As a freelance writer, I spend a lot of time trying to improve my skills. This includes marketing, social media, client relations, as well as writing. Over the years, my basic writing skills, overall style, and understanding of how to communicate ideas effectively have evolved and improved significantly. With every article, I am always searching for the best way to say things and try to move forward by developing new skills. Now, don’t get me wrong, sometimes I’m phoning it in on articles that aren’t particularly inspiring, but I do try to get something out of every assignment. There are a variety of ways to improve your writing skills on a daily basis. Here are ten of the top ways that I try to incorporate new skills and learn new things while freelancing.
1. Be Inspired By Those You Long to Be Like
While imitation is the highest form of flattery, I am not suggesting that you copy someone else’s style. However, there is nothing wrong with finding inspiration from writers you hope to be like in the future. Of course, you need to find your own voice if you want to be successful, but reading good copy is one of the best ways to learn how to write good copy.
2. Like a Fine Wine, Editing Improves With Time
You should never edit or turn in a piece before it has had a few hours to percolate. Unless I have a tight deadline, I try to wait 24 hours before even attempting to edit an article. This is why I work on multiple projects at a time. I write one, move on to the next one, then go back to edit the first article the next day. This allows your writing brain time to detach itself from the article and lets the editing brain work more objectively.
3. Write Drunk, Edit Sober, and Don’t Use MS Word to Edit
If you are going to be a professional freelance writer, then you must invest in a good editing program, like Grammarly. If you want to be taken seriously, then you need to up your editing game beyond the comforts of Microsoft Word. You might even have clients who require it, so you may as well start now. These programs are not cheap, but they are well worth the money and will improve your writing skills immensely.
4. Write What You Don’t Know
You know what they always say…write what you know. Well, if I did that, then I wouldn’t have much of a freelance career! While you will likely focus on areas that interest you the most at first, I highly recommend writing on topics that you know little or nothing about. It is a great opportunity to learn new things, improve your research skills, and find topics that you enjoy writing about that you did not otherwise know.
5. Difficult Clients Make Great Teachers
Working for a wide variety of clients is the best way to improve your professional relationship skills. It also teaches you how to adapt your writing to people with different or sometimes unreasonable expectations. It is easy to get comfortable with happy, easy going clients, but you will likely learn more from the difficult ones. There is nothing like an unhappy client telling you how shitty your work is, only to blow their socks off with a fabulous second draft. Now, I’m not suggesting that your first draft should be total crap, only to wow them later, but rejection can be a powerful motivator to push your writing skills to the next level.
6. You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know
I look words up in the dictionary constantly throughout the day, and the thesaurus probably twice as much. I don’t just look up words I am unfamiliar with, but most often I find myself learning more about words that I think I know. I’m not the kind of writer who uses big words to appear more knowledgeable, but instead, I try to use common words in more creative or purposeful ways. No two words in the English language mean exactly the same thing, so it is fascinating to understand their differences to communicate more effectively.
7. Teaching Is Learning
One of the best ways to learn something is to teach it. I taught ESL for ten years, and it was one of the most valuable ways to learn basic grammar rules because I had to explain it to others. While I am not suggesting you start a teaching career, you can volunteer at a local school or sign up as a tutor to converse with English students online. Working with ESL students is fun, incredibly rewarding, and an excellent way to really think about what language is all about and why we use it the way we do.
8. Chicago Manual of Style is My Spirit Animal
If you don’t like the idea of teaching, then grab your favorite grammar guide and get cozy with it on the regular. Chicago Manual of Style is my preferred guide, but you might also want to dust off your old APA or MLA style guides, just for shits and giggles. Understanding the tools of the writing trade will expand your writing mind and give you more confidence when speaking with clients, editors, or employers.
9. Be a Lifelong Learner
I take a lot of online writing classes, seminars, and other training courses to stay on top of the industry and to connect with other like-minded people. While I already hold a Master’s Degree in Professional Writing, I still take online classes to improve my skills. Whether you take a 6-week certificate course in business writing, watch an online blogging seminar, or attend a writing conference, they will all help you to improve and evolve as a professional writer.
10. Look Back to Move Forward
It can be painful, but you should annually review articles you wrote the year before. While you will find spelling errors, grammar mistakes, and tired cliches that you can’t believe were not edited out, you will also find that your writing has changed. Look at your old writing objectively and give yourself credit for knowing that your style has evolved. You might also want to rewrite an old article on a good topic with a fresh perspective and sell it to a new client.