Do you remember creating outlines in sixth grade English class? Well, outlines may have a place in helping you, as a writer, create good prose.
Although I recall intensely disliking having to create an outline for book reports and essays for the teacher to critique, I like creating outlines for the things I am writing.
Studies show that outlines help our brains make sense of jumbled thoughts. They also help writers organize their articles in a way that frees their minds to be creative when they sit down to write.
An outline can help you identify strengths and weaknesses in the premise of the article you are writing. It may also help you develop or combine paragraphs, so the information flows logically.
When you draft an outline for an article you are writing, it may help to build the outline using a two-part process. Try this and let us know how it works for you by leaving a comment below.
Step One in the Outline Process
In step one of this two-part process, create a rough draft of the outline of your article by listing the title and any subtitles you want to include that are relevant to your target audience. Write stream of consciousness and include no more than four or five subtitles.
Step Two in the Outline Process
Go through the outline again, this time adding more detail to each subtitle. You can write phrases or complete sentences to expand the outline. However, remember to keep it brief. You will include more detail when you write the actual article.
I tend to use outlines as a way to remind me of what I want to include in the articles I am writing. So Step Two in my outlines usually looks like an extension of the rough draft I created in Step One. However, when I am writing a lengthy feature article, I usually write in complete sentences in Step Two of my outline.
Experiment with different ways to create outlines that feed your creativity and make your articles easier to write. And please let us know how this two-step process works for you or if you use a different process when you write.
Note: Due to a weird glitch in the page layout of this WordPress theme, the comments box only appears on some pages. If you want to leave a comment and don’t see a comments section below, please click the title of this post to go to the comments page. I look forward to hearing from you!
I’ve sat on both sides of the editorial desk and I’ve learned a few things from being both a writer and an editor.
Writing, even freelance writing, bears similarities to regular jobs. Writers often develop business relationships and even friendships with the editors they regularly work with. However, there are some things writers should not ever tell editors, not even editors they consider friends.
Here are 5 things writers should not ever tell editors:
1. I Hate Writing About This Topic.
Editors appreciate writers who are enthusiastic about their assignments. Although editors know that the most successful articles are written by writers who are passionate about a topic, sometimes they just don’t have a choice. They have to assign a topic to someone who probably is not be interested in it. That’s when they ask one of their trusted writers to help them out. If the writer tells the editor that they dislike or hate the topic they’re going to write about, when the editor needs to assign future articles, the writer may only receive assignments that are in his specialty area.
2. I’m Only Writing for You Until I Get Published Elsewhere.
No one appreciates knowing that they are second choice. Editors know that every writer is looking for their next writing gig. However, only those who are indifferent to others’ feelings would say so out loud. Make each editor you work with feel like they’re the best one.
3. I Only Write Because I Have To.
Editors love what they do and they know that the best writers are those who love to write. They also know that the best writing comes from writers who are passionate about writing and about what they write. So do your best to be enthusiastic, even if you’re only pretending. Who knows? You may talk yourself into liking writing.
4. I Earn More Money Than You Do.
Editors already know this. They don’t appreciate you reminding them. And although technical editors earn more than most editors, they still earn less than technical writers. In spite of the fact that editors already know that writers earn more than they do, they prefer to work with you as part of a team and not think about how much more you earn.
5. Don’t Change What I Write Without Letting Me See It First.
Editors work with many writers. They do not have time, nor do most publications permit their editors to provide writers with a copy of their articles prior to publication.
I’ve written before about how writers need to treat writing the same way they treat exercise. Do it regularly—everyday, if possible, because the creative muse easily grows rusty and stiff when it’s not used.
To that end, I’ve developed a series of Writing Warm-Up Exercises you can do to get your creative muse revved up.
If you were following me on Twitter (@writersinkwell) several months ago, you have probably done these 10 Writing Warm-Up Exercises. Try them again because this time you’ll write even more. You should know, however, that these 10 writing exercises are only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. I have developed more than 100 of them over the years. Someday, I’ll make all 100 available. Until then . . .
I’ve collected the 10 Writing Warm-Up Exercises I posted on Twitter and now you can read them here in one place. Print this post and keep it on your desk to help you get warmed up each morning.
These exercises work best if you can do them at the same time each day. However, if you can’t, just doing them daily still helps get the creative muse working more easily.
Writing Warm-Up Exercise Guidelines
Remember to set a timer, so your thoughts and your writing are not interrupted by you having to look at the clock.
1. For each exercise, write in what I call ‘Stream of Consciousness’ and do not edit anything. Just write.
2. Select an object on your desk & write about it for 2 minutes.
3. Look out the window and write for 3 minutes about the first thing you see.
4. Write for 5 minutes about the last book you read.
5. Write for 5 minutes about your favorite recurring daydream.
6. Write for 5 minutes about planting a summer garden even if you’ve never done it
7. Write in the first person for 7 minutes about what it’s like to be a pirate.
8. Write 7 minutes about yourself from your pet’s perspective.
9. Write 8 minutes in the 1st person about your life in an 1865 log cabin.
10. Write for 9 minutes about your first day of school.
Write 10 minutes about when you realized you wanted to be a writer.
If you want to be a good writer, whatever you do, don’t stop writing!
In The Writing Life, Part 4—Finding Clients, I covered how to find clients using cold calls, warm calls, and serendipity. In this post, I’ll cover how to find them using public speaking gigs, published articles, and networking.
Although there are probably as many ways to find clients as there are writers, these next three are quite popular with writers who are outgoing and find it easy to talk with people:
Public Speaking Gigs
Make it a point to accept and even look for opportunities to speak in public. Local writer’s groups, seminars, conferences, chambers of commerce, and other organizations often need speakers for their meetings.
These are opportunities that provide you with exposure to a wide variety of people in many walks of life. You never know when you may get a new client just because they or someone they know heard you speak. At the very least, you may find fodder for your next article or book.
I’ve gotten several clients as a result of articles and columns I’ve written that were published in newspapers and magazines. Oftentimes a person reading an article may be looking for someone with your specific expertise or they may know someone who is. The enterprising readers will call the publication or contact you directly if the publication includes your contact information in your byline or bio.
Joining local groups and organizations may provide you with networking contacts in fields you are interested in working in. Now, I don’t mean, join an organization only with the intention of finding work.
I mean join an organization that you are interested in and participate in it as an active member. Other members will see you in action and appreciate your contributions. That type of networking is a soft-sell form of selling and usually results in the highest yields of client leads. Furthermore, it often results in potential clients approaching you, so there’s no selling on your part at all.
How do you find clients?
This is the most-asked question of new freelance writers and probably the most reasonable because without clients you’re obviously not working or earning. There are several ways freelance writers use to find clients:
• Cold calls
• Warm calls
• Public speaking gigs
• Published articles
Although cold calling is the least favorite way to find clients, I must admit it’s one I’ve had a good deal of success with. Which is odd when I think about how much I dislike doing it. Still, I’ve worked on some interesting projects which I found just by picking up the phone and calling someone I didn’t know and asking for the work.
Warm calls are much friendlier than cold calls because the person you’re calling either already knows about you and is expecting your call or because you’ve been referred by someone they know. In many instances, you know that the person you’re calling is looking for a writer because the person who gave you the lead provided that information.
My first gig with a start-up company happened purely as a result of serendipity. I was in a store making photocopies and I struck up a conversation with the man at the photocopy machine next to mine.
He was the president and CEO of a start-up company. When he learned that I was a writer and editor, he asked me to work on the marketing materials for his new company.
In The Writing Life, Part 5—Finding Clients, I cover finding clients through public speaking gigs, published articles, and networking.
Although I enjoyed the agency work I did when I first began freelancing, there comes a time in every writer’s life when it makes sense to freelance without an agency. Why? Because most writers are independent souls, free spirits who feel constrained by the rules and regulations of agency work.
When I decided to branch out on my own, I felt excited, elated, and terrified all at the same time. Amazingly, one of my first non-agency clients was one of my former employers. Shortly after I decided to drop the agency and fly solo, I unexpectedly received a phone call from the manager I’d reported to at the first magazine I worked for. They needed a freelancer to work on a premium product they planned to give to new subscribers.
It sounded like an interesting project. It also felt great to return to familiar surroundings—and at twice the hourly pay I had received as an employee. After that, I was convinced that freelancing without an agency was definitely right for me.
In my last post, I wrote, “…the opinion that something written is good or bad is subjective” and I promised to explain what I meant by that statement, so here it is.
Many writers give up at the first sign of rejection. They let their emotions take over, yet this is the time when you, as a writer, need to let your business head remain in control and start looking for some answers that may help you avoid rejection in the future.
While I’ll admit that some editors help fuel the sense of rejection by merely sending a form rejection letter, writers add fuel to the rejection by supposing that it means their article isn’t any good.
If an editor writes a rejection letter, your first clue about why the article was rejected may be there. If you’re really lucky, the editor may mention why she rejected the article. Or she may suggest a different slant. A suggestion like this may be an invitation to rewrite the article and resubmit it. So start looking for clues in each rejection. They may just lead to future writing assignments with that editor.
Dip Your Pen into the Inkwell and tell us what you learned from a rejection letter.
The Writers Inkwell Muse
Many writers joke that the road to writing success is that you must paper your walls with rejection slips. For some writers, rejection slips are crushing. For others, they’re merely a stepping stone on the road to writing success. They take them in their stride and continue writing.
Persistence is the key to writing success because the opinion that something written is good or bad is subjective and I’ll explain what I mean by that in my next post. Today, I want to remind, no, urge every writer to always persist. If you want to be a successful writer, you must keep writing.
At a certain point during World War II, the world thought Great Britain was sunk. And, it was feared, if Britain lost, so did all of Europe and the United States, as well. But Winston Churchill knew that his country could not afford to give up. He demonstrated that by his stubborn persistence. And when the tide of war turned in favor of the Allied Forces, Churchill shared the greatest key to his and Britain’s success with the students at Harrow School.
Churchill said, “You cannot tell from appearances how things will go. Sometimes imagination makes things out far worse than they are; yet without imagination not much can be done. Those people who are imaginative see many more dangers than perhaps exist; certainly many more than will happen; but then they must also pray to be given that extra courage to carry this far-reaching imagination.
“But for everyone, surely, what we have gone through in this period–I am addressing myself to the School–surely from this period of ten months, this is the lesson:
“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
Writers are especially vulnerable to an enemy called defeat because they put themselves and their writing on a very public stage. And, as we know, anything in the public eye is often criticized, justly or unjustly, and sometimes just for the sake of something to say by someone who otherwise has no opinion about most things.
So, to you, my readers and fellow writers, I say, “Persist and never give in to feelings of defeat. You know what is in your heart. Now, write it.”
Dip your pen into the Inkwell and share with us one of your writing successes.
Write On With Confidence!
The Writers Inkwell Muse
Writer’s Block often strikes unexpectedly. I’ll be writing just fine and then, nothing. The words won’t come. They’re on vacation. No contact phone. No email. Nothing. Not a word.
When I first started writing for a living, my frustration level would rise quickly and fear would set in. “How can I not have the words to write?” I’d ask myself. “I’ve been writing ever since they put a pencil in my hand and taught me how to write my name in kindergarten!” That would only make it worse.
I knew I needed a more effective approach. It took a while, but eventually I began to find ways to cure writer’s block. Once I realized that it was not permanent, I was able to put aside the almost choking fear that would swallow up my ability to think clearly and calmly when I was suffering a bout of writer’s block.
I began to view writer’s block as a boulder blocking the way of my car on the Pacific Coast Highway. What’s the cure for that? Move the boulder. Go around it. Walk around it. Climb the hill. Go over it. Turn around and take another road.
Are you beginning to see that there are multiple solutions? The beauty of multiple solutions is that you only need one, so you can continue your journey. How I cure bouts of writer’s block depends on a lot of things, including where I am physically at the time (home, a client’s office, an airplane, or someplace else), what I’m writing (or supposed to be writing) about, how I’m feeling (happy, sad, fearful, irritated), what’s going on in my life and in my world…I could go on, but you get the idea.
One of my most subtle cures is to write about something else. The other day, I was working on a technical document for a client and the words wouldn’t come. Instead of trying to force them, I switched gears and hand wrote a thank you note to a friend who had done an unexpected favor for me a few days before.
After I finished writing the note, I returned to my computer and there they were—technical words—flowing smoothly, logically, and effectively. Sure, this was a simple block and a simple cure. What matters is that it worked.
This is the second of several ways to cure writer’s block. As I compile the various methods I use, I will share them with you.
Please dip your pen into the Inkwell and let us know how you cure writer’s block.
Write On With Confidence!
The Writers Inkwell Muse
I recently had the privilege to practice pistol shooting with a friend of mine who is an expert sharpshooter. It had been some years since I had had a gun in my hands, so I was shamefully rusty and felt like a complete novice. ‘Have things changed so much,” I asked myself, as I struggled to remember all of his instructions. Then I realized that I hadn’t been properly trained and my friend was teaching me what I should have learned all those years ago.
When this man is in the field, you can be confident that he is doing everything right. Every move he makes is deliberate. focused on his target. His life depends on it. When he squeezes the trigger, he hits his target, every time. He is an expert sharpshooter. A true marksman.
A good writer is a lot like a sharpshooter. Most writers know that the saying, “The pen is mightier than the sword,” refers to how powerful words are. They know that a well-placed word (much like a well-placed bullet) can break a heart, make someone cry, shatter dreams, or emotionally scar you for life. Conversely, the right word or words can mend a broken heart, make someone laugh, make you believe in your dreams, or heal an old wound.
Some writers are better than others at selecting the right words to convey their meaning. Writers who do this best are like sharpshooters. They can hit their target every time and their readers know that they can count on them to deliver.
How do these writers do this? They practice. They hone their craft through daily practice, just like my friend. Practice. Practice. Practice. It’s a litany that they live by. Although our lives may not depend on the well-placed word every time we write, our livelihoods certainly do. We know we must practice our craft daily if we want to earn our living as full-time writers.
So dip your pen into the inkwell and tell us how you hone your craft.
Write On With Confidence,
The Writers Inkwell Muse