We get to practice our craft and get paid for it. While most of us may never actually achieve perfection, the cumulative effect, hopefully, is a portfolio of decent writing.
Some writing is great, some is average, and over time you raise your own bar. As with all work, the longer you stay with it and the more consistent your habits, the higher the overall quality of your writing.
However, a few troubling trends are sneaking around. I’m afraid they’re pulling some excellent writers off course, and diluting their ability both to improve their skills and to earn a good income working from home.
I know, because they’ve taken their toll on me, too. That’s why I’m warning you now…
But first; the good news. A great foundation for building a business of any kind also applies to a freelance writing business. Follow this simple writing law, and you’ll be rewarded with the potential to become a great writer.
If you learn from other writers, and collect advice about writing habits and practices, then you’ve already been exposed to a version of this: Focus on serving your audience, that one person who really needs to hear what you alone know THE MOST about.
That’s it… Focus on service.
Maybe you’re thinking right now, “But I don’t write for charities. I don’t write for nonprofits, or even for service companies. That’s okay. Stay with me, and you’ll see how this applies to you, too.
There are basically two kinds of web writers. Those who sell their writing to others (copywriting, ghost blogging, and content writing) and bloggers who make money from their blog through affiliates, advertising, and product sales. Many writers do some combination of both.
If you’re just starting out, maybe you’ve got some writing chops and you’re ready to start creating your own content, or do some writing for others and make money. Great! There’s a huge need for good web writing and people will pay you well if you’re reliable and solid.
Focus on service and you’ll quickly begin to attract an audience, and a list of clients who need your skills.
Service can take the form of an advice column, a how-to article, an entertaining diatribe, a descriptive feast for the senses, or a listicle. Service even has countless tones; it can be humorous, sincere, informative or confrontational. Service is in the eye of the beholder, which is why it pays to know your reader.
The service of writing takes many forms. It is akin to cooking, and just as quickly consumed. You create something, just as a chef cooks; and your client tries it, or gives it to her followers to taste. All you have to do is find the angle that works best for you, whether by subject, or style; for your own audience or another’s. Then you see if it’s palatable by how much interaction it brings.
Sounds easy enough, right? A good work ethic, discipline, and a commitment to write every day are great qualities of a writer. Heck, just sitting your butt in a chair and pressing your fingers against keyboard buttons is what separates most lucrative professional writers from their frustrated counterparts! But even if you have all that, I guarantee you’ll still confront these pitfalls in the business of writing.
TRAPS that keep you from “The Law of Focused Service”
Along the way, especially as I was building my writing business, I fell into the trap of forgetting this simple law. It’s very easy to do, in fact, because the writer’s mindset and lifestyle are so conducive to this weakness. Here’s how to anticipate the most common writing traps and avoid the mistakes I’ve made.
Since the two key components to the advice “Focus on service” are 1) Focus and 2) Service; it’s probably pretty obvious where it’s easy to fail.
Three Things That Kill Focused Service:
First, the easiest way to falter in blogging, or in finding the right customers for your writing services, is to envision too many readers or customers. Solve this by maintaining a clear picture of your audience.
You’ve heard that before, haven’t you? Know your audience. Write to that person.
The inherent problem in this statement, however, is the very word “audience.” We’re imagining dozens, maybe hundreds and thousands of readers. We want a lot of people to read our writing, right? If your blog only has one reader, it’s not going to be a very successful undertaking, so we envision multitudes. And then we commit the first fatal mistake.
We confuse the number of clicks and shares we desire with the number of people we should be writing to.
The problem results in a profound lack of focus. In trying to please everyone, you interest no one.
It’s terribly distracting to crave, imagine, or wish for a huge following – a “readership” — while you’re writing to one person, isn’t it? The beautiful irony is this. Instead, make (virtual) eye contact with one guy. Lock in, pretend your answering a question that he asked and smother your desire to make your answer fit a slew of different points of view. If there’s more than one answer, you can always break your topic into small parts and address each part separately, in individual blog posts or videos. But for now, conquer the task at hand and answer that one question or address that one topic from that one person. Focus.
It’s not easy, but it’s a skill worth practicing. Once you get it, your voice comes more naturally, and your articles and posts will have that lean quality and structure readers can easily follow.
2. The fabulous lifestyle that can sabotage your writing…
Don’t you love it when people rave about working from a home office? Your freelance writing “lifestyle” is rife with distracting elements. The very reason you may have chosen this home business path is so you could attend to children, hobbies, a chaotic schedule, or a desire to squeeze every ounce of joy, productivity, and freedom out of your life. And still make money writing.
Unfortunately, you absolutely cannot develop good writing skills unless you just sit there and write. From most outside perspectives, that looks pretty boring. For the writer without a laser-focused attitude of service, it’s like writing at a three-ring circus. Even in relative quiet.
There’s always that temptation to stop, look up, look around for inspiration. And as soon as you do, there’s the leaky faucet; or your dog giving you “that look;” the plant that looks like it could use some water, the box of chocolates, email…
On top of that, there are the flat-out interruptions: The phone call from school, the UPS delivery, or a flash of lightning/power blip that occurs more often here on the outskirts of Austin that you’d ever believe. So what do you do while your computer is rebooting, or “as long as you’re up?” Check your phone, get a snack, take a shower… see, I fight this monster daily. You know you’re losing the battle when you start writing about your distractions…
But I was talking about focused writing, wasn’t I? Well, you already know it’s not so easy to refocus after you’ve lost it.
Whenever I need encouragement and tips for blocking out distractions, I look to the master of web writing focus and productivity, Daphne Gray-Grant, or I slip into a cocoon of white noise with an app like My Noise.net. I like the brown noise. It really does help.
Another significant pitfall I see among bloggers and other writers seeking work is confusion about content that actually serves a purpose. You see a lot of motivational hooey these days, mixed in with some really good motivational business blogs. Some business websites lean so heavily on inspirational content that you’d think that all it takes to be an entrepreneur these days is to find yourself, become self-aware, and live your bliss. You’re also taught that as long as you’re “passionate” about your topic, you’ll find a loyal audience hungry for your content.
While this may be true for a finely carve-out niche or a celeb with the cult of personality, don’t make the mistake of thinking that all your many splendored interests will translate into a great blog or a large, engaged target audience.
Your content must have value.
Writers are often good at extracting information from piles of interesting sources. (Interesting to the writer, at least.) In fact, that’s one of the reasons we are writers – we’re just so ridiculously captivated by all sorts of details, ideas and concepts that must be put on paper and shared! But an active mind and a relentless curiosity can be the tyrant that sucks your productivity, your effectiveness, and eventually, your business.
Even if you hustle like Gary Vaynerchuck, you still have to identify that one specific thing you serve up daily, tirelessly, and relentlessly to your followers. What this doesn’t mean is lumping all your interests online as if you were the web’s expert on them all – PIYO, raising chickens, juicing, and reading mysteries – and expect a groundswell of interest in your writing (or writing services). It doesn’t work exactly like that. (Oh, how I wish it were true.)
While your trip to the cactus nursery may be the notable high point of your weekend, and a privileged peek into the less dominant facets of your life besides your business writing; too much social sharing and blogging about your hobbies, social life, or your cat’s most recent accomplishment detracts from your most important task – that thing you’re known for – your writing or blogging.
Focused service requires editing, both on paper and in your content. Even if you DO have more time to play than your friends with regular jobs (shh), focus your play in areas that energize your writing and share that with your audience.
The best writing gig in the whole world
You know what’s really cool, though? It’s when you can write about what you like to do, whether that’s social media, raising thoroughbred bloodhounds, or parasailing; and get paid to write about those activities. That way, the ruthless editing is confined to your articles and not your lifestyle. You simply live full out, and describe your experience to your waiting fans.
It can be done, especially now that there’s a targeted niche just waiting to be created every living day. The secret to focused service is delivering value within a solid, entertaining and clear writing style, in a focused, consistent manner.
Heart in web photo by Neal Fowler on flickr
What are your greatest challenges working from home? I’d love to know. I’m checking in with my readers and favorite freelancers for some input on that. If you have a moment (actually about 2 minutes) to answer a few questions, please click here. I’d love to connect. Hey, thanks in advance!