How to Write With Surgical Precision

When you write something, an article, a book chapter, even a letter, how do you do it? What I mean is, do you find writing easy and effortless or do you work at it, at least a bit?

The aura that surrounds writers includes the perceived ability of professional writers to write well the first time, every time. People who are not writers seem to think that people who are writers have some secret gift for putting words on paper the right way the first time.

Do you write it and your’e done? Or do you write it, read it, edit or rewrite, read it again, then repeat the process?

Inevitably, every time I teach “Writing for Results,” someone says they’re taking my class because they want to learn how to ‘do it right the first time.” By ‘do it right’ they mean they want to write, with every word, sentence, and phrase correct the first time and be done with it.

Delving into their determination to do it right the first time usually yields the information that their sixth grade teacher or a college professor told them they couldn’t write and never would.

Let me assure you that even professional writers usually do not write perfectly correct the first time. We write our first draft, then we mull that over. Then we rewrite our second draft. Sometimes we may even write a third or fourth draft or more. At some point, we decide that what we have written will do and we begin to copyedit the document. That may take us through it a few more times.

I usually tell my students, “If you want to do it right the first time, you need to get over that because doing it right requires more than one time through the document.

If it’s any comfort to those of you who still feel like you need to do it right the first time, keep in mind that writing with the surgical precision you think professional writers have is a result of the writing and editing process.

On a magazine the editorial process goes something like this: the writer writes a first draft, re-reads it and writes a second draft (or third). The writer then submits the article to the magazine’s editor who edits it. The editor then hands the article to the magazine’s copyeditor who does a thorough copyedit. The copyeditor then hands the article to the magazine’s proofreader who does the final editorial review prior to shipping it to the printer.

I get exhausted just thinking about the editorial process for one little article. . . .

Write On With Confidence!


Marketing Lessons From the Grateful Dead

Imagine my surprise when I opened the unexpected package and learned that I’d won an amazing book, Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead.

It was sunny, warm, and beautiful, and I had a clear schedule, so I took the book outside, intending to read it from cover to cover. Instead, I found myself savoring every word as I realized that this is a book to read and study, so that its lessons can be learned and applied.

That was Thursday. Today, I want to share with you what I learned in the Introduction and Chapter One, “Create a Unique Business Model.” As most Deadheads know, and as the book’s authors write, the Grateful Dead turned the music industry’s “business model on its ear.”

Instead of doing concert tours to promote record album sales like other bands did, the Grateful Dead focused on earning their income from live concerts where they created an experience for their fans that was unlike that of any other music band at the time or since.

Instead of playing the same songs in the same sequence at each concert, each show, and I’m quoting the book directly here, “had a unique set of songs, and each song was played in a unique way.”

This is part of the reason fans were drawn to attend each show. It is also why some of the Grateful Dead’s fans, known as Deadheads, made a career of following the band and attending their concerts wherever they played.

Another thing the Grateful Dead did differently from other bands was they allowed their fans to tape and even film their concerts. The band was unconcerned about “losing control” of their music and, in fact, encouraged their fans to exchange their recordings. The Dead even set up an area at each concert where fans who were recording the concert would get the best sound.

By creating this unique business model that was unlike what any other band at that time was doing, the Grateful Dead created a multimillion dollar music empire and their fans were their biggest promoters.

How can you, as a freelance writer, use the Grateful Dead’s unique business model to take your business to the next level?

Businesses that stand out from their competition are few and far between. The book’s authors suggest that you ask yourself what you do better than your competition, then find a way to use that to position your business as the one with the solution to your customer’s problems.

As I read each chapter, I will report back to you, my readers, and we’ll discuss how you can use these marketing gems to help catapult your freelance writing business to success.

Good Writing Is Concise

“A successful book is not made up of what is in it, but what is left out of it.” —Mark Twain

I couldn’t have said that better myself. In fact, I often find myself pouring over many of Mark Twain’s famous quotes and opinions about writing. He was a master of clarity, conciseness, and the dry wit.

Here’s some advice from the legendary Mark Twain about concise writing:

“I never write metropolis for seven cents when I can get the same for city. I never write policeman when I can get the same for cop.”

Twain also once wrote, ‘Eschew surplusage’ in an effort to emphasize how important concise writing is in helping the reader easily understand the message the writer wants to convey. (Here’s the URL for the online Merriam Webster dictionary site, in case you want to look up the definition of those words.)

But how can you write concisely? Try this daily writing practice to help you make your writing more concise:

Every day spend five minutes writing about any subject that interests you. The only guideline is that you must write using only one syllable words. I know this sounds difficult, however, I believe you will be pleasantly surprised by the amazing word pictures you will write.

I invite you to dip your pen into the Inkwell and share your one-syllable essay with us or tips about how you make sure you write concisely.

Write On With Confidence!

The Writers Inkwell Muse

Copyrights, First Rights, Which Rights to Sell

In my last post, I wrote about the difference between a work for hire and who owns the copyright to what you write. Upon re-reading that post and thanks to a tug on my sleeve by a savvy reader, I realized that there is another area of copyright ownership that may require clarification, especially in this age of writing for the web.

First North American Serial Rights
First North American serial rights, second serial rights, geographic rights, and electronic rights are all copyrights that you can sell for articles, poetry, essays, and other documents you write, as long as you are not writing a work for hire (see my previous post Work for Hire vs. Copyright).

When you write an article for a newspaper or magazine, you are selling first serial rights. That means that the publication has the right to be the first to publish your article, poem, story, or essay.

Remember to include the words ‘First North American Serial Rights’ in the upper right corner of the first page of your manuscript to make clear to the editor that these are the only rights you are selling. This restricts publication to the U.S. and Canada.

This is important because a lot of publications also publish online and, if you’re a professional writer, you no doubt believe, as do I, that writers should be paid for any additional use of their work. If the editor wants to purchase additional rights, the time to discuss this is before you sign the contract.

By selling only first North American serial rights, after your work is published, you have the right to resell it to another publication. You can also include it in a collection of your work in any form you may choose: hard copy, electronic, video.

Second Serial Rights
When reprints of your work appear in another magazine, you are selling second serial rights. You can sell reprints to several publications at the same time because these are not exclusive rights.

Geographic Rights
Another right you can sell is geographic rights, which allows you to reserve the right to sell your work to publications in other countries.

Selling only first North American serial rights, when you first sell an article opens the door to selling in other geographic regions because, again, it restricts publication to the U.S. and Canada.

Some writers sell the exact same article, with no changes, over and over again. Other writers make slight changes to more tightly target the specific audience of each publication they sell their material to.

Electronic Rights
Electronic rights are not nearly as clear as first North American serial rights and second serial rights. When you write for online publications, blogs, or web sites, most of the same copyright rules apply as for first serial rights, however, there may be some areas you will need to address.

For example, can the publisher archive your work? This means the publisher can save your work in a database and let their readers download it to their computers and handheld devices or read it online, making it forever available.

Also, keep in mind that when you sell to a print publication, they may have an online version of their magazine. Check to make sure you know if you are also selling them electronic rights. If you are, you will want to know how extensively they can use your work.

Since this is not a very clear area when it comes to copyrights, it’s a good idea to specify clearly which rights you are selling in your contract with each publisher.

Simultaneous Rights
Other rights you can sell include simultaneous rights and all rights. When you sell simultaneous rights, you are assuring the publishers that you are selling to publications whose circulations do not overlap with theirs. This requires some research on your part to make sure that the publications you are selling to have separate circulation areas.

All Rights
Selling all rights means that you are selling all rights to your work forever, you will only receive one payment for it, no matter how many times that publisher reuses it, and you may not ever sell it again because you have relinquished all rights to it.

For some writers, this is not an issue because they repurpose their articles. Let me explain. It’s possible to sell all rights to an article and then resell another article about that same topic, after you have significantly changed or rewritten it to target a different publication and audience.

This requires some work on your part, however, since you’ve already done the research, it should be easier and less time consuming than having to do new research to write an article on an entirely different topic.

Observing the Legalities for Freelance Writing
Always remember to have your attorney, who should be familiar with contracts for freelance work, review any contract before you sign it. Ask your attorney to make sure you are only selling the rights you want to sell and to help you understand exactly which rights you are selling, especially if the publication’s contract states that the publication wants to purchase additional rights.

The intricacies of copyright law may seem complicated at first, but you will get the hang of it. Copyright law protects your rights and your income as a writer, so remember to include which rights you are selling on every piece you sell.

I invite you to share your copyright stories with Writers Inkwell readers. Tell us which rights you sold and which rights publishers wanted to purchase. How did you resolve any differences you had with your publisher regarding rights you were willing to sell?

Dip your pen into the inkwell and tell us your story.

The Writers Inkwell Muse


Work for Hire vs. Copyright

Many new writers get confused about who owns the copyright to the documents they create and this can cause hard feelings between the writer and his client.

When a company or an individual hires you to write something for them, whatever that something may be, an article, book, brochure, ad copy, press release, web site content, whatever that something may be, you are contracting to do a work for hire. That means that the company or individual who hired you owns the copyright. You, as the writer, own nothing that you created for them. You only are entitled to payment for the writing services you rendered.

On the other hand, when you write an original book, article, or any of the above-mentioned documents on your own for your own use, you own the copyright. So if you write a book on your own about a topic of your choice or a brochure about your freelance writing services, you own the copyright to the content of that book and that brochure.

The fine distinction between these two very different types of written works has often resulted in contention between the writer and the true owner of the materials the writer created.

I strongly recommend that you always clarify whether the work you are doing is a work for hire or a work to which you own the copyright to avoid confusion and the possible loss of future business. I find it helpful to put this in my contracts, as well.

Dip your pen into the inkwell and tell us about a work for hire project you considered or rejected.

The Writers Inkwell Muse


Getting into the Zone

When you write, do you ever lose track of time?

I notice that sometimes when I am particularly engrossed in what I am writing the world shifts into a state of timelessness. The ticking clock slips away, replaced by a state I call ‘the zone.’ When I’m in the zone, everything I do seems almost effortless. The words flow and whatever I’m working on just comes together.

Getting into the zone is easy. I just focus on the project at hand and dive into it. Getting out takes a few minutes to adjust to real world reality. When I’m in the zone, I can do anything I want. If II have a question, all I have to do is ask and the answer comes to me as if from thin air. Best of all, when I’m in the zone, I have a sense that time has stopped

DIp Your Pen into the Inkwell and tell us about your ‘zone.’

The Writers Inkwell Muse

Good or Bad, Writing Is Subjective

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 those rejections 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 lead to future writing assignments with that editor.

Dip Your Pen into the Inkwell and tell us what you learned from a rejection letter you received.

The Writers Inkwell Muse

Never Give Up—Persistence Is the Key to Writing Success

Many writers joke that the road to writing success requires you to 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, I want to 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

How to Sell What You Write

How good are you at marketing?

I can hear you saying that you’re a writer, not a marketer. Well, if you’re a writer who sells or wants to sell your work, you’re not only a writer, you’re also a marketer.

Everyday we find ourselves in situations where we need to sell a product (our writing), sell ourselves (in interviews with potential clients), sell a house, sell a car, sell “stuff” at a garage sale, the list goes on.

If you’re a freelance writer, it’s critical that you view yourself as a marketer because your income depends on your ability to market and sell what you write.

If you’re not quite ready to jump into the marketing arena with both feet, I’d like to recommend my favorite book for aspiring marketing and sales people.

I first read this book when I was only 12 years old and it inspired me. I’ve read it so many times since that my hardcover copy is fragile and torn. Although it is now falling apart, I still love that book. I just gave a paperback copy to a friend’s daughter for her 16th birthday because I want her to have a head start on achieving her dreams.

I had the great privilege of meeting the author, Og Mandino, when he spoke at a local college several years ago. I’m not one to ask celebrities for autographs, but that evening I brought my ragged, torn copy of The Greatest Salesman in the World with me in the hope that I might meet the author and have the opportunity to tell him how much his book means to me.

I couldn’t believe my good fortune when, after his talk, Og Mandino said that he would remain for a while to autograph his books.

When I handed my torn and battered copy of The Greatest Salesman in the World, to him with apologies for its appearance, Mr. Mandino graciously agreed to sign it.

He opened the book and looked at the copyright page. Then he slowly turned the ragged, torn book over and over in his large hands, lovingly stroking the cover.

For a few brief moments, he seemed thousands of miles away before he caught himself and returned to the present. He told me that my copy was one of the original print runs of that book and therefore quite valuable. I was stunned because I hadn’t realized that there was a financial value attached to it. I’d only been focused on the emotional value it held for me.

We spoke for a few minutes longer before he signed my copy of his book and I think he was a bit taken aback when I told him that I would not ever sell my copy and intended to keep it forever.

If you’re struggling with how to market and sell your freelance writing services or if you’re looking for inspiration, The Greatest Salesman in the World is a must read.

Dip your pen into the Inkwell and tell us about your favorite inspirational, writing, or business book.

Write One With Confidence!

The Writers Inkwell Muse


Musings From the Inkwell—Why Did You Become a Writer?

Have you ever thought about why you became a writer?

It seems to me that writing was just a natural progression because I loved books as a child. I remember how happy I felt the day my kindergarten teacher taught us to write our names. I raced home at warp speed and entered the house shouting, “I can write! I can write! I can write my name. Now I can write a book!”

Well, hey, I was only five. How was I supposed to know that there was more to writing than just my name? Still, it was exciting and I impatiently waited for the next morning so I could ask my kindergarten teacher to teach me more so I could write. When she explained that everyone in class needed to learn the entire alphabet first, I asked if she could teach it to us that day because I already knew it.

Another writer I know said she became a writer because it was something she could do from home and she couldn’t concentrate in an office environment. Ditto that, too. My first mentor, a an older technical writer who had been freelancing for nearly 20 years by the time we met said that he enjoyed the challenge of putting into words other people’s thoughts and ideas. Only one writer I know mentioned wanting to write from a young age.

When I was in kindergarten, I remember feeling impatient with how slowly we had to go and how long it took to learn to write a few words. To keep boredom at bay, I remember pouring through my storybooks and copying words that contained letters I recognized. Then I’d ask what the words were. I slowly and painstakingly put together a list of words I knew, so I could write a short story with them.

To this day, I don’t know why my fascination with writing has persisted. It’s not an easy profession. Yet, there’s something about it. I’m naturally drawn to writing. It’s a great way to share  knowledge (both mine and others’), express my feelings, explore my thoughts, and even to find a few answers when I’m puzzled by an issue or problem. I guess writing is as much a part of me as breathing. I rather like both.

Why did you become a writer? Dip your pen into the Inkwell and tell us.

Write On With Confidence.
The Writers Inkwell Muse