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Month: September 2015

You Don’t Have to Be the Best Writer to Get the Best Job

It doesn’t matter if you write the most intriguing query letter and it doesn’t matter if you write the perfect article, if you’re making any one of the mistakes I’m about to share with you.

The hard truth is, the best writers don’t necessarily get the best writing jobs.

The best writers don’t necessarily get any jobs. Talent alone will not get you hired.

What This Truth Means for You

Depending on how you feel about your own writing skills, reading that might have made you feel better or worse. But whether you believe writing skills are the product of inherent talent or years of practice, there are simple steps you can take to ensure you score regular gigs. These steps really don’t have anything to do with talent, but they do indicate whether you are a professional.

As a managing editor of a major website, I sought out professionals. Typos, misspellings, factual errors, and sloppy writing are all hallmarks of unprofessionalism. You don’t want that label.

You want to be the opposite of that. You want to stand out from the crowd because you do care and you do comb through every detail of your work. Remember, an editor is typically overworked and overwhelmed. He or she is likely primarily looking for a reason to delete emails, and secondarily looking for quality materials.

6 Things to Look for Before You Hit Send

Here are six things you should look for in your article, manuscript, pitch, or query before you hit the send button. These might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how often I see them in my inbox. And let’s be real, we all know we’ve committed at least a couple of these.

  1. Spelling – Misspellings are an instant reason for an editor to hit “delete.” Keep an eye out especially for things that spellcheckers won’t recognize, such as “their” instead of “there.”
  2. Adjectives and adverbs – These should not be the heart of your writing. Superfluous use of them is the sign of an immature writer (in years or in experience). Delete as many as you can.
  3. Grammar – I don’t expect all writers to be grammar nerds, but I do expect them to have a general understanding of their craft. Look for non-sequiturs and noun-verb agreement in particular.
  4. Repetition – Repetitive use of the same word is another sign of either a young writer or someone who hasn’t reread and refined her draft. If you see the same word popping up, it’s time to bust out your thesaurus.
  5. Clichés – By definition, clichés bring nothing new to your work. Delete them all.
  6. Incorrect clichés – It is not a “mute point” and there’s no such thing as “intensive purposes.”

Aside from all that technical stuff, there’s another level editors look for in potential writers. They look for people they actually want to work with. People they might even enjoy working with. This is something you should seek out, as well, because if someone enjoys working with you, he or she may hire you again.

If you can handle that on top of having an excellent query letter and article, then you’ll be shoulder to shoulder with a small percentage of capable people any editor would be eager to hire.

Photo of “Monkey-typing” by New York Zoological Society – Picture on Early Office Museum. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

How Your Article Introduction Is Just Like “Fight Club”

The first rule of Fight Club is – nobody talks about Fight Club.

The first rule of intros is – nobody wants to feel like they’re reading an intro.

So, what does it mean for something to “feel like it’s an intro”?

Well, basically, said another way, you don’t want to start out with the obvious (all that on-the-nose stuff).

The Fight Club Rules of Intros

Think about it – how many items have you clicked on an article because the title was intriguing, but then you never finished reading the whole piece (or maybe didn’t even make it through the first paragraph) because the opening sentence made you think, “Well, duh?”

Starting out with the obvious isn’t exciting. It doesn’t provoke thought or shares. It doesn’t make anyone say, “OMG, you have to read this!” Instead, it makes you say, “I knew that already,” and click away.

Rather than fall victim to the “duh” factor, you need to kick off your article or blog entry in a way that piques the reader’s interest. That makes her think, “Dang, I’ve got to read this,” or, “This is something I don’t know.”

How to Grab Your Readers From the Top

  • Tell your reader something she doesn’t know.
  • Share something she does know, but in a whole new way.
  • Share a statistic that will shock her.
  • Share something funny.
  • Make her laugh.
  • Make her say, “Wow.”

The theme that runs through all those ideas for how to start your article is something called the curiosity gap. This is the gap between what your readers know and what they don’t know. If you can trigger that gap, then your readers are more likely to get pulled into your article.

They think, “Wait, I didn’t know that. I need to read more.” Or, “Wait, what’s the answer to that question? I better find out.”

Especially if it means your reader winds up knowing something more than her friends. And I don’t mean that in a condescending way, but rather, in the way that Malcolm Gladwell talks about “mavens.” Mavens are people who love to share new knowledge with the rest of us. We see them as authorities and count on them to keep us in the know. They help us fill that curiosity gap. So, conversely, they seek out that gap.

Think about that. Wouldn’t it be awesome to have those people who are most highly regarded as authorities being the people who spread your article?

That said, sometimes the curiosity gap gets a real bad rap since it’s used to create a lot of click-baity headlines and slick sales materials. But the powers of the gap don’t have to be used for evil. The gap can simply be a way to show your readers that you’re an expert on a topic and you have something new to share with them.

Let’s Go Over Those Rules Again

So, what’s the first rule? Nobody wants to feel like they’re reading an intro?

No, what’s the first rule of Fight Club? Oh yeah, nobody talks about Fight Club.

But why? Is there something I should know about Fight Club?

Yeah, there is – and that’s the curiosity gap right there.

Photo by Matthew Walsh (This file was derived from: MMAstandup.png) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons.

How to Be Healthy Even Though You’re a Writer

Sometimes we replace bad habits with good habits. But more often than not, we replace good habits with other good habits. What I mean by that is, maybe you always wanted to have a daily writing habit. And now you’ve made a serious commitment, and you get up every morning to write your 750 words without fail.

But your morning run has gone by the wayside in the process.

Or you eat some sort of toaster pastry instead of making a healthy breakfast.

The time that you “created” for writing was really borrowed from a different positive habit. Your overall “win” column hasn’t actually progressed, you’ve just swapped one thing for another.

And now you kind of miss running. And you’re sick to death of the frosting on those nasty pastries.

Writing Makes Regular Life Hard.

Writing is a hard habit. And if you can make it a career, it’s a hard career. You’re by yourself most all of the time. You’re in charge of your own schedule. And you might really think that popcorn and hard cider make you more creative (who me?). Not to mention you’re sitting still all day as you work. Even if you’ve managed to progress yourself to a standing desk, you’re still standing in one place all day. And when your deadline gets moved up or you say “yes” to another gig, it’s just too easy to order delivery food and let the kettlebells get even more rusty out there in the rain on the porch.

You Have the Power. You’ve Done It Before.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Writers can be healthy people, too. I know this for a fact, for every single one of you. Because if you’ve created a writing habit, then you’ve overcome some of the nastiest, most overwhelming negative forces there are – those voices in your head. And if you can overcome those voices when it comes to writing, you can overcome them on every other front as well.

And in case you doubt me, I’ve got a plan. I’m making my comeback to being healthy on a daily basis, as well. My writing practice is strong, but muscles have been getting a vacation – and I’m going to change that. I’d love for you to join me in this new habit-forming, lifestyle-improving adventure.

I’m going to harness the power of The Whole Life Challenge. If you want to make a change in your health, then join my team. Make a commitment to swap a few bad lifestyle habits for good lifestyle habits.

Once you watch the video, then click here to read the Challenge FAQ and join me. Let’s get up and get out there. Yes, we can make a difference in other people’s lives with our writing – but we can also make a difference in our own lives with some simple, not-time-consuming daily habits. Habits like eating a little better, exercising for ten minutes per day, stretching, and drinking water. (Seriously, if you can write, you can totally do any of that! You probably spend more time procrastinating before you write than any of that actually takes!)

And if none of that grabs you, how about this:

The healthier we are…

…the longer we get to be on the planet.

And the longer we’re on this planet, the more words we get to write.

Copyright 2015 Hunt Gather Brew