Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Writing better and earning more

The purpose of this post is two-fold, although I'll keep it short and to the point. I want to answer two simple questions.
  • How can I earn more with my writing?
  • How can I get better at writing?
The answer to both questions is: write.

Whether you're trying to earn a full time wage, help stay ahead of the bills, or just earn a few extra bucks each week, writing should be viewed just like any other job. It may be a job you love, but it is a job nevertheless. That means you have to show up for work regularly and get the job done. I strongly advocate setting up specific work hours each day (or each week) and sticking to them religiously.

During these work hours, you should be wholly focused on writing. I understand that you may also be taking care of young children and there's no pause button that lets you take a break from that during the day, but other than that, when you're at work, consider yourself "at work." Sit down at your keyboard and write. Whatever you earn with your writing will go up in proportionally to the amount of hours you spend writing (although it may not be a linear relationship).

Like any job, showing up and doing the work isn't a question of whether you feel like it at any particular time, but whether the clock tells you it's time to go to work. If you feel particularly inspired and want o work some overtime, that's fine, but skipping out early should not be an option unless you've already doubled your monetary goal for the month, then and only then, have you earned a vacation day.

For the second question, your writing will improve with practice. The more you write on a regular basis, the better you'll get over time. That improvement will take several forms. First, setting regular hours habituates you to writing. For most writers I know, the hardest part of any composition is the first sentence, and often the very first word. Regular writing hours doesn't give you the option of being uninspired. It's time to write, so you write. You can write whatever you want, but there must be measurable and consistent output.

Separate other "work" activities from actual writing. Not all your work time is actual writing. There's research, promotion, opportunity-seeking, skill development and probably a couple of other things that may vary for each individual. However, all too often, those activities tend to consume far too much of our writng time. Set specific limits for these activities that leave the bulk of your work time for just writing.

Secondly, the quality of your work will improve as you continue to write and publish. Practice, all by itself will make yo better, as will reading and comparing your work to that of others. If you're writing news, read traditional news reports (Reuters, AP, AFP, CNN, and/or all the others), but also read the news articles that get featured by your publisher whether it is Yahoo!, Examiner, or any other outlet. Make mental notes of what you liked about each of those reports, and work on improving in areas where you think any of them were better than yours.

That's not to say copy someone else's style. Develop your own style from an amalgamation of what you consider the best aspects of everything you read.  If you like the straightforward, fact-based style of Reuters, but also enjoy the friendly flavor of Yahoo!'s Shine and the compelling first-person story-telling of Reader's Digest, combine the three styles and see what happens.

Feedback from editors, category managers, private clients, or whomever you write for makes you better. They don't all give feedback, but when they do, pay attention. Don't be afraid to ask for examples or clarification from time to time if you're not clear about the feedback they provide. Don't be a pest, but do make sure you understand the feedback you receive.

If you feel you have made a major improvement or change in your writing, or are unsure of the quality of something you published, ask others in your writing peer group for feedback. Most good writers are happy to help.

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