Freelance writing can be such a solitary occupation. Like many of the creative arts, one of the biggest challenges you face is getting useful feedback to improve your writing.
Unless you are in a writer’s group that meets regularly to critique each other’s work, you simply type and pray. When editors buy your work that’s one positive sign that your words are up to snuff.
But can you ever be satisfied with the status quo? Do you sometimes wonder how you can improve your writing?
No one starts out with fine prose. When I look back at articles from my first couple of years, I cringe at the clumsiness of some of my writing. But we all have to start somewhere, and we don’t start at the finish line.
So, how can you improve your writing?
Here are six
techniques that I’ve used to improve my stories. I think you’ll find
these techniques easy to implement and very useful for improving your
writing over time.
I resell a high percentage of my articles and recommend that you try
doing this, too. When I resell them I always rewrite them.
By rewriting an old article, you’ll find all sorts of ways to improve the piece. You will also start to notice recurring mistakes – and you’ll be able to eliminate them from future stories.
You can only be in the “writing zone” for so long before your mind
wanders and you become unproductive. That’s when it’s time to take a
break. Have a drink of water, take a walk, do a few stretches. Then,
revisit your story with a fresh mind.
Begin by reading your article again, from the start. You will find yourself tidying it up as you re-read it – correcting grammar errors, improving sentences, and so on.
If the words just aren’t flowing, re-read the article from the start again. Look at it from a flow perspective. Pretend you are reading the article for the first time. Does the order make sense? Does it catch your interest? Do the thoughts in one paragraph flow into the next one? What’s missing? What can you do to improve your writing?
When you receive a magazine with your article in it, bring up the original manuscript on your computer and compare it, sentence by sentence, with the published article.
Note how the editor changed the title. Now how he/she added sub-titles and headings. Look at how the editor has changed your sentences, re-arranged paragraphs, deleted words, added words and otherwise improved your writing.
These changes make the story more “readable”. This is great feedback – and it’s free.
Some writers are offended when an editor changes their words. But editors know their audience best of all. So take note of their changes and use that knowledge to give them a better article the next time around.
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My wife, who is also the editor of this website, has been editing my
articles for years. She reads through a print copy of my article and
makes notations in red. I have rarely disagreed with her feedback.
Notice that I say she reads a print copy of my stories. There’s something about reading from the printed page that enables us to find typos, grammar errors, and readability issues much easier. I don’t know why this is, but errors jump out at us far better from the printed page than from the computer screen.
After my wife/editor has read my story, she reviews the document with me. She looks for all the usual things: poor grammar, typos, misspellings, repeated words, repetitive ideas.
More importantly, she reads my work for “flow” and “readability”. A story with good readability, or flow, leads you gently by the hand from paragraph to paragraph. A flowing story has no abrupt topic changes and leads you logically to the next point.
Find someone you know and trust to read your work before you submit it to the editor. Be sure to explain to your volunteer editor what you’re hoping to achieve – and that you need their best feedback to improve your writing.
My wife can sometimes be brutal with her recommended changes – but it always helps me improve my writing. And the magazine editor has a lot less work to do in the end. That makes for a happy editor.
It’s good practice to send your final draft on to the tourist agency
representative/media director for fact checking before you submit the
story to the editor. The media rep may not be critiquing your style,
but I have found them correcting typos and misspellings.
And, if the story has been fact checked, you can gain brownie points with the editor, when you submit the story.
I always mention that my stories have been fact-checked by the media director. This saves the editor a lot of time doing it himself.
Most word processors include tools to improve your writing on the spot. Besides helping with grammar and spelling while writing the article, some word processors will offer quite a bit more information if setup correctly.
After I’ve completed and rewritten the article to my satisfaction, I’ll run the “Spelling and Grammar” check (under the Tools menu in MS-Word). Not everything needs to be corrected, but it’s a good check for a few things you might have missed.
There is one important thing for to remember about Spellcheck: it will correct your spelling, but that doesn't mean the word is used in the correct context. Spellcheck doesn’t know the difference between a deer and a dear, for example. So you and your volunteer editor will need to keep an eye out for these things.
In MS-Word if you set up the options, once it does a spelling and grammar check a more detailed summary will pop up. This will include detailed information about the number of words in the document, words per paragraph, sentences per paragraph, readability and a few other statistics.
I’ll be explaining readability statistics in more detail in a separate article, and how it can further improve your writing.
And one other way to improve your writing is to invest in a few books to help you with style, structure and general writing advice. Here are my favorite books to help you.
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