Successful practitioners of the freelance trade — the ones who get published regularly and make significant amounts of money — share these ninecharacteristics and abilities. What works for them it will work for you. If you’ve the smarts to be a writer in the first place will learn what the masters do and then do the sames things yourself.
1. The Masters Specialize
The masters develop specialties which allow them to focus on a limited number of subject matter areas. This, in turn, allows them to develop real expertise, establish a reputation for themselves and get assignments. I discussed specilization in Chapter Three of my book Get Paid to Write.
2. The Masters Recycle
The masters recycle good ideas, formatting and reformatting them for different markets. I have published what was basically the same article in as many as five markets. In this way they get top mileage out of each and every idea.
After working in specialized fields for a year or two, they gather the things that they have done, add to them, and publish a book. A published book adds considerable weight to the credentials paragraph of any query letter
3. The Masters Write Every Day
So you don’t feel like writing today. So what? You may not feel like writing tomorrow either. But if you want to make money writing, if you want to learn to write better, if you want to learn to write faster, you will do it anyway. Everybody goes to work everyday. That’s what sets the professionals apart from the wannabees of this world.
Writing is hard work. So is bricklaying. But the bricklayer gets up every morning and reports to the job site. Too many no-shows and they get fired. It’s simple. Bricklaying is his job. The bricklayer does it or he doesn’t eat. Writing is your job. You’ve chosen it. You do it everyday, just like any other job. Like it or not, you do it. That’s the way articles and books get written.
4. The Masters Revise What They Write
Professionals understand that writing and revising are two entirely different functions. When you write, you let the ideas flow, unimpeded. Write first; revise later. You can’t create and criticize simultaneously. First one, then the other. When the time comes to revise, play with what you first wrote. Move stuff around. Polish the transitions. Find right word. Smooth out the rhythms. Develop the lead.
For me, revision works best when I do one thing at a time. Here’s how I do it:
1. I read through the whole article (or chapter), eliminating repetition, fleshing out my narrative and adding ideas and examples that occur to me as I read through. (I added the analogy of the hose in the section on writer’s block (see below) during the process of revision.)
2. I read through again to check on logical development, moving paragraphs and entire sections around as needed.
3. I read through to find anything in the article that will make a strong lead or a strong title.
4. I read aloud for rhythm and smooth out any awkward sentences that I find.
5. I proofread for spelling and grammatical errors. The spellcheck on you computer is useful but not sufficient. It is not context sensitive and can’t tell the difference between “their” and “there” or "led” and “lead.”
6. Then I put the piece aside for a day or two and read it again later.
5. The Masters Observe the Rule of 24
When you have worked up an article idea and written a query, write the name of six periodicals that might be interested in in your notebook. Send your query to the first three publications on the list, taking care to slant it to the editorial needs each publication.
When a thanks-but-no-thanks response comes back to you (and many surely will), immediately send a query to the next publication on your list and add a new publication to the bottom of your list. In this way you always have three live queries out for each article idea. And you always have three magazines in line to submit to.
Here’s the kicker: You send a new query out no more than 24 hours after you receive a rejection.
This is the Rule of 24, and it can work magic.
6. The Masters Observe the Rule of 7
When you receive a positive reply, followed by a contract for your article, finish a first draft within seven days. Mark your calendar and get it done.
If you have received no positive replies during any seven day period, review your idea, develop a new slant, and write a new query.
These two things constitute the Rule of 7.
7. The Masters Observe the Rule of One
Editors don’t make or break a career. Writers do this for themselves. One person is responsible for your success or failure in freelancing, and that one person is you. This is the Rule of One.
After working in specialized fields for a year or two, they gather the things that they have done, add to them, and publish a book. A published book adds considerable weight to the credentials paragraph of any query letter you sent out,
9. The Masters Overcome “Writer’s Block”
We go for coffee between paragraphs. We put off writing the next sentence. We stare at the computer screen and stall out rather than get started.
Why? There are many reasons why we put off writing, and all of them are bad. In my own case I somestimw freeze because I am secretly afraid that the next bit I write will not be as good as I want it to be. I think a lot of writers share that debilitating self-doubt. Some of the greatest writers of our time have shared it. So what else is new? You will write the best you can, no better and no worse, so get at it.
Remember the writer’s golden rule: You can’t create and criticize simultaneously. If you get it backward and act as your own worst critic before you even get started, the gears seize up and the creative motor grinds to a halt. If, while doing a first draft, your critical self keeps looking over your own shoulder at the screen of your computer and telling you that you are writing garbage or haven’t got it right, you are acting as your own worst enemy.
Here’s an analogy. You are watering the lawn or washing the car. The water comes out of the end of the hose in a useless dribble. You look back and see a kink where the hose has doubled back on itself. You shake the kink out and the water flows freely. You’ve got all of it you need. Your creative mind is like that hose. Self-criticism is the kink. There is plenty of creative juice there but it’s not flowing through your fingers and onto the keyboard. So shake the kink out; scrap the critical attitude. Just let it flow. Just start writing. There’s plenty of time later for the critical part.
For me, putting self-criticism on a back burner is a miracle cure. It will be for you, too, if you get it right. I just plow ahead as though it were impossible to fail. I write some of my best stuff this way.