Monday, September 28, 2009

The Down and Dirty Truth about Freelance Writing

If you are looking for the down and dirty truth about writing for a living, you have landed in the right place. What you are about to learn may discourage you. On the other hand, it may give you just the push you need to finally, seriously pursue an online writing career.

While there are numerous and varied writing opportunities on the Web, it is important to realize that not all of them are worth very much of your time. Most likely you have already done some research into writing online and have probably even joined a few writing sites, submitted a few articles. Now, you are waiting for that lucrative, freelance income to start flowing your way. If you haven’t figured it out yet, writing isn’t going to make you rich over night. Yes, you can earn a respectable income from writing. No, it is not going to happen tomorrow. In fact, it is going to take a concerted effort just to get started. But, there is little more satisfying than those first few dollars you make from selling your work.

If your writing skills are a little rough around the edges, it would be wise to brush up on the basics. Spelling, grammar and punctuation do matter. To be taken seriously as a writer, you need to take your craft seriously and treat it with the respect it deserves. Even a semi-educated audience will be turned off by poorly written, misspelled content passed off as expert advice. If you plan to sell your words, learn how to use them.

As a writer, there is no excuse for shoddy work. Nothing is better than Strunk and White’s Elements of Style for brushing up on the basics of grammar and punctuation, or for use as a quick reference guide. It has been a standard among writers for years, considered the writer’s bible, recommended by Stephen King and worth every cent of the few dollars it will cost you. If you are serious about writing, get the book.

Other tools you should have on hand are a dictionary and a thesaurus. Please, don’t embarrass yourself by misusing a word. If you are not sure of the definition, look it up. Using a thesaurus will help you avoid redundancy in your writing.

Proofread your work. Any professional writer will tell you that you cannot rely on the little, squiggly lines in Word to find every error. Spell checker will not catch improperly used words. Reading what you think you wrote is a common trap that many writers fall into. One way to avoid that is to read everything you write out loud.

Learn how to write web content. While writing is writing, and certain rules must be followed, web content is its own animal. You will need to become familiar with search engine optimization. Learning a little bit of HTML code wouldn't hurt either, just enough so you can insert bold and italic text, and hyperlinks.

Understand your audience. The typical surfer is looking for valuable information in short, easy to understand language. They are not interested in lengthy volumes or lofty verbiage. Typical web content ranges from short blog posts of about 200 words to articles with no more than 1,000 – 1,200 words. The average word count is generally between 400 – 600 words.

Don’t get discouraged. Any business takes time to build, and the writing biz is no different. If you haven’t written for a while, you may want to get your feet wet on a revenue sharing writing site such as eHow or HubPages. You will not make large amounts of money with articles on these sites, but they are valuable for a number of reasons, some of which will be addressed in another post. Once you have honed your writing skills and built up some confidence with a few articles, you will be ready to enter the freelance market, where the real money is. But, don’t get too excited, at least not at first. Freelance writing is highly competitive, and you will compete for almost every job you get.

Coming up: Marketing and Selling Your Content