A novice freelancer recently posted a question on a writing and editing message board that I frequent. He asked other writers to share their special secrets for better writing. His question elicited all kinds of answers, which you can see here. It also got me thinking about what I’ve learned in the course of 20-plus years spent writing for newspapers, magazines, wire services and Websites.
So after some thought, here are my own 25 tips for better freelance writing:
1. Never go into an interview cold. Do your homework.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask dumb questions. If you don’t understand something, your readers won’t either.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask hard questions.
4. When you’ve done so much reporting the story’s practically oozing out of your pores, it’s time to write.
5. Use action verbs.
6. Show don’t tell.
7. Choose words carefully and don’t repeat them unnecessarily.
8. Always include a nut graph, or paragraph explaining why readers should care.
9. The shorter the better.
10. Use active voice.
11. Write and then rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.
12. Use a spell checker.
13. Just because it’s serious doesn’t mean it has to be boring.
14. Always, always make sure you spell people’s names right.
15. Tell both sides of the story.
16. Write a story like you’re telling it to a friend.
17. Write like you talk.
18. To see how conversational a story is, read it out loud.
19. Write to your audience.
20. Use your best quote first, and your second best last.
21. Make the lead so irresistible people have to keep reading.
22. Avoid acronyms.
23. Write headlines for your stories, even if they won’t be used. It helps put what you’re writing into focus.
24. The best way to overcome writer’s block is writing. Get into the habit of writing something every day.
25. If you want to be a good writer, read good writing.