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5 skills that can help you as a freelance writer

A road sign with the word 'Learning' on it

Hanging out your shingle as a freelance writer seems easy, doesn’t it? All you need it some ability stringing words together, a computer, some writing software, and maybe a website and you’re all set.

That’s true, to a point. There are a lot of freelance writers out there who do just that. Some of them make a decent living. But if you want to be able to do a better job, and if you set yourself apart from the pack, you need a bit more. You need skills that will help make you a better freelance writer. You need skills that your competition lacks.

Here are five skills I think can help you as a freelance writer.

Effectively taking notes

I don’t mean being able to dump ideas and information into a tool like Evernote. I mean taking useful notes. Notes that you can refer to later to help you write an article or a blog post or a story or even a book.

It’s not as easy as it sounds. Anyone can dump everything they see, hear, and read into a notebook. Effectively taking notes means being concise. It means capturing the key ideas from whatever you’re taking notes on.

Doing that involves paying attention to what you’re reading and what or who you’re listening to. You need to focus and be open to those key ideas.

Paying attention and developing that focus requires practice, but it’s worth taking the time to put in that practice. You’ll be able to quickly get the information you need and turn it into a finished piece of work.

Touch typing

I’m surprised at how many people don’t know how to touch type. When I see people writing (or just using a computer in general), they’re constantly looking down at a keyboard. And that slows them down.

When you learn to touch type, you can not only draw your attention away from the keyboard, you can type faster. If you’re on a tight deadline, that speed (combined with the accuracy you’ll develop) will help make sure you meet that deadline.

Not only that, by not constantly shifting your attention between the keyboard and the screen you’re able to better focus on what you’re writing.

Photography and digital image editing

I admit that this isn’t for everyone. I’m someone, for example, who has never been much good at taking photos (digitally or otherwise). I just don’t have a good sense of composition. Who says that’s the same for you?

Doing your own photography can save you time (spent searching for the right photos) and money (top quality stock photos aren’t always cheap). On top of that, by taking your own photos you can get the shots that you want. And if the writing assignment you’re working on requires photos, being able to take them yourself is a boon.

What about image editing? A basic knowledge of that will help you not only tidy up the photos you take, that knowledge will also hold you in good stead when you’re manipulating stock photos you want to include in whatever it is you’re writing. At the very least, you should learn how to properly do the following with photos:

  • Crop
  • Resize
  • Straighten
  • Adjust brightness and contrast
  • Apply filters like grayscale or black and white
  • Do simple touch ups like removing red eye and fixing blemishes

Speaking and presenting

Writers have a reputation for being reticent. Not all of us, mind you — there are a number of writers who are effective speakers and presenters. That said, many of use prefer to be tapping away at our keyboards that speaking in front of an audience.

Sometimes, though, we need to get out there. To give talks at a conference or a meetup. To do a public reading. Or just to make a pitch.

Learning to speak in public and to present will give you the confidence to do all of that. It’s daunting and difficult, especially for an introvert (yes, that comes from experience) but that hardship is well worth it in the end.

Writing tightly

It’s easy to let the words flow. When you do that, you can wind up with something long. Very long. Sometimes too long, especially for readers to follow and absorb.

No matter what you’re writing, you’ll probably have to write to a specific length. Going stream of consciousness won’t cut it. You need to be concise while keeping as much detail and colour as you can in your writing.

Writing tightly is also important when you’re working in the corporate sphere. While corporate writing has a reputation for being long winded, that’s not always the case. And if you’re doing technical writing, especially writing messages that appear in an application’s user interface, you need to keep what you write as short and descriptive as possible.

Are those the only skills you should develop?

Definitely not. They are, however, five skills that I think are very useful. Not only will they improve your writing, they’ll also increase your marketability and help you stand out from other freelance writers.

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