Category: writing

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 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

An incomplete list of writing tips for freelance content writers and copywriters

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There are bookshelves and websites filled with strategies on how to write better, faster, clearer, more compelling copy. I came across a few writing tips I wanted to share here because they are quick and easy to digest.

Writing tips that seem wrong but work

There are many “hard” rules for writing grammatically correct content. There are other rules for writing great ad copy, or great articles, or great blog posts. These writing tips might seem wrong, but can work when used properly. Try them out.

  • Begin sentences with a conjunction (but, or, and)
  • End your sentence with a preposition (of, with, for)
  • Use sentence fragments
  • Write one-sentence paragraphs
  • Use graphic techniques (sparingly) to emphasize words – bold, underline, capitals, italics, colours, arrows
  • Use bullets in the middle of your copy

The writer’s checklist

When you’ve finished writing your first draft, ask yourself:

  • Does the copy fulfill the promise of the headline?
  • Is the copy interesting?
  • Is it easy to read?
  • It it believable?
  • Is it persuasive?
  • Is it specific?
  • Is it concise?
  • Is it relevant to the reader?
  • Does the copy flow smoothly?
  • Does it contain a call to action?

40 one-sentence writing tips

This list of writing tips comes from Josh Spector. It’s a collection of lessons he has learned over the years that can help you get the most out of the next thing you write.

Writing lessons for the beginning writer

We’ve all been beginning writers – even Stephen King and Neil Gaiman, who make everything sound great. When we look back on our writing careers, there’s a lot we wished we knew when we started. This article on eight writing lessons explains what Naomi Pham from Craft Your Content wishes she knew as a beginner blog writer – it’s good stuff. These tips can help you to write more productively, overcome self-doubt, and love your writing.

Writing better email copy

I’ve written a million emails in my life, and I do a lot of email prospecting. Here’s a good list of six email copy characteristics that will help you write your next email.


Have any writing tips? Need help with your writing? Let me know – contact@davidgargaro.com

David

Adding humour and personality to your prospecting emails

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Thanks to Lianna Patch of PunchLineCopy.com for her article on this topic.

I’ve written about making better use of your subject line to attract prospects and encourage clients to respond to your emails. A well written subject line can mean the difference between getting more responses and getting none at all.

One way to get more out of your email is to inject humour and personality into the subject line. The key is to employ YOUR sense of humour and YOUR personality when writing to prospects and clients. If it’s not your style, or it does not feel right to you for the client or the situation, then don’t do it. However, if you can apply your brand of humour or personality, then there are many opportunities to use smart, funny writing in your subject line to get results.

Following up with prospects

The followup can be powerful. Speak to the benefit of what they will get or the pleasure of working with you.

  • Working together will be a blast.
  • Let’s take your writing project to the next level!
  • Hey! Do you still want to knock out that killer email project?

Sending work to a client for feedback

You need to find out what the client thinks of the work, and what to do next. Show that you care, and inject some life into that subject line.

  • I’m dying to know what you think!
  • Voila! Your marketing materials are here.
  • You have an incoming telegram – your sales letter awaits your attention.

Thanking a client for a great project

Many people neglect to thank their clients after the work is done. You’ll be amazed at how much appreciation (and work) you’ll receive in return, as gratitude emails are very effective.

  • I just wanted to say… you’re the best!
  • This project made the top of my list of favourite gigs ever!
  • Think of this email as a box of chocolate without the calories.

Checking in with past clients

I do this every few months, and often find that I get a nibble after throwing out a few check-in emails. Sometimes, past clients need to be reminded of your existence, and how great it was when you worked together.

  • Danger! Danger! This email will explode if you don’t open it soon.
  • It’s a blast from the past, and better than reruns of your favourite Seinfeld episode.
  • This email will make you smile, as it’s a message from your favourite copy editor.

Sharing something to keep the flame alive

Some people like to share interesting articles or news with clients. Those are good, but adding some personality to your subject line will be the icing on the cake… and who doesn’t like icing?

  • Hey Mark! I thought of you when I read this.
  • I just read the funniest story, and I had to tell you about it.

Additional tips

  • Keep the subject line short and strong when possible.
  • lowercase the first word… didn’t that just stand out when you read it?
  • Use an emoji that fits… but just one.

What did you think of these email tips? Would you use them? Do you have suggestions of your own? Let me know – contact@davidgargaro.com.

David

Understanding the four main properties of nouns

In a previous post, I discussed the different types of nouns. Today’s post is about the main properties of nouns.

According to the Chicago Manual of Style, nouns have four main properties:

  • Case
  • Number
  • Gender
  • Person

Case

Case refers to the relationship between a noun (or pronoun) and other words in a sentence. While there is some disagreement about whether there are two or three cases, you only need to concern yourself with two:

  • Normal = no apostrophe: The principal is in her office.
  • Possessive = apostrophe: This is the principal’s office.

Number

Number shows whether the noun refers to one object (fox, stick, candy) or more than one object (foxes, sticks, candies). Some nouns differ when describing one object (person) compared to more than one object (people).

Gender

Gender is not used as often in English as it is in other languages, such as French or Spanish, which have masculine and feminine accompanying articles. Other languages also refer to non-living things in the masculine or feminine, whereas English typically uses gender only for people and other living creatures.

Gender can be masculine (son), feminine (sister) or common (parent). In the masculine and feminine cases, a gender-appropriate pronoun can replace the noun (e.g., he for son, she for sister).

Many gender-specific nouns that refer to a person’s job or position have gender-neutral versions. For example:

  • Police officer instead of policeman / policewoman
  • Firefighter instead of fireman / firewoman
  • Flight attendant instead of steward / stewardess
  • Server / waitperson instead of waiter / waitress

Note: The English language is constantly being updated to address people who do not identify with either the masculine or feminine gender, or who are gender-fluid. I am not knowledgeable enough to cover this topic in proper detail. My goal is simply to explain the meaning of gender in the use of nouns.

Person

Person refers primarily to pronouns, but also applies to nouns used with pronouns. A noun or pronoun can be in the:

  • First person = the one doing the speaking: I, David, swear that…
  • Second person = the one being spoken to: Girls, you are being…
  • Third person = the one being spoken about: That car belongs to…

Do you have any questions about grammar? Let me know – contact@davidgargaro.com.

David

Understanding the different types of nouns

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If you’re a writer, then you should understand the most important tools of your trade – words. After all, words are your bread and butter. Many writers focus on understanding and properly using verbs, as they drive the action. However, you should also be familiar with nouns and how to use them.

According to the Chicago Manual of Style 15, a noun is “a word that names something, whether abstract (intangible) or concrete (tangible).”

  • An abstract noun describes something that you cannot see, hear, touch, taste or smell (e.g., feelings, concepts, ideas or events).
  • A concrete noun describes something that you can either see, hear, touch, taste or smell.

A common noun is the informal name of an item in a class or group – an apple, a box, a bridge. Common nouns are not capitalized unless they begin a sentence or appear in a title.

A proper noun is a person’s name (e.g., Frank, Arlene), or the official name of a thing or place (e.g., Toronto, CN Tower). Proper nouns are always capitalized.

Count nouns have singular and plural forms (e.g., boat / boats, pixie / pixies. loaf / loaves). When a count noun is the subject of the sentence:

  • The singular count noun takes a singular verb (e.g., the box is heavy).
  • The plural count noun takes a plural verb (e.g., the boxes are heavy).

Mass (noncount or collective) nouns cannot be counted. They apply to something that is abstract (e.g., love, pressure) or something that has an unknown number of people or things (e.g., the staff, membership).

  • When a mass noun is the subject of the sentence, it usually takes a singular verb (e.g., the population is large).
  • When used in the collective sense, it can take either a singular or plural verb (e.g, The group is difficult to please / The group of vendors are difficult to please). The singular verb puts the emphasis on the group, while the plural verb focuses on the individual members.

Do you have any questions about grammar? Let me know – contact@davidgargaro.com.

David

How to position your freelance writing or creative business

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Some freelancers, solopreneurs, and creative professionals want to be all things to all people. You can be a “Jack/Jill of all trades” and still be successful. I’m a bit of a generalist – I write on a wide range of topics for clients in different industries. There’s a book called Range by David Epstein which argues that you can have more success by not focusing on a niche (read it – it’s quite good).

However, some freelance writing experts argue you can find greater success by focusing on a niche and deciding upon who you want or need to serve. Position your services by focusing on an area to stand out among your competitors. Show your customers that YOU are the solution for them. Customers respond better to focused prospecting.

I think you can succeed by focusing even if you are a generalist. You can write just informative articles and blog posts for companies in different markets.

So, where do you start in positioning your freelance writing or creative business?

  • Explore 2-3 areas or industries that you want to work in based on your experience, connections, interests, etc. Start with what you know and where you have experience.
  • Look more deeply into the markets you serve. Determine what your clients/market needs, and determine how you can satisfy that need while doing something that you enjoy.
  • Follow current business trends and investments. Choose growing markets as well – such as ebooks and interactive publishers.
  • Tell your prospects that you understand their particular issues and that you can help them to address those needs. Using your industry experience, try to address those specific challenges.
  • Choose markets that have money to spend. Look at their websites and marketing materials, and collect marketing materials from trade shows. When examining the markets, take a look at the size of the market (number of prospects), the average project or purchase size, and the frequency of the need for your services.

There are many other ways to position your creative business, but these ideas should give you a leg up in attracting the clients that you want, and growing your business. Do you have other ideas for positioning your creative business? Let me know – contact@davidgargaro.com.

David Gargaro