While researching, writing, and editing hundreds of thousands of words throughout my nearly twenty-year career, I’ve observed several fundamental practices regarding the craft. Because writers are working toward improving their business, it’s my goal to share them.
That’s why, today, I’m boiling them down into questions you need to ask yourself to improve your freelance writing career radically. That way, you can use these questions as a framework for keeping your pieces organized, fleshing them out, and getting to the meat of them.
1: What is your story’s premise?
No matter who you talk to, they love hearing a good story. Your audience wants to know what it’s about, who is involved, where it happened, what’s going to happen next, and how it ended. It doesn’t matter if these stories are fiction or non-fiction; stories have the same elements.
You have to determine the premise.
Does the story focus on a specific person, place, or thing? If you’re writing about computer software, for example, the “hero” of the story would be its developer. What obstacles did the developer have to overcome? How did they fund their project? Who did they work with and where did they go for support?
2: Does Your Story Bring a Fresh Perspective?
If you’re writing about something others are rehashing dozens of times, your readers are going to lose interest. Ask yourself:
- Can you bring a fresh perspective to your story?
- Are their new insights, research, or quotes you can introduce?
- Is there new statistical data available about the story you’re writing?
Challenge yourself to bring this information to the table.
Say you’re writing about a well-covered topic, like texting and driving, for example. You could introduce a quote like this one from an article written by Nathan Bomey in USA Today entitled, Risky phone use while driving is soaring, and it’s killing Americans, IIHS study finds,
“People are talking on the phone less than they were in 2014 and they’re manipulating it more, which is things that include texting and potentially browsing the internet or potentially using it for navigation, audio, music,” said David Kidd, senior research scientist for the Highway Loss Data Institute, a sibling organization to IIHS.
Adding this perspective not only helps bring your story to life, but it also prevents it from feeling hallow. When you can back your work up with facts, figures, and statistics, your readers will find it more persuasive.
3: Read Your Story Aloud
I read through each of my pieces twice—once with my eyes, of course, and then a second read-through using Microsoft Words “read aloud” feature. When I’m reading aloud, I catch things that sound strange to “me” in “my” voice. However, hearing my work read in another voice—even though it’s robotic—offers a much better understanding of how others will perceive the finished product. I can answer questions like:
- Are my sentences and paragraphs flowing in a logical sequence?
- Do gaps appear that may confuse my readers?
- Can I add anything in to help bring my story to life and make it more enjoyable?
4: Are You Making Clear Points?
Okay, you’ve determined your story’s premise, you’re offering a fresh perspective that’s backed with data, and it’s flowing logically. The next question you must ask yourself is, “Is my reader getting to the meat of my story?”
What this means is, is what you’re saying in your story immediately understandable? Are you clear? Do they have to dig to figure out your message? Try to avoid clouding your message with industry terminology or other technical jargon. That way, your reader can understand what you’re saying clearly.
Steven A. Pinker, a linguist from Harvard University, explains, “It simply doesn’t occur to the writer that readers haven’t learned their jargon, don’t seem to know the intermediate steps that seem to them to be too obvious to mention, and can’t visualize a scene currently in the writer’s mind’s eye. And so the writer doesn’t bother to explain the jargon, or spell out the logic, or supply the concrete details — even when writing for professional peers.”
Wrapping it Up
We all want to be better writers, sell our work, and reach our audiences successfully. Once we take a step back and look specifically at the elements of our writing, our writing careers can improve radically.