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Creative Spotlight: 5 Common Mistakes by Freelance Writers

Being a freelance writer is a lot of fun, but it also takes work. You should make sure your writing is excellent to get more jobs and better rates. You’ll also need to manage your own business, even if you only write part time. Especially if you’re just getting started, it’s easy to make errors. Most of these mistakes may seem small, but they can cause you to lose clients and money if you make them often. Here are some of the most common mistakes freelance writers make.

1. Not Proofreading

It’s tempting to turn in your assignments as soon as possible so you can move on to the next project, but you should proofread your work first. Spellchecking and grammar software can catch most errors, but it can’t tell you when you use the same word too often or write a sentence that sounds confusing. The software also has a hard time recognizing the differences between some words. For example, most programs can’t tell you if you write their instead of there, affect instead of effect, or its instead of it’s.

Instead of spellchecking and looking over an article before you turn it in, take a few minutes to read it thoroughly and correct any errors. Remove words and sentences that don’t support your main idea, and make sure the order of your sentences and paragraphs sounds natural. To make proofreading faster, use a separate spelling and grammar checker, such as Grammarly, along with your word processing program’s software. Clients are more likely to use your work again if they don’t have to make major changes or return your writing for revisions.

2. Using Complicated or Formal Language

Many people use long sentences with obscure words because they think it’s a sign of intelligence or academic achievement. It’s also an easy way to make articles and blogs longer. However, too much complicated or formal language will make your writing boring. Stay away from most technical terms unless your readers are professionals on your topic. Otherwise, you should explain jargon and abbreviations.

Try to write the way most people talk in everyday life, with contractions and short sentences. When you proofread, ask yourself if your writing is easy for your typical reader to understand, and remember that the average reader changes when the topic changes. As a freelance writer, you could write about popular movies one day and geothermal energy another day.

3. Procrastinating

Image via Flickr by Lynn Friedman

Without a set schedule, it’s tempting to sleep late, watch a movie, or check social media before you start working. If you procrastinate too much, you might have to stay awake all night to meet a deadline or rush through an assignment. People who don’t take their time make more mistakes, so you’re more likely to have your writing sent back for revisions or even rejected.

You can stop procrastination by sticking to a routine. Every day, start and stop writing at about the same time and finish assignments that have the earliest deadlines first. If you don’t have any assignments, use this time to look for new clients.

Work in a quiet place where you won’t be tempted to turn on the TV or talk to family members. In case of an emergency, try to finish your writing a day or two before the deadline so that you can relax during evenings and weekends without worrying about your work. You can just turn in your writing on time if anything happens.

4. Blowing Your Budget

Most freelance writers don’t have any employees, but they still own their own business. Unfortunately, this means you have to pay taxes if you live in the United States. Most hourly or salaried workers have taxes taken out of each paycheck automatically. They get a tax refund when the government takes more than they owe. If you’re a freelance writer, you can’t have money taken out of your paychecks the same way, so you should save about 20 percent of your income or pay estimated taxes quarterly.

Either way, you can avoid a huge tax bill in April. Just keep track of your income from different clients to avoid paying too much. You should also keep an emergency fund to help you deal with medical expenses, car repairs, and other common problems. An emergency fund can also help you get through slow spells. Sometimes you’ll have more clients than you can handle, but there may be other times when you can’t get many jobs or the assignments available don’t pay much. Writers should save for retirement as well, just like everyone else.

5. Just Following Instructions

No matter what you’re writing about, there’s already lots of information about it online. The internet makes doing research easy, but that incredibly plentiful resource is also your competition. Your writing should be more interesting and informative than other articles on the same topic.

Write about topics you feel enthusiastic about so that readers feel like they’re part of that excitement. You can also add a joke or personal story to make your material seem more accessible and entertaining. Just remember that you probably won’t ever write comedy. Follow the style guide and other instructions from your client. However, if you only follow instructions without being creative, your article will seem interchangeable with other similar articles. No one will want to read your work if it doesn’t stand out.

Instead of just writing your assignments, contact your client if you have any questions or ideas. You can even suggest ideas for new assignments. If the client doesn’t like your ideas, he or she will still be more likely to think of you when choosing writers for the next project. Most of the time, an existing client who knows you do quality work will pay a higher rate than a new client.

Avoid these common mistakes to get your work done faster, minimize errors, and make more money. Even the most experienced writers need to watch out for errors and bad habits that can waste time and harm relationships with clients.

About the author

Laura Adkins