even after you start getting paid to write (or you should). Here’s when it’s OK to write for free, and why we really shouldn’t give it such a bad rap.

When you have little to no writing experience

For some reason, it’s hard for people to accept that when you are first starting out, regardless of how you want to make your living as a writer, you are going to have to write for free. The reason behind this is not complicated: you do not have enough experience. You have not written for enough websites or magazines or organizations. You don’t have polished writing samples to prove you are an asset. You’re not a ‘bad’ writer. You just haven’t actually written enough yet.

Things that don’t really count as the kind of writing experience clients and employers are looking for: blogging (sorry), writing for your school newspaper (depending), being a writing tutor, creative writing. Things that do count as adequate unpaid experience: internships, magazines, credible websites that are not stand-alone blogs, feel free to add if we’re missing any.

You need to write for free for awhile. That’s just how this game works. (Yes, college students, this means you too. Once you graduate, you can complain about not making money all you want. Tough love.)

I wrote for a magazine for almost three years, hundreds of articles without earning a cent for them. That time extended into my post-grad life. It was worth it. I never expected to be paid for it because the experience was much more valuable at that time in my life. No regrets.

When you’re balancing ‘writing for pay’ with ‘writing for exposure’

There isn’t anything wrong with writing for a few different websites, for free, to start to build your portfolio and start getting your name out there. That’s all you’re really going to get out of work like this: website owners need writers, a lot of them, and you need things to write. It’s like a partnership. They get what they don’t pay for, and you earn a nice article to share with your followers.

Writing for exposure is the whole point of writing for free, but there does come a point where you need to try and find paid work. That doesn’t mean you have to, or should, abandon all of your free gigs. Keep a few of them. Never forget that you’re writing because you like it (hopefully …), and if you’re writing just to get a lot of Twitter followers or have a popular blog, you really need to rethink your priorities.

I contribute to sites like Lifehack and Elite Daily, which understandably do not pay their contributors for their work, because I enjoy writing, and getting your name out there is really important when you’re first establishing your brand. It’s much easier to do now that I’m freelancing because I can focus on my reasons for writing it as my motivation instead of a deposit in my PayPal account.

When you’re truly passionate about a cause or organization

Even when you have a full- or part-time job, and/or you’re making money writing somehow, it’s worth your time to still look for a side gig that helps you refine your skills, build relationships and support a cause or movement. Sometimes, making a difference comes with a cost: it requires your time and effort, but you won’t get monetary compensation for it.

There is value in giving some of your time and skills to a cause or organization you really care about. I recently returned to NoStigmas as a volunteer contributor on their research team. I write about every two weeks or so and don’t get paid for it, nor did I expect to when I inquired about the opportunity. You never know where these kinds of things will lead, and spending a few hours every few weeks writing something you’re truly passionate about is not a minute wasted.

You can check out more of our Let’s Get Published series for more tips on building your writing career from the ground up. You can do it.

Do you write for free? Are you OK with that? What advice do you have for new writers looking for more opportunities to accumulate more writing samples?

Image courtesy of driftingthrough.com.

Why Won’t Anyone Pay You to Write? | LET’S GET PUBLISHED

You can’t expect to get a paid writing job while you’re still in college or when you’re a recent graduate. You don’t have the experience you need.

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Writing as an adult is rough. Finding a way to write and make a living, preferably at the same time, is not an easy thing to do.

You might be wondering why no one will pay you for your services already. You’re a great writer! You have an English degree! YOU HAVE A LOT TO OFFER!

Of course you do. But there are a few things you might be missing.

You’re still in college or recently graduated

It amazes me how many college students and recent graduates believe they are entitled to paid internships and freelance work. When I send out PR materials about our internship application process, some professors even refuse to pass along the information to their students because our opportunities are unpaid.

When you are still in college or have yet to work in any part of the publishing or media industry, you do not have the experience to get paid to write. It’s nothing personal. But you don’t. It took me a year out of college before I was offered a paid writing job (technically a year and a half after I got my BA in English). You need more experience.

You’re not ready to start freelance writing

Every freelance writing position will ask you for writing samples. Your resume doesn’t matter; if you don’t have writing samples, you are not ready to start freelancing. You need to bulk up your portfolio before you start actively looking for paid work.

To do this, you’re going to have to write for free. A lot. It’s a rite of passage, in a way. You need to have a lot of writing samples and a variety of writing samples. Until I started writing articles that didn’t focus just on health or writing, no one really cared about all the work I’d done. You need to be able to show you can be a versatile writer.

Here are some tips on getting free writing gigs.

You’re expecting too much

Even if you’ve been out of school for awhile and feel like you have a lot of writing experience and writing samples to show off, there’s still another way you can completely crush your chances of getting paid for your work.

If you’re asking for too much money, you won’t get any.

Beginning writers should never ask for more than $0.02 or $0.03 per word. Literally the day after I lowered my starting rate on Upwork, I started getting invitations to interview for work. Multiple. People are not going to want to pay you very much at first. Honestly … deal with it! It’s better than nothing. You will work your way up to better pay with more experience.

You already know being a writer isn’t going to make you rich or famous. And it definitely never will if you don’t take a few minutes to be honest with yourself.

These things take time. Be patient, write a lot, drink a lot of coffee and hang in there.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.