Writing tips from Neil Gaiman

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Neil Gaiman is one of my favourite authors. I’ve read almost everything he’s written, including The Sandman comics, The View from the Cheap Seats, American Gods, Coraline, Smoke and Mirrors, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane. He just speaks to me

I recently came across writing tips from his Master Class, which I have yet to take, but it’s definitely on my list. It’s definitely worth a share. Although these tips are designed for fiction writers, I believe that you can apply some of the tips for writing articles, blog posts, and other works of non-fiction.

Writing tips

  • Use lies (stories) to communicate truths.
  • Acknowledge your growth areas – identify your skill gaps.
  • Start a compost heap (what will help you write future stories) – influences are everywhere.
  • Reveal a little too much of yourself.
  • Pay attention to the strangeness of humanity.
  • Don’t tell readers how to feel – create emotion without dictating emotion.
  • Get the bad stories out of your pen – write continuously.
  • Stumble upon your voice – experiment with your writing.
  • Create mutually exclusive desires – put characters at odds
  • Give your characters funny hats – everyone should be uniquely defined.
  • Ask yourself, “What is this story about?”
  • Separate feedback from advice – feedback is about what you did poorly, advice tells you how to fix it.
  • Do just enough research to write your stories.

Who are your favourite writers, and what have you learned from them? Let me know – contact@davidgargaro.com.

David

Opportunities for freelance writers, reimagine your existing content, getting specific, and more

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Here are a few interesting articles and blog posts I’ve read this past week:


Do you read some great newsletters? Share them with me – contact@davidgargaro.

David

How to write a great conclusion to your article or blog post

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A lot has been written about the importance of writing strong titles and headlines, as well as a powerful introduction, to attract people to read your article or blog post. Of course, it’s important to start strong to pull the reader into your content. But what about the conclusion?

It’s important to write a satisfying conclusion for your article or blog post. And I don’t mean the call to action. The conclusion wraps up your point and answers the question “So what?” for the reader. It’s pretty disappointing to read a great book or watch a great TV show that ends poorly – it’s almost like the rest of what you read or watched didn’t matter.

Nicholas Labonté from Craft Your Content wrote a great blog post on three steps to writing a satisfying conclusion. In a nutshell, to write a great conclusion:

  • Restate the thesis of your article or blog post to back up your main premise.
  • Synthesize (don’t summarize) your main points by breaking them down to explain the why behind them.
  • Open the reader to the possibilities that can extend from your thesis and main points, and broadens their horizons.

You can practice writing conclusions by paraphrasing what you’ve written in your article or blog post. This involves rewriting passages using different words to make the meaning clearer to your reader. It can involve providing more details to clarify the original meaning of the content. The paraphrased content should still contain the original thoughts and ideas, and make any “hidden” or “suppressed” meanings more explicit. 


Do you need help with writing a conclusion to your article or blog post? Let me know – contact@davidgargaro.com.

David

How to prevent yourself from getting fatigued when working from home

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I’ve been working from a home office for most of my career. I’m used to it, and don’t get tired from sitting for long periods of time. I take breaks throughout the day, although not as often as I should.

Many people are working from home for the first time, and fatigue is becoming a major issue. Some time ago, I read one of Dale Carnegie’s books, where he shared six ways to prevent fatigue. They’re quite useful, so I’m sharing the tips with you here.

  1. Rest before you get tired. Experts say you should drink water before you get thirsty if you’re outside in a very hot area. By the time you get thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. The same can be said for resting before you get tired. Take a break to prevent yourself from getting too tired and making mistakes in your work.
  2. Learn how to relax when working. This could involve listening to calming music, taking play breaks with your pets or children, pausing to play a game or take a short walk – whatever works best for you.
  3. Protect your health and appearance by relaxing at home. You’re already home, so this should be pretty simple. Watch for signs of illness and follow steps to stay healthy. You can do what you need to stay healthy when you’re home already. If you have to go to the office, then use your sick days when you need them.
  4. Develop strong work habits.
    • Clear your desk of all papers except for the immediate work or problem at hand.
    • Do things in descending order of importance.
    • Solve a problem right away if you have the facts to make a decision.
    • Organize, deputize, and supervise – you don’t have to do all the work yourself.
  5. Put enthusiasm into your work. It’s important to like what you do. Do your work with positive energy. Enjoy what you do as much as you can, and find moments of pleasure in your work. Be proud of doing great work.
  6. Don’t worry about insomnia. Worry is more damaging than not being able to sleep. Find ways to release stress and worry in your life, and you will be able to sleep.

Read anything by Dale Carnegie – he’s an amazing writer. And make sure to get a good night’s sleep. If you have any suggestions on preventing work fatigue, let me know – contact@davidgargaro.com.

David

How to write with greater clarity

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I didn’t have time to write today, as I got backed up with some projects that all arrived at the same time, along with a meeting with a client to discuss a new project.

However, I wanted to share a great article called “20 questions toward achieving civic clarity in your writing” by Roy Peter Clark. I picked out four key questions that I ask when trying to make my writing clearer to the reader.

  • Have I used shorter words, sentences and paragraphs at the points of greatest complexity?
  • Where is the jargon, the technical language that came with the experts? What jargon terms can be avoided?
  • Can I say with certainty that I have found my focus — the one key piece of knowledge I want to impart?
  • Is my story so clear that a reader could pass along the most important information to another person?

These questions tie nicely into a blog post I wrote on writing clear copy, which lays out ten key ways to do so:

  1. Put the reader first.
  2. Organize your selling points.
  3. Break content into shorter sections.
  4. Use short sentences.
  5. Use simple words.
  6. Be concise.
  7. Be specific.
  8. Get to the point.
  9. Write in a friendly, conversational style.
  10. Avoid sexist language.

David

Matching the verb to the subject of your sentence

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There are many situations where it can be difficult to determine whether to use the singular or plural form of a verb in a sentence. The key is to focus on the subject, and not all the other words around the subject that can distract you. To follow are examples of when to use the singular or plural form of a verb depending on the subject.

Note: Thanks to The Elements of Grammar by Margaret Schertzer for the direction.

Note 2: Some of the sentences are written in passive voice, or in a way to illustrate the point, and not necessarily the most effective or efficient way.

Compound subjects

Use the plural when the subject includes two or more nouns or pronouns connected by AND, except when the nouns refer to the same person or express one idea

  • Our cars and trucks are equipped with GPS devices.
  • He and his mother are on the school committee.
  • My wife and partner says I should pay more attention to her.
  • The heart and soul of the team is the goalie.

Use a singular verb when connecting singular subjects with OR or NOR.

  • Either the dog or the cat is sitting in your chair.
  • Neither Franklin nor Bash knows who took the pizza.

If you have one singular and one plural subject connected by EITHER-OR or NEITHER-NOR, put the plural subject second and the verb should agree with the plural subject.

  • Either the owner or the employees are able to deliver the goods to the client.
  • Neither my wife nor my children are allowed to drive my new car.

Agreement

The verb should agree with the subject. Ignore any nouns placed between the verb and subject.

  • The list of companies is located on my desk.
  • The latest report about our findings has been published on our website.

Verb before subject

Be careful when the verb comes before the subject. Pay attention to whether the subject is singular or plural, regardless of the order.

  • Lisa said there were case studies being written about how their customers used their software.
  • Within this book are appendices for the different resources used in its writing.

Working with quantities

The verb should agree with the noun in the prepositional phrase when working with fractions.

  • Half of the bottle was finished before I took it out of the cabinet.
  • Half of the people were from outside the region.

The verb should be singular for nouns of quantity, distance, time and amount that are treated as a unit.

  • Fifty dollars is enough for a birthday gift.
  • Six feet of space is required between the two of you.

Collective nouns

A collective noun names a group of persons, animals or things. If the noun refers to a group doing something as one, make the verb singular. If the noun refers to the individuals in the group, make the verb plural.

  • The group has come to a decision on where to go for dinner.
  • The parks committee are not in agreement on where to place the playground equipment.

Other blog posts on grammar topics


Do you need help with writing or grammar issues? Let me know – contact@davidgargaro.com.

David

What mistakes are you making on your website’s About Me page?

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If you’re a freelance writer or run any type of business, and you have a website, you need an About Me / About My Business page. You might think most people ignore it or don’t care about you, but the About Me page gets a lot of traffic. Yes, customers care most about how you can help them solve their problems, but they also want to know about the person who will help them. If you don’t have an About Me page, your prospect might not trust you, as if you don’t care to share who you are, then why should they want to work with you?

So, you need an About Me page. There are many ways to do it right, but I’d like you to know what you might be doing wrong. Avoiding these mistakes will put you on the right path to creating a great About Me page.

  1. You don’t have an About Me page. Or you call it something it different to be clever. Don’t do that. Make sure you have an About Me page.
  2. You don’t list your name or credentials. Your clients and prospects need to know who you are. How will people refer you if you don’t mention your name, your credentials, qualifications, etc.
  3. You don’t include a photo. People will be more comfortable working with you if they can put a face to the name.
  4. Your writing is boring. You’re a writer, so show your skills. People tend to forget how to write when they’re writing about themselves. Use your best writing voice – the one that makes you money.
  5. You only put in video, or focus too much on video. Video is great, as people like watching videos online. It’s great for rapport. But some people hate watching videos. It’s not for everyone, and can annoy some people. Keep videos short and interesting. Support your video with copy.
  6. You go on too long. Storytelling is an effective strategy but don’t be long-winded and boring. Talk about what’s important to the reader, not every part of your life and experience.
  7. You make the About Me page all about you. Focus on what would matter to your clients – the reader – and how you can help them achieve their goals, solve their problems, etc.

Need help with writing the About Me page or your website? Let me know – contact@davidgargaro.com.

David, author of How to Run Your Company… Into the Ground

Simple strategies for positioning your freelance writing business

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Many successful businesses position themselves in a specific way to attract certain types of clients. As a freelance writer, you should do the same.

Think about when you go out to grab a coffee with your friends. Why do you choose to go to Starbucks or Second Cup or Tim Hortons or the local independent coffee shop? Is it because it’s the closest place? Maybe so. Or is it because you want to feel a certain way when you’re drinking your coffee. Very likely.

How you position yourself as a freelance writer will compel your clients to feel a certain way about you. How they feel about you will also affect how you present yourself to the world and do business.

There are different strategies for positioning yourself to prospects and clients. They can work together or on their own.

Build credibility through your marketing

You can develop your positioning – and build your credibility as a content writer – by regularly marketing yourself and your services. How you market your services is up to you, but here are a few ideas:

  • Blogging: Writing a personal or industry blog, publishing posts on LinkedIn, writing long-form articles in publications and newsletters
  • Speaking: Given webinars and talks on topics you write about or are an expert in
  • Passive marketing: Stating in your blurb or bio who you help and what they get from working from you
  • Social media: Maintaining a current and consistent presence on your social media pages (e.g., LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram)

Maintain your website

Your website is part of your marketing, but it is also its own entity. Establishing and maintaining your web presence is part of developing your positioning. Your website should do the following:

  • Communicate who you serve and how you serve them – be clear about your ideal client and what you do to help them
  • Use good SEO and keyword usage – it addresses your clients’ business needs, using language that they would use to search for your services
  • Ensure your website has intuitive navigation – it’s easy to use and find information, and it’s not overly creative
  • Include a call to action – tell your visitors what to do and where to go when on your website
  • Keep your site up to date with current technology (mobile friendly) and link to your social media profiles

Recognize networking opportunities

Right now, it’s difficult to network in person. When you can network in person through real events (or even if you’re doing online events), do the following:

  • Connect with the person you want to meet before actually meeting them – connect on LinkedIn, saying you’re reaching out because you will both be attending the event
  • Start an online discussion about the event you’ll be attending
  • Pre-Tweet or post about the event, asking anyone who is attending if they want to connect or chat
  • Follow people you’ve met at the event online

When you’re building your network, make sure to include the following types of people:

  • Current and past customers
  • Peers and colleagues
  • Mentors
  • Referral sources

Cultivate your leads

To position yourself as a freelance writer, you need to develop relationships with people you want to work with. There are many different ways to cultivate relationships with leads – consider these ideas:

  • Create an email newsletter – include an opt-in and opt-out email list, write it regularly (weekly, bi-monthly, monthly), and provide consistently relevant information
  • Build a social media following – connect with leads online, follow them, share useful information, respond to comments
  • Write personal messages when doing outreach – reach out regularly to people who’ve responded to emails or social media posts, ask if they are ready to work with you

Blog posts on positioning your freelance writing services


Do you need help with positioning your freelance writing services? Let me know – contact@davidgargaro.com.

David, Author of How to Run Your Company… Into the Ground

How to win over clients as a freelance writer

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Finding new clients for your freelance content writing business – or any business for that matter – is more important today than it has ever been. Many freelancers have lost clients due to COVID-19 forcing the closure of their clients’ businesses, as well as some clients reducing their needs for freelance writing. It’s also important for new freelancers who want to grow their business.

There are many, MANY ways to find clients as a freelance writing business. To follow are four strategies that can work together to help you win new clients as a freelance writer.

Define your ideal client

Think about who you want to work with, or who you have worked with that was a great client. You enjoy the work and they pay well. Winning just a few ideal clients can make your business, and help you to enjoy the work you do so you’ll want to do great work.

Consider your goals – income goals, lifestyle goals, fulfillment of work – and match the clients to your goals.

So how can you classify ideal clients?

  • Clients within your industry or desired niche
  • Geography
  • Connections to others within your network
  • Mutually shared interests

Create a client acquisition plan

You need a way to find and acquire clients. The method depends on what works best for you, but here are some ideas:

  • Ask people in your network for connections
  • Attend local business events (online if necessary)
  • Join and search industry associations
  • Use LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. – wherever you hang out online
  • Send out cold and warm emails, make phone calls, mail postcards, etc.

Whatever method you choose, commit to a repeatable plan. Stick with the methods that work for you, and repeat daily / weekly / monthly. Set tasks that you can repeat each week, and that will take a few hours of your week. Aim for bite-sized tasks that are easy to accomplish, as they will spur you to keep going.

Do what is within your control, and what you feel comfortable doing.

Sell solutions to business problems

You’re a writer (or whatever you happen to do). But your potential clients don’t really care what you do. The want solutions to their problems, not specific skills or services.

A skill is something you know how to do. A business problem is something you can solve using your skills. You can sell your skill set (i.e., say what you do, the experience you have doing it) to sell a solution to a specific problem. State the following:

I can help you do THING IMPORTANT TO CLIENT. I helped clients in your industry GET RESULT IMPORTANT TO CLIENT.

Create a sustainable business – repeat clients

The key to creating a sustainable business is to work with clients who will keep using your services over time. You don’t want “one and done” work … unless it pays very well and leads to referrals for more work.

This should be part of your client acquisition plan. Book strategy calls with clients every quarter or every few months. Discuss how you can take care of their work needs, as well as how you can help them to achieve their business goals.

Other blog posts on getting new clients


Do you need help with growing your freelance content writing business? Do you need a freelance writer? Let me know – contact@davidgargaro.com.

David

Follow up – the key to effective prospecting

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Prospecting is an essential component of being an effective freelance content writer. Unless you have mastered inbound marketing or you have clients beating a path to your door, you must prospect. You must do the work to find and reach out to potential clients. It’s one of the key components of successfully marketing your freelance writing business.

However, prospecting is more effective when you follow up. It’s not practical to expect great results when you only reach out to prospects once. How many times you follow up is your call, but you must follow up at least once.

Why should you follow up to be more effective at prospecting?

  • It is necessary! Everyone is busy these days. Reminding a potential client that you can write their articles, blog posts, case studies and other content – or provide an essential service – is useful to your prospect, and a professional use of your time.
  • Things happen. Your clients might get busy or something could distract them to cause them to ignore or forget about your initial message.

So, how do you prospect more effectively?

  • Make it easy to get permission from your prospect to follow up again. Set a date for reaching out the next time, and the next steps at the end of your prospecting email or call.
  • Don’t force it. You cannot manufacture urgency that does not exist. Do not force motivation for the prospect to move forward.
  • Have a plan for long-term follow up. They might not be able to respond or buy right now, but they might buy in the mid-term future. Follow up over several weeks and months by sending something of value to show you are thinking of them. This could include links to an article, blog posts, ebook, web site, etc. This is known as lead nurturing.
  • Spread out your follow-up attempts using a defined process (calendar apps, scheduling software, CRM tools, etc. are good for this). Set your own rules for when and how you follow up. Adjust your methods when you learn what works and what doesn’t.
  • Be graceful and professional if the prospect says they’re not interested. A “No” now does not mean a “No” forever, and they could still become helpful down the road.

Other blog posts on prospecting


Need help with writing prospecting emails? Let me know – contact@davidgargaro.com.

David