Copy and Paste “Freelance Writing”

To kick off the new year, I wanted to address an important issue regarding copying and pasting information from the internet and turning it in as “freelance writing work.” I am absolutely appalled by the fact that this is even a matter that is necessary to mention, but alas, there are some so called “writers” who believe that it is perfectly fine to copy and paste and get paid for it.

Freelance writing consists of research AND writing. This means that when you find the information you are looking for, you write about it. You don’t just steal what someone else wrote and try to write a few of your own words around it. You need to write it all by yourself. This is simply the ethical thing to do, and it would be even better if writers cited their references more often. In school, we all learn that plagiarism is wrong, but I guess that message just doesn’t seem to stick with some people.

The least freelance writers should do is use some talent and creativity and put their own phrasing to the information that they find. Add your own angle or twist…use a thesaurus for crying out loud! If you like they way someone else stated something, put it in quotes and cite the source. It’s that simple.

Copying and pasting is not freelance writing, and I consider it a supreme insult to the honest, hard-working freelance writers who make an effort to write original work and adhere to the copyright laws of the United States (you know who you are and I applaud you).

I hire help from time to time, and I will fire anyone who sends me something that they found over the internet rather than writing it themselves. I greatly appreciate websites like DupeCop.com and CopyScape.com because they make it easy to spot copying. Clients often use these services to check the writing work done for hire, and they should. You always risk losing a client and gaining a poor reputation when presenting someone else’s work as your own.

If you truly want to be a freelance writer, do the writing. End of story.

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Productive Business Calls

As a freelance writer that works primarily online, I seldom need to use the phone or skype with my clients. I do, however reluctantly, speak with clients directly from time to time. Knowing how to sound professional and make a positive impression on a client (or potential client) can make the difference between making money and missing an opportunity. Here are a few pointers that can help you survive the dreaded vocal exchange and somehow resonate competence and offer quality customer service.

Generally, you should speak clearly, concisely, and professionally. There is no real need to be totally formal if you are courteous. Some small talk is fine, as this can help you build a relationship with the client. Be careful, however, not to drag the conversation out too long.

Phone Call Etiquette

The greeting is important. Smile (they can hear that believe it or not) and say hello. You can start your conversation off  by saying your name or business name. You might say something like, “Hello, this is ____. How can I help you?” This assures the caller that they have dialed the correct number and that you are interested in helping them. It does set the tone for the rest of the conversation.

Once they let you know what they are looking for, it is good practice to ask questions for clarification. If you think you understand what they need, rehash what it is so they know that you understand. This can quiet the nervous type who feels like they need to repeat themselves. You are also demonstrating that you have good listening skills, which can inspire confidence in a potential client that you will give them what they ask.

It is perfectly fine not to give straight answers right away. I don’t mean ramble or avoid questions, but you don’t have to agree to a project over the phone if you aren’t ready. If they need a quote, make sure that you understand research requirements, deadline, piece length, etc. before you blurt out a price. You can always tell them that you need to call them back or email them within a day with a more solid answer. This is particularly a good idea if they caught you in the middle of something and your mind may not totally be in the conversation.

Before you end the chat, ask if they need anything else. Be polite and let them know when you plan to be in touch again. You might also want to be specific about the actions you will take before you speak again. For example, you might say something like, “I will have a more accurate quote for that ebook on arthritis you need by tomorrow night.” After that, it is up to you to deliver as promised.

For some freelance writers, it is much easier to type up a nice professional email than to actually speak to a stranger. Do you dread business calls like I do?

Should you have a daily writing goal?

I read a blog post about Effortless Writing which offers some tips on how to allow writing to flow more easily. The first point struck me and made me think. The author, David Turnbull, suggested that setting high daily goals like thousand of words or sitting at the computer for eight hours can take away from the feeling of fulfillment that comes when writing occurs without pressure.

I can testify to the fact that a tall goal can take the fun out of the writing process. It is much easier to set a tiny goal and surpass it than it is to set an extremely challenging goal and barely make it. I can see how demanding a certain amount of writing from ourselves everyday can be a bit difficult, and dry.

So I wonder now: Should a specific amount of writing should be done everyday? Certainly we all need a certain amount of money, and therefore we must do a certain amount of writing to get it. Aside from that, what kind of writing goals should we set? I think a freelance writer should definitely set some sort of goal, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be the same everyday.

In order to truly enjoy the experience, it is important to relax and not be hindered by self-imposed standards that can remove the joy of writing. At the same time, we should aspire to challenge ourselves to improve the quality of our writing and be productive enough to keep the business growing…I would propose that one good way to approach daily writing is simply to “accomplish something.” Perhaps that can be a certain number of words, or a certain amount of time spent writing. It depends on each writer and what will motivate them.

For me, I think that focusing on the overall purpose of my business, and the broader goals of my writing business (producing high quality writing, helping others promote their businesses, and teaching others what I know) motivates me more than a certain amount of money or a goal of a certain amount of words everyday. That might be too general to motivate some freelance writers, but that works for me. Setting a word count goal or a dollar amount does not.

I work within my deadlines and think about why I do what I do, as opposed to how much I am doing.

What about you? Do you need a specific measurable amount or words, time or money to motivate you to write?

Freelance Writing after a Hiatus

Many people have a difficult time returning to work after a relaxing vacation. Some people may feel ready to approach freelance writing with a new perspective, a clear mind, and a new inspiring vision, but the enthusiasm isn’t there for everyone. There are also other life changes that pull us away from our work and these things can make writing difficult at times. A new baby, a loss in the family, moving into a new home, getting married, or getting divorced can change us and our writing.

The loneliness, stress of a hectic schedule, and demanding clients piling on assignments can quickly turn a writer off from the idea of diving right back into the full-time gig. Here are some things that you can do to make the adjustment as smoothly as possible.

Prioritize. Take time to look over what needs to be done and make a plan. Do a few important but simple tasks first, such as responding to emails. Delay other things that won’t directly affect your client relationships or your ability to meet pending deadlines. Plan to tackle less important projects or tasks in a few days once you have had a chance to refocus your brain.

Get serious. Play time, for the most part, is over. There is work to be done and there are bills to pay. You have to make money between now and your next vacation, so get your mind in gear. It may help to read some freelance writing blogs, articles, and forums. Commenting, chatting, and reconnecting with the writing community can help get your mind back into the writing groove.

Start writing. I would not suggest starting with a heavy research project, or work for a tough client right away. Free writing is a better idea. Sometimes it is beneficial just to get all of your random thoughts down on paper before you can truly focus your attention on writing something for someone else. Write about what is going on in your life or in your head. This is a great way to reflect on recent changes and prepare your mind for working again. Once you have given yourself this warm-up, tackle an assignment for your favorite client or work on the project that interests you the most.

Take it easy. Gradually work your way back up to the amount of writing you used to do everyday. Take breaks when you need them. Stay connected to your friends, family, and writing community because support and firm relationships make a difference. Your work is important too, but don’t forget that you are human.

Better Writing: Avoiding Passive Voice

It is a good idea for freelance writers to avoid passive voice. Writers should not think that using passive voice is a grammatical error, but using active voice makes for better writing most of the time.

What is passive voice?

Passive voice is the phrase used to describe sentences in which the subject receives the action of the verb rather than the subject performing the action. For example:

The man was slapped by the woman.

That same sentence written in active voice would read:

The woman slapped the man.

Another example of passive voice is in a sentence where there is no specific subject performing the action.

eg. Research was conducted.

What is wrong with writing in passive voice?

Writing in passive voice is considered a stylistic “don’t.” While it is not necessarily a grammatical error, passive voice can sound awkward, leave out important details, and reduce the authority of a sentence.

Consider the following.

How can I avoid writing in passive voice?

Life as your Writing Muse

There is writing material in everyday if you look for it. Sometimes writing ideas can come to you when you are not looking for them. We should embrace the muse that life is, and write in whatever genre suits our personal expression.

If you are struggling with writers block or have trouble coming up with story ideas or topics to write about, examine your life. What is happening to you mentally, emotionally or physically? What is going on in your friends or family’s lives?

Writers who don’t find these sources inspirational, which is probably rare, can take to observation. Go out to a park, the mall, a parking lot, a restaurant, club, school campus, or anywhere there are people. There is nothing easier than making instant judgment calls about someone’s personality based on how they look or sound. Pay really close attention to the things that people are talking about, wearing, buying, carrying, or where they are going. Use all of this information to springboard ideas from. Feel free to make incredible assumptions about them since they have no idea that you are writing about them.

Animal lovers can gain inspiration from observation as well. The most basic of animal behavior can translate into human behavior. Run with the ideas.

How to Write an Effective Outline

Yesterday, I wrote about the benefits of using outlines as a freelance writer. Here are some tips on writing an effective outline:

-Take the time to do some preliminary research before you write the outline.

-Give your outline three major sections: Introduction, Body, and Conclusion.

-Create a thesis or a descriptive statement explaining the central point or purpose of the piece to head your outline. (Part of the introduction)

-Start by listing all of your general points and then add specific details that explain each point. (Body)

-List your major points in the order that you will write about them. If you are making an argument, use your strongest points first. You make be able to follow your topic chronologically; if so, start from the beginning and move forward. (Body)

-You can use short phrases or words lists (a topic outline) or express your main points in sentence form (a sentence outline).

-You may not have a conclusion at the beginning when your outline is first written. If your research is not concluded, speculate about what your conclusion might be and write it down. Remember that it is best to not to use brand new information at the very end of your writing. It is better to incorporate your major points already mentioned into a final thought.

-Make use of your outline during the writing process. It can be especially helpful in keeping you on topic, or reminding your of your original thoughts in case you get stuck. At the same time, don’t be afraid to deviate from your outline if you stronger points, or if the focus that you chose did not work out.

Using Outlines in Freelance Writing

Most people can recall writing papers for school. At one point or another, a teacher required an outline of a paper that you were (supposedly) planning to write. While many students feel as if writing an outline is a waste of time, freelance writers can benefit from such an activity.

Whether your project requires that you write an article, ebook, or webpage, having an outline can improve the first draft before you begin. It can also help writers to focus on the subject and keep the content relevant and cohesive with the main purpose of the work.

Another benefit to creating an outline for your writing projects is that it can impress clients. I like to provide an outline of my writing plans at the beginning of longer assignments (like ebooks) so that the client can look it over. First of all, this lets them know that I have begun thinking seriously about the project. Secondly, it indicates that I am organized. This also presents the opportunity for them to make suggestions or changes according to their preferences. Creating outlines simple makes the entire process easier for all involved.

Being a “Professional” Freelance Writer

Here are the six characteristics of a true professional:
1. A professional is courteous. A true professional may disagree with you, but they will never be rude to you. They will maintain their composure and always speak politely.
2. A professional is reliable. When you engage a true professional to do your work, you can count on the fact that it will be done. A professional takes their work seriously and will not abandon work or a client.
3. A professional is respectful. A true professional listens attentively to your suggestions and ideas. They will inform you if they thing you should do something differently, but they will not belittle or insult you.
4. A professional is honest. With a true professional, you know what you are getting. Their word is good, and they will honestly report all of their actions.
5. A professional is responsible. A true professional will acknowledge and take responsibility for their actions — even they occasionally make mistakes.
6. A professional is competent. A professional knows how to get the job done and is up-to-date with the most recent developments in his or her field.

I absolutely loved Wednesday’s article on Freelance Folder. It talked about what it means to be professional, and I totally agree with what they had to say:

“Here are the six characteristics of a true professional:

1. A professional is courteous. A true professional may disagree with you, but they will never be rude to you. They will maintain their composure and always speak politely.

2. A professional is reliable. When you engage a true professional to do your work, you can count on the fact that it will be done. A professional takes their work seriously and will not abandon work or a client.

3. A professional is respectful. A true professional listens attentively to your suggestions and ideas. They will inform you if they thing you should do something differently, but they will not belittle or insult you.

4. A professional is honest. With a true professional, you know what you are getting. Their word is good, and they will honestly report all of their actions.

5. A professional is responsible. A true professional will acknowledge and take responsibility for their actions — even they occasionally make mistakes.

6. A professional is competent. A professional knows how to get the job done and is up-to-date with the most recent developments in his or her field.”

What does professionalism look like to you?

Loneliness and Freelance Writing

It is important to connect with other people on a regular basis, and that can be difficult to arrange when your face is staring at the computer screen on a daily basis. Freelance writing doesn’t come with coworkers, so it can get very lonely if you don’t make time for live human interaction.

Social media can be helpful at times when you are pushing to meet a deadline and need a break. This can only go so far, however, because people need live connections with other people. It is simply human nature.

Having lunch (dinner or breakfast) with a friend once or twice a week is a great way to fit in time with another human being.

Other ways that you can meet your needs for contact with other individuals include:

-working out with a partner

-joining a local writer’s group

-volunteer in the community

-teach or take a class

-bring your work to a café or bookstore (and talk to people)

-go to local events

-meet up with a group of friends for a weekly game night

Whatever you like to do, besides writing, can most likely be turned into an opportunity for you to connect with other people and combat the loneliness of the business. Be creative.

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