Six eye-popping mistakes I’ve seen freelance writers make, and what to do instead

person lying on ground with book of notes over their face

Six eye-popping mistakes I’ve seen freelance writers make, and what to do instead

I have two careers. One is as a writer. The other is a marketing manager, so I’ve seen both sides. Here are some of the eye-popping blunders (in my humble opinion) I have seen writers make. Some alternatives that will make a better impression are also suggested.

1. Not being interested

Here is a little-known secret. The more you know about something, the more interesting it becomes.

This one is gob-smacking but saying how boring, stultifying, or dry a subject is isn’t uncommon. I’m sure no one thinks it is a fascinating subject, but don’t bite the hand that feeds you. 

Saying how boring a subject is that you’re paid to write about is mistake number one.

Always be curious, even if the topic sounds boring. 

When you don’t really understand a topic, that’s when it is dull and tedious.

When I think about all the ‘boring’ things I have written copy about, I realise I have an enormous amount of general knowledge.

Banking systems. Voice over Internet Protocol. Human Immunodeficiency Virus. Bandaids. (Actually, that should be ‘medical plasters’).

Pretend you’re curious. You don’t need to be an expert at the beginning, but if you show you’re curious, you demonstrate your professionalism.

In the paid writing game, our job is t find everything interesting. And everything is when you do the research. This brings me to my next peeve.

2. Not doing any research

Or not enough research or getting basic facts wrong. 

Why this happens really stumps me. Research and writing go hand-in-hand, don’t they? Research is a core part of the job.

Don’t demand to be spoonfed.  Do the research, preferably before your first meeting. That way you’re clarifying the details in your brief, rather than just getting your head around the job.

I would make sure you always proofread and fact-check your own your work. Even better,  have someone else edit for you if you can. 

3. Saying “no one is going to read it anyway” 

If you have been paid to write an annual report, or a market feasibility study, or something else, there will definitely be readers. There may well be lots of them. This is not only disrespectful, it’s most likely untrue.

Instead, for the love of your work, make it eloquent. Make it as graceful and persuasive as you can. And if you can’t make it eloquent, make it clear.

4. Getting the tone wrong for the audience

Have you ever noticed that most fast-food marketing sounds like a fifteen-year-old boy? Why do you think that is?

I once read the speech of a company Vice President that sounded like an intoxicated best man’s wedding speech. Pin down the audience before you you start writing.

5. Self-deprecation in someone else’s speech

A message enjoyed is a message remembered, so humour is often a good way to go. But there are exceptions.

Self-deprecation almost never works well for professionals with a professional audience. 

The reason why is that if you say something to an audience, they believe you, even if it’s tongue-in-cheek. If I say I’m a lousy golfer, even if I am a champion, people remember me saying I was a lousy golfer. They forget it was a joke, even if they laughed. The upshot of that is, there can be real credibility risks for the person everyone knows as a lousy golfer.

If you’re writing a speech for someone else,  make them humble, sure. But put them in a good light. Make your humour derive from a different source.

Do a quick interview with the person before you start writing and ask them a few questions. Try storytelling. and base it on their experience.

6. Being sloppy in emails

Even a humble email is a chance for the writer to shine. Be succinct, clear, and friendly, but not overly familiar.

Typographical errors start warning sirens for others. They show you haven’t taken the time to re-read your email before hitting ‘send’. 

Does that mean you won’t re-read the material you’re getting paid to produce?

It plants a seed of suspicion that your work isn’t high quality when your emails are a mess of errors, even if your polished work is excellent. 

We writers need to always make sure our words (our tools of the trade) are gleaming and sharp.  Even if you feel stretched for time, it’s worth taking the time to sculpt your message. 

 Instead of bashing out that email, particularly if you feel stressed or anxious, do some slow breathing and slow everything down. Walk around the black. I like to do twenty pushups. Okay, twelve.

Slow down, get the messaging right, then proofread, and say it out loud. Then hit send.

Summing up

Getting a paid writing gig often feels like a curse of complexity, but it is what we do. We do it for the endorphins, for the love of language, and for purity in communication. Not for the minuscule paycheque.

Even if you make these mistakes, I hope and believe you can find a better way.

If you don’t, you’ll amass an enviable sum of general knowledge that will see you take out a trivia grand slam.