Tag Archives: freelance

4 Quick Writing Tips to Improve Your Quality and Speed

20 Mar

ImageWhether you are working on a blog, business plan, or website copy, you may find the experience of writing alternately inspiring and frustrating.

Why is writing so exhilarating and yet so challenging?  It’s because you can always become a better writer.

Even the most seasoned writers must turn on their inner editors and practice self-criticism to train their prose into a publishable form.  So how can you improve the quality of your writing? Here are some of my personal writing tips below:

1. Outline First
Good writing will lead the reader through a logical structure. Before you dive into writing, think about the high-level structure of what you need to communicate.  Outline the key paragraphs and for each paragraph list the ideas, research, or arguments you are going to mention in each paragraph.  A thoughtful outline ensures that the writing to follow will be logical and coherent.

2. Let It Fly
When you begin to write, it’s tempting to strive for perfection with every word you type. Yet getting bogged down at the sentence level right away is actually counter-productive. Consider your first pass at any writing project as a free-write. Focus on getting your ideas down. After you have completed a paragraph or two, then go back and check that what you wrote relates back to your outline. Save word choice, grammar and sentence structure editing for the end of your process.

3. Don’t Abuse $10 Dollar Words
Eschew obfuscation is a favorite tongue-in-cheek idiom among editors for a reason. Writers commonly make the mistake of sprinkling their writing with multi-syllabic vocabulary words in an effort to sound more intelligent or authoritative. The problem is, most readers will have last seen these words when they were 16 and studying for the verbal portion of the SAT. When you edit your own writing, keep an eye out for complicated language and phrasing and always try to find the most direct path to your meaning.

4. Vary Your Style
Every writer has crutches in terms of word choice and sentence structure.  Take note of the phrases and words that you tend to repeat. While editing, look at the grammatical construction of each sentence, including how it starts. See  if you repeat that same type of sentence throughout your work.  Embed a Thesaurus search widget on your desktop or in your web browser so that you can more easily vary repeated words throughout your writing.

What’s your biggest writing challenge? Please share any of your own writing struggles and tips in the comments below!

Photo via stevendepolo.

Do You Agree that Word Clouds Are The “Mullets of The Internet?”

14 Oct

I am guilty of perpetuating Internet Mullets with my resume word cloud.

There’s a great piece on Nieman Journalism Lab about Jacob Harris’ hatred of word clouds. Harris, a journalist and software architect for The New York Times, argues that in terms of data visualization, word clouds just don’t deliver any valuable information. He gives some great examples of articles that use word clouds versus articles that use other more successful forms of data visualization.

I agree with Harris about word clouds popping up too frequently in journalism, but think that word clouds can be used as an online self-promotion tool for freelancers. If you go into your resume and remove all the non-descriptive words and leave all the action verbs and descriptive nouns you can turn that into a word cloud resume. I wrote a post about self-promotions for freelancers that describes this idea further.

Perhaps Harris would condone my use of a word cloud resume. He concedes that word clouds are useful for textual analysis. For example, if a Phd student wants to show how many times an author uses a specific word in a great work of literature (although arguably you could use a simple chart.)

Harris says that the biggest problems he sees with word clouds, is when a news organization uses a word cloud in a situation where textual analysis is not appropriate, like in a war analysis. Seeing how many times Iraq War coverage mentions the words “car” or “blast” really doesn’t give readers any new insight into the conflict.

Here is one choice passage from Harris’ post where he compares reading word clouds with looking at tea leaves:

I’ve seen this pattern across many news organizations: reporters sidestepping their limited knowledge of the subject material by peering for patterns in a word cloud — like reading tea leaves at the bottom of a cup. What you’re left with is a shoddy visualization that fails all the principles I hold dear.

The best part about Harris’ blog post is at the end, when he taunts the “sadistically inclined” readers who may go ahead and make a word cloud out of his post with this.

A Co-Working Article in The NY Times

5 May

Image via Flickr user stickwithjosh.

Back in December, The New York Times wrote about “Laptopistan,” a trend where members of the creative class could work wirelessly from anywhere. The article actually features a cafe in Williamsburg, Brooklyn that I used to frequent to get a little bit of extra work done outside of the office.

An article in today’s Times (with a seriously misleading headline about Twitter) features  co-working spaces.  The article focuses on one co-working space called Studiomates in Brooklyn, which is inhabited mostly by bloggers and designers.  As I was reading through the article, I realized that I followed many of the Studiomates regulars on Twitter. These are some of the most influential creatives online and they all work together in one loft space!

The article also features General Assembly, a more tech start-up oriented co-working space in Manhattan. Both spaces bring in outside speakers and experts to share knowledge in an TED-like fashion. Workers in both spaces collaborate on projects, network and share expertise.

I really think the co-working trend that’s happening among creatives in big cities will trickle down into regular offices over the next few years. As wireless connections and cloud applications make our work lives more flexible, there’s room to really free up the traditional ideas of an office.

Here are some of my previous blog posts about co-working, freelancing and working in an office.

The Tomato Timer That Changed My Life

2 Feb

For the past two weeks I have been using the Pomodoro Technique to manage my freelance work schedule. So far, the system has kept me on track and happier!

Basically, the Pomodoro technique was born in Rome when a young man used his kitchen timer, shaped like a tomato, to do timed spurts of studying. The method has been refined since then, but involves 25 minute chunks of time called “Pomodoros.”

To use the method, you write down a list of daily tasks and work on a task for 25 minutes then take a timed 3-5 minute break. After completing one Pomodoro, you mark an “X” next to the task on the sheet.  Repeat this three more times, for four 25 minute Pomodoros and three 3-5 minute breaks. At the end of the fourth Pomodoro you are rewarded with a longer 15-30 minute break.

Throughout the day, move down the tasks on your list and keep the to-do items specific enough that they only take up a maximum of seven Pomodoros. There is also a weekly inventory list so that if you think of more tasks, or get future assignments you can write them down there. Each new workday, the first thing to do is transfer the tasks you want to tackle from the weekly inventory to the daily to-do list.

The best part of the Pomodoro technique is that the breaks are not optional. You have to work uninterrupted for 25 minutes, with no email checking, tea-making or answering unexpected calls. You also MUST take a break in between each Pomodoro and set. On the break, the technique encourages you to forget about what you were working on, walk around, go outside and generally think pleasant thoughts, like what you will do this weekend.

With these forced breaks I am no longer incapacitated by burning twitchy eyes from staring at the computer too long. I also have less “ants in my pants” when I sit back down and I am able to concentrate more clearly when the 25 minute timer is on.

If you visit the Pomodoro Technique’s website, there are free printable inventory and daily worksheets, a quick, cheat-sheet guide to the method and a longer free e-book explaining the technique in more detail. I also use a Pomodoro App for Mac which embeds the tomato timer in my desktop (one of the tenets of the technique is to always be able to see how much time is left). There are also Pomodoro timer apps for Windows like the Focus Booster.

At the end of a workday, I now have 12 or more little X’s on my worksheet showing that for 12 x 25 minutes, I was fully concentrating on work. Much better than sitting for 8 hours and doing 4 hours of work when you could be out exercising, or reading a book or doing something better with that time.

So give the Pomodoro Technique a try! It’s free, easy to get started with and really works.