Once you start getting writing assignments, you’ll have the challenge of managing all the aspects of writing from research, drafts, and submission. Here are tips to help you manage the work so you don’t feel overwhelmed and miss deadlines.
When I first started writing, I wanted to write off the top of my head. I thought that if I wrote about topics I knew, I wouldn’t need research, right? Sometimes that’s true, and sometimes it’s not. There will be cases in which you’ll be asked to cite sources. For example, Demand Media asks for three references for all its articles. Not only that, it only wants references from reputable and noncompeting sites (it provides a list of sources you’re not allowed to cite).
Other times, a little research can go a long way. For example, today I wrote an article for WAHM.com about setting up a home office for telecommuters. I’ve already written a lot about setting up a home office, but when I came to the section on lighting, I wanted to provide a reason why I think natural light is so important. Doing a quick online search, I found a report that said natural lighting improved mood, lowered fatigue, and reduced eye strain.
Finally, facts change. What is known today may change tomorrow. When I first started in the fitness industry, pre-workout static stretching was highly recommended. Today, pre-workout static stretching is counterindicated, replaced with dynamic stretching. For this reason, it’s important to stay abreast of the news and trends in your topics. Here are my tips for fast researching:
- Have a general idea of what you want to cover in your article. This allows you to limit your research to just the items you’re writing about. For example, if you’re writing the best cardiovascular exercise, pick the exercises you want to use (i.e., running, rowing, and plyometrics) and research them specifically, as opposed to researching cardiovascular exercise in general. Of course, if you’re not sure what you want to cover, a general search (i.e., top cardiovascular exercises) can give you ideas of what to cover.
- Use Google Quick Scroll to go directly to the relevant section of your search results (Chrome users can find it in the apps). This can be helpful because if you’re looking for a specific bit of information, such as cancers caused by belly fat, you might end up finding a long resource. You can avoid having to read the entire document because Google Quick Scroll will highlight the sections that use your search words.
- Mine the results for references. Many sites, like LIVESTRONG and eHow, end their articles with links to the references used. You can use those references as well. For example, if you’re writing about the dangers of belly fat, odds are you’ll find an article at LIVESTRONG, with links to places like Harvard Health and the Mayo Clinic that talk about belly fat.
I’ll be honest, I rarely interview for freelance writing work, and that is on purpose. My goal is to write fast and get paid. However, to move into higher paying markets, interviews are expected.
Even if you know all the content you’re writing about, interviews can offer anecdotes, depth, and credibility to your article. So don’t be afraid to reach out and get an interview.
Are you nervous about talking to experts? I’m rarely nervous when I interview anymore. The only exception is when I interview people I perceive as bigwigs. But I have a system, and by following it, I don’t stumble or embarrass myself.
- Know what information you need. When you contact potential interviewees, let them know the topic of the article and a general idea of the questions. For example, a few months back I got an email in which the writer said, “I want to see what telecommuting experts think of Yahoo! ending its telecommuting program.” Instead of asking about telecommuting in general, the writer let me know exactly what he wanted.
- Search for experts. I get a lot of interview requests through my website, which indicates to me that people are searching Google and then handpicking experts to contact. This is a good method to control the number of people you contact or to get the bigwigs. But it can be tedious, as well. It takes longer because you have to search, review the site to determine if the person is an expert, email the owner, and then hope he responds.
- Use HARO to solicit experts. I like this option the best, although you can be overwhelmed with responses. HARO, Help A Reporter Out, is a free resource used by media to find experts on a variety of topics. You can submit a query to HARO, which goes out to all the expert members who will reply if they can respond to your topic. When using HARO, be specific about what you’re looking for and how you want replies. For example, if I were writing an article on the best productivity tips for home business owners, I would submit a HARO request that says: Freelance Writer (you can include the market if you want such as Freelance Writer for WAHM.com) seeks home business experts for an article on the best productivity tips for home business owners. To be considered, please respond with: Your name and business name, website URL, and your tip. Because of the number of responses, only pitches that meet the criteria will be considered. When the query runs in HARO, you’ll get emails with people’s responses. In some cases, you might be overwhelmed with replies. Even if you can’t use them all, save them in an email folder marked with the topic and experts (i.e., Home Business Productivity Experts). It’s possible you can use them in the future.
- Email interviews are okay for short articles or as research before a phone interview. Talking on the phone is always best, but if you only need a tip or short comment, you can use email. Interviews for longer articles, profiles of a specific person, or relying on one source for all your information should be done over the phone. In email interviews, let the interviewee know what you need, such as responses in complete sentences. I’ve received responses with one-word answers, which aren’t helpful when you’re looking for information or a quote for an article. You don’t have to say, “Write in complete sentences.” Instead, let the interviewee know you’re looking for detailed tips or a quote. For phone interviews, research your interviewee prior to the interview by visiting his website, reading the About page, and seeing what books or other achievements he’s done. You don’t want to be on the phone and have the person mention something about his work and you don’t know what he’s talking about.
- Write down your questions in advance. You can even forward them to the interviewee. This makes the interview go faster and avoids awkward moments in which you’re not sure what to ask.
- Keep interviews short. Don’t ask your expert to email you back a tome or to spend an hour on the phone with you. Unless you’re writing a book, you don’t need to spend a ton of time. All you need is enough information to flesh out your article and get a good quote or two.
- Only record interviews if it’s okay with the interviewee. If you feel like it would help to review what the expert said, ask if you can record the call. You can record from your landline to your PC with an adapter or use Skype.
- Let the interviewee know when the piece will run and that you’ll send a link when it’s up. Then do it. Experts give their info away for free PR, but they can help you as well. They’ll usually share the article with their network, which can give you greater exposure. Plus, it’s just a nice thing to do.
Writing Fast to Maximize Your Income
Unless you’ve been writing a lot, writing fast and well is something that will take time to develop. Because you need to turn in the best work possible, you want to take the time to edit and proofread several times before submission. However, the more you write, the more your writing will improve, the less editing and proofreading you’ll need to do, and the faster you’ll be able to complete work.
Think Rate Per Hour, Not Per Piece
Although I don’t recommend writing for less than $15 an article, you should take into account all aspects of a writing job to determine what will bring you the most money. Each writing job will have different requirements for how the article is written and formatted that may add extra time. As a result, you may have the option to write a 500- word article for $50 that takes you an hour to write or two 400-word articles for $30 each that takes the same amount of time. One earns $50 an hour while the other earns $60. You might want to read how to write the kind of content that will boost your website rankings.
Write What You Know
I’ll admit that sometimes I get tired of writing fitness and nutrition articles, and yet, I can crank them out faster than just about any other topic. Writing what you know shortens the amount of time it takes to research and interview, because you know the information you need and can get it fast.
Avoid or Reduce Edits
Edits not only take time, decreasing your per-hour rate, but also delay publication and payment. So your goal is to submit the very best article possible the first time around. Even so, all writers get edits on occasion. The better your submission, the less time it will take you to respond to edits.
Dealing with Edits
One of the challenges of edits is not feeling defensive about what the editor says about your article. While you might want to challenge the editor, you’re better off to suck it up and make the changes. In most cases, the editor will have a better sense of what the publisher wants. But even if the editor is being difficult, in most cases you’re not going to be able to change his mind. Some publishers have a way to appeal or get clarification on edits. Other than that, you need to do the best you can to deliver what the editor wants.
Fast Writing for New Writers
By new writer, I don’t necessarily mean that you’ve never written. But if you haven’t written for pay or for publication, then you should start here. Here are my tips for writing fast if you’re a new online freelance writer.
- If given the choice, choose how-to, list, or other articles that are easy to organize. Examples include How to Lose 10 Pounds on a Low-Carb Diet and 5 Top Olympic Scandals.
- Outline your article. You don’t need to do a detailed outline like you did in school. Instead, identify the paragraph concepts that meet the needs of the title.
- Conduct research or do interviews as necessary to write about the items in your outline. You may need to do research and interviews prior to making your outline, if you don’t know the topic well enough to determine what you want to cover.
- Write a draft in your word processing program as fast as possible. Don’t stop to correct spelling, grammar, or bad sentences. This draft is about getting all the ideas down on the page. Stopping to fix problems can interrupt writing flow. So ignore the inner writing critic and get all your ideas on the page.
- Go through your completed first draft to fix errors, improve sentence quality (i.e., change passive voice to active voice), and flesh out your ideas.
- Set the article aside and do something else. That something else can be anything from starting or editing another article, checking email, looking for more work, taking a coffee break, etc.
- Go back to the article once you can read it with new eyes (30 minutes or more). I find it helps to read the article out loud. Hopefully this time you’ll find the errors you missed during the first read-through. Fix the clunky sentences and polish a final draft.
- If it’s still not right, sit on it longer or ask someone to read it for you.
- Format the article the way the publisher wants it and submit.
Tips for Experienced Writers
The more you write, the better you get. If you’re writing daily, you’ll notice that your first drafts are improving and you’re editing less. As a result, you can write more in less time. Many of the steps to writing fast are the same for experienced writers as for new writers. The difference is that as you improve, your first drafts will be better, which means you’ll need to spend less time editing.
- Choose how-to, list, and other article formats that lend themselves to fast writing.
- Outline your key concepts.
- Research or interview as needed to cover the concepts in your outline.
- Write a fast draft without stopping to fix or edit along the way.
- Edit and proofread for errors, clarity, quality, and flow. I read my articles out loud once or twice to check for errors and flow.
- Format for the publisher and submit.
Submitting Your Article
Each publisher will have its own method for article submission. Some will want them by email, but many have online forms.
Many publishers are also asking you to include keywords or tags with your article. Again, keywords and phrases are the words people type into their search engine to find information about the topic. Review the keyword information.
Managing Time to Meet Deadlines
It might be hard now to think that you might be overwhelmed with work. At this point, writing work might be haphazard. But if you continue to apply and pitch, pretty soon you’ll be busy with work. Here are some tips to managing time and meeting deadlines.
- Make a writing schedule. If you’re writing around a full-time job or taking care of children, schedule time for applying, pitching, and writing. For example, my schedule is to work on my entrepreneurial ventures first in the morning, then I exercise, and by around 11 or so, I work on freelance writing. In your case, you might need to get up an hour early to search and apply for writing gigs and spend two hours writing after the kids go to bed.
- Keep track of due dates and obligations. I’ve worked with publishers that ask for an article a week, but don’t give any specific date for submission. Others will have set due dates. Some of those dates may be on a weekend. The good news is that when it comes to freelance writing, you can write at any time and deliver work early. Just don’t deliver late. Many online writing portals won’t allow you to deliver late. If you haven’t submitted the article by the due date, it will expire. I use a calendar to track my writing for the month. I write the title of the article on the date I want to submit (it could be the due date or the date that works best for me if no date is given). I use colored pencils to represent each publisher. For example, all the titles written in red are for About.com, and green is for WAHM.com. You could do something similar using Google Calendar.
- Schedule enough time for research, writing, formatting, and submitting to avoid having too many articles due at one time. If you have five articles due on Friday, don’t wait until Friday to write them all. Schedule time on other days to work on them.
- Know your limits. I’ve met people who write up to ten articles a day, but I think I’d go nuts writing that much. Of course, you need to write however much you need to meet your income goals. But writing can become tedious and cause burnout. The people writing ten articles a day are making $150 to $300 a day ($15 to $30 per article). But it is possible to make that income with fewer articles. If you need to make a lot of money but find yourself burning out, look for opportunities to get paid more with less writing. If you could find work that paid $50 per article, you’d only need to write three to five articles to earn $150 to $300 a day.
Checklist for Managing the Writing
- Create a system to find and store research.
- Develop a system for writing well fast.
- Make a writing schedule and calendar to avoid late submissions.
I suggest now you read how to get hired online and make money.
That is it for now. I will see you in the next article.