The Mercenary’s Guide to Effective Writing

Writing is an art, and as with any art, one must properly train for it. I started writing a while back and was really happy with my work, until I noticed readers poking fun at my writing and criticizing every little thing that I did. My articles were not well structured and had no headings; the paragraphs were informative (or so I believed), but nobody cared to read them. This moved me to research all about good writing practices, tools and resources.

The Mercenary’s Guide to Effective Writing

Here is the post based on that research. I have tried to touch on all points related to writing. And after many mistakes and much criticism, I am sure what I have produced here would benefit all budding writers and serve as a checklist for professionals.

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Why Is Writing Important?

Our work as designers demands that we write about it, and write a lot. When you’re confident, you want to boast about your work, and boasting about your work in turn makes you more confident and leaves a good impression on clients. Blogging makes people aware of your skill and provides a window onto your inspiration. When readers comment on your work, you learn what your faults are and get better day by day.

instantShift - The Mercenary’s Guide to Effective Writing

To Reach Your Audience

By writing, you reach your audience and create a market for yourself. If you are a designer, then writing for a few design magazines could get you decent attention. Participating in community blogs and sharing useful tips might also earn you a following. Writing lets you connect to a broad readership and appeal to workers in your field, turning you into a valuable voice in the domain, especially if you write regularly.

To Serve a Broader Goal

Some people are motivated to write in order to increase sales, and some just to share ideas. Sales-oriented people could use blogs, social networks and community forums to advertise their services. Others might find those same channels useful more for propagating their ideas. Writing about your interests also connects you to people with similar interests.

Enhances Search Engine Ranking

Writing quality, detailed content on a wide range of issues in your field will not only attract readers, but also get your website higher up in online search rankings. If you offer a lot of content about a particular industry, you will naturally get noticed. SEO in particular calls for quality content and headings that are properly defined in the HTML. Write on various websites and then link back to your home page to draw readers.

Would You Be Fulfilled?

Many people think they would enjoy writing and could make a career out of it, but some of them burn themselves out in the process. Never pursue a job just for the money, because you wouldn’t be doing yourself justice and would in fact be hurting yourself.

instantShift - The Mercenary’s Guide to Effective Writing

Are You Sure You’ll Love Writing?

Be sure about it; it’s not as easy as it might seem. One has to do a lot of work to get in the rhythm of writing. Those who are passionate about it won’t be having any trouble, but you need to be serious about it. Of course, that goes for any job: you have be passionate about it and be dedicated to growing in the profession.

Are You Disciplined Enough?

You need to work for some time before you figure out the best practices, get a hold of the market and gradually become an expert. Discipline is important, and consistent writing can bring you volumes of work. When you stick to a particular job for a long time, you gain expertise and grow, but going off track is very easy.

Are You Doing What You Love?

In the industrial age, laborers had to do any job they could find, and before that slaves were forced to do their owner’s bidding. But today, no one can force you to do anything. You have a responsibility to learn what you like and then take up that; no other human soul can get a Shakespeare or Mozart out of you. Get yourself in a situation where you can see your future and then go for that job. You answer to yourself, so be sure of your job.

Benefits of Productive Writing

There are many benefits to being an effective writer. You need not have a degree in English, nor even a high school education; if you can write, you can spread your ideas around. Writing is a skill that opens job opportunities.

instantShift - The Mercenary’s Guide to Effective Writing

Make Money

There are many writing jobs, and many people to take them. Students might do it for pocket money; others might do it in their free time to supplement their income. Because social content is growing so fast and so many people are searching for so many different things on the Internet, many companies are fuelling their websites with social content to drive traffic.

Making a Career Out of It

There are many opening at various firms for content writers to write about a company’s products, handle promotions and distribute press releases. We can make a distinction between freelance and day jobs. Freelance writers have the perks of working from home, at flexible hours, and taking time off whenever they want. With day jobs, the salary is fixed, health insurance is covered, and there are not many ups and downs with the workload.

Anyone interested in writing can make a decent living from it these days. How much better does it get: laying back and making money while writing?

Time in the Spotlight

People fight tooth and nail for attention, now that the Internet has made everyone vocal and visible. There are so many social networks and so many industry-specific networks that one can make a name for themselves easily. Post an article about your favorite artist; if it generates discussion, you could land up with a top search result, with a few people putting your piece in places like Digg, StumbleUpon, etc.

You’ll be well known in no time, writing about the latest news, with a loyal following.

Self-Promotion

Writing can be used to promote any business, freelance venture or non-profit organization. Writing about one’s business on a blog is very common these days. Promoting yourself and your website in popular portals and forums can get you good traffic as well. Writing has become a kind of service, and anyone wanting to be heard can do so quite easily by writing a lot and in various places.

How to Get Inspired?

Inspiration is in the eye of the recipient. You can get inspired to write by roaming around a park or while watching your child play in the garden, anything. What inspires a writer is their outlook on things and their field of his interest. A designer might get inspired by a beautiful image and write an entire post on that.

instantShift - The Mercenary’s Guide to Effective Writing

Keep Your Creative Hat On

Wherever you are—at work, at home, taking a vacation—always keep your creative hat on. Great ideas come when you are at leisure and suddenly come upon a fresh idea. Never lose your creative perspective. Some popular designers get ideas while on vacation or in a coffee shop. The break in routine opens our minds to new ideas.

Look at Covers of Newspapers and Magazines

Leafing through a magazine or newspapers can give you whole new ideas. Just have a thirst for fresh ideas in everything you do and they will come. Inspiration needs no fixed agenda. My last post was inspired by the digital arts, and got that idea from a cover story.

Read Books

When you have writer’s block, go through your favorite books or blogs; you will find the inspiration you are looking for. When a person is immersed in familiar material, they feel comfortable and can think better. Open your closet and put your favorite stuff on the bookshelf, to be ready at any time.

Listen to Music

I listen to hard rock to calm myself; this increases my efficiency several fold. I focus on my work better, I am able to put all my energy into one thing, and I get ideas this way. Music has long been inspiration to many great people.

Bad Writing Habits to Avoid

Many writers (including me) make many mistakes while writing and don’t even know where they fall short. In this section, I’ll go over the most common errors made by writers. Look through them and tell me if I have missed any. Bad writing habits can be overcome early on only by practice and conscious effort.

instantShift - The Mercenary’s Guide to Effective Writing

Don’t write in an old style.

You don’t have to mimic a 400-year old style. To appeal to today’s audience, go through today’s authors and check out their writing and dramatic style. JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series is a heck of a lot more than a children’s series.

Do not write long paragraphs.

Writing long paragraphs can kill the reader’s interest. People who read online look for fun tidbits and little shots of information. Make your paragraphs short, attractive and easy to read.

Don’t beat around the bush.

Beating around the bush is a total blunder, because nobody likes getting caught in a puzzle. You might think you’re getting the reader more absorbed, but it actually alienates them.

Don’t stick to stereotypes; be innovative.

You need not stick to one format or style. Stereotypes are everywhere today. The same format and design make life boring. Innovation has no boundaries.

Write the way you speak.

Listen to your inner voice. Write what you’re thinking. Employers often puts constraints that force the writer to lose their voice. Writer should know how to make their point while preserving the personality in their writing.

Keep titles short, and use simple language.

Writing long titles and using complex language might look good, but they do you no good if few people read it and even fewer understand it.

Don’t ignore readers, colleagues or social media.

Writers often ignore what their readers and peers have to say about their work. You don’t have to totally switch directions based on feedback you get from social media, but at least listen to it, or you might be run out of the business.

Put your ego aside.

A big ego is reflected in one’s writing. Readers want good writing, not a big ego. Some might argue that their ego helped them get to where they are. Perhaps, but it will bring them down even faster.

Avoid grammatical mistakes

Here are some of the most common (at least for me) grammatical mistakes. Nobody is perfect with these (unless they’ve got a degree in English).

  • Your vs. You’re

    Your is “the possessive case of the personal pronoun you.”

    Usage > your book

    You’re is a contraction of “you are.”

    Usage > you’re not doing this right.

  • It’s vs. Its

    Its is the “possessive form of the pronoun it”.

    Usage > this book has lost its appeal.

    It’s is a contraction of “it is” or “it has.”

    Usage > It’s very important to use correct English.

  • There vs. Their

    There as a noun means “a location other than here.” Also an adverb.

    Usage > I love going there.

    Their is “the possessive case of the personal pronoun they.”

    Usage > their opinion is also important.

  • Affect vs. Effect

    Affect is a verb that means “to exert an influence on.”

    Usage > Communication skill immensely affects one’s income.

    Effect is a noun that means “the result or consequence of something else”.

    Usage > Communication skill has a great effect on income.

  • Loose vs. Lose

    Loose is an adjective that means “become less tight.”

    Usage > Your pants are too loose.

    Lose is a verb that means “allow to go out of sight.”

    Usage > don’t lose your wallet.

  • Who’s vs. whose

    Whose is “the possessive case of who or which.”

    Usage > Whose game is over?

    Who’s is contraction of “who is.”

    Usage > Who’s coming home with me?

NOTE: All word meanings are taken from onelook.com

Tips for Effective Writing

A pro might give thousands of tips for writing content for the Internet. I have kept the best and present them here. These are all borne of experience and numerous mistakes.

instantShift - The Mercenary’s Guide to Effective Writing

Keep your language straight and simple.

Be clear in your writing, and make sure your language can be understood by anyone. Replace difficult words with simple ones. Language should be appealing and easy.

Rules are made to be broken.

If your way is better than what the rules state, then by all means take it. After all, rules are meant to help you, not hold you down. Where would humanity be if we had followed all the rules?

Don’t fake it.

Some writers come up with convoluted ways to make their point. This practice won’t get you a following; rather, people will flee because nobody wants a puzzle that doesn’t pay off.

Jot it down before you lose the thought.

Always carry a notebook. Just as the guys at Reuters are always ready for news, inspiration can strike at any time, so be ready to write down the key points. As long as you’ve recorded the idea, you can work on it later.

Get your story straight.

Be clear about your story, frame it properly, brainstorm on sub-topics, and then proceed step by step. Don’t lose the theme along the way. Properly frame the content, moving readers steadily through your argument.

Get the facts.

Check all facts you have cited in your story. You don’t want people pointing a finger at you. Link to the sources of your comments; this will also give you credibility.

Minimize distractions.

Avoid writing in rooms where the TV is on and people are chatting. Quiet, comfortable working conditions are more professional and improve efficiency.

Keep paragraphs short

Simple writing is most appealing. Short paragraphs and plenty of headings grab readers.

Ask for feedback

I like to ask for feedback on all my content, asking the person what they liked or disliked. Be open to criticism, however nice or harsh. You will be better for it.

Resources for Improving Your Writing

Many resources are available online for improving your writing skills. Some require payment, and some are free. Here are the 20 best free resources I have found.

instantShift - The Mercenary’s Guide to Effective Writing

Recourses for Common Errors: grammar, punctuation, etc.

Blogs on Writing

  • Copyblogger – Teaches you the basics of writing. The regular posts are darn good.
  • Men with Pens – Useful tips for writers, freelancers and entrepreneurs.
  • Problogger – Darren Rowse has a great resource for copy-writing and generating income.
  • CopyWriting – Many resources on generating profit, including tools and articles.

Writing Tools

Conclusion

Hopefully, you now know how important writing is. We use the skill every day. Whatever your profession, writing and communicating well will make you a better worker.

At the end of the day “content is king,” and without good content, people won’t revisit your website. When you offer quality content, supported by facts, people will link to your website. Presentation is also important, as is context.

Search engines are smart enough to figure out the most authoritative content on a particular topic. Web pages with quality information will make it up higher in search results, so concentrate on content above all.

Find Something Missing?

While writing this article, it’s always a possibility that we missed some other great writing suggestion and tips. Feel free to share it with us.

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9 Comments

  1. excellent writing in this creative article.

  2. “Whatever your profession, writing and cosmmunicating well will make you a better worker.”

    True. And proofreading will make your work better received. ;-)

  3. Nice post, thanks!
    I’d like to add one more link to Writing Tools – free spell check your – spellchecker.net/spellcheck

  4. Having the ability to write and to do it well is a huge commodity. This is a great article!

  5. Really useful tools, I’ll try to use them.
    By the way, I also use few online tools, for example thesaurus dictionary.

  6. Very useful article. Especially I liked the idea about having notebook everywhere, to write new ideas, which came suddenly. Would be interesting to hear your suggestions on coming up with article ideas. Anyway, thank’s about ideas mentioned here.

  7. Writing (and I do it as a large part of my professional life) is not easy. And that’s the biggest problem I come in contact with. People think ‘Well, it’s not like learning how to fly an airplane’ but really, it feels that hard many times. I’m glad to see people writing articles that break down the complexity of it a lot.

    – Andy

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