The Do’s and Don’ts of Freelancing


“Lots of Writing To Do” by Scott Brown (2013)from Wikicommons [CC by-SA-2.0]

Sorry it is a gimmick. I do not have the answers of what you should do and not do when you are trying to start freelancing; after-all I am but a newbie myself.

I do know that there are a lot of opinions and a lot of experts. Since longform writing is out and lists are in, everything is in lists. Even blog posts must be kept short, because our attention spans are short. We need something catchy to grab your eye, but don’t use a cliche. While you are at it, “passion” and “innovation” are over. Everyone has a lot of passionate and innovative ideas, you need something to indicate that you are more passionate and more innovative than the general schlub hawking $2 articles.

After a whole day of reading advice on the internet, it can be pretty discouraging. You realize that you made mistakes. I made a typo. I didn’t “research” the company enough. This work of trying to work is so much… work? It is hard not to feel discouraged and also slightly bemused at the state of freelance writing on the web. Oops, you will have to forgive me, I made my blog post too long….

Tips for Starting or Overcoming the Tyranny of the Blank Page


There is something special about the tyranny of the blank page. On one hand it teases you with unending possibilities. You could start here, or you could start there, but to start at all often feels daunting. Anyone, who has ever had the opportunity to write at one time or another, knows the stark power of the white void. Since the adoption of word processing, the blinking text cursor has also joined in to distract would-be writers.

However, if the blank page always held sway there would not be any novels, articles, or writings of any kind. So, if you find yourself held captive by the blank page, what can you do?

Write something, anything. It sounds counter intuitive to advise someone to write something, when the very problem they are having is not begin able to write, but it works! Usually people get too concerned about writing something useful or beautiful or even coherent that they cannot write anything at all.  So just put it all out there – warts and all. It doesn’t even have to be on topic. You can always delete it later. After my many years of writing, I have discovered that when I follow this method with the intention of deleting crummy writing later, I find that my writing wasn’t so crummy after all. Here are some specific tips for writing something, anything!

  1. Pretend to tell it to a friend. While there are times that you may want your writing to be more formal, the “telling it to a friend” method can always be made more formal in the end. In fact, you could even go find a friend and tell them what you are trying to write. Take notes while you are telling them and then write it down.
  2. Free-write/Brainstorm for 2 or 5 Min. Some people do well with timers, others do not. The trick to this one is that you set a timer for your desired time and just write – anything and everything. You can even write that you don’t know what to write. Eventually, I have found, things start to flow a little more, and if they don’t, then when the timer goes off just take a short break and reward yourself.
  3. Skip the beginning. There is no reason to write the introduction first or even the first line, especially when it is so easy to get hung up on it. So, start in the middle and then come back to the beginning after you are on a roll – by then it wont be a blank page anymore.
  4. Make an outline. My students always groan when I tell them to make an outline. They don’t need an outline; they never use an outline. I don’t really know when people became so opposed to outlines. I find them useful if I need to organize my thoughts, think about how things will flow, or even if I need to just write something, anything! After you develop an outline, you can always just start filling it in. Start with the easy parts and leave the beginning for the end.

On the Art of Reading


“Beaufort, South Carolina” by Elisa.rolle CC by SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Writing and reading. Reading and writing. They are really just one and the same. Without one, the other would not exist, and because of that, I suspect, most writers are also avid readers. I know I am.

A long time ago, I remember reading an interview with Pat Conroy, the author of The Prince of Tides, where he discussed his writing education. I can’t find the article or interview, but I remember it quite well. As a graduate of the Citadel in Charleston, SC, he recounted that he did not have an Ivy League education. This is not dissuade him. Instead, Conroy decided to commit himself, not only to writing, but to reading too. He reasoned that if he couldn’t be an Ivy League graduate, he could at least read like one. What struck me about Conroy’s interview was not only his sheer determination, but also his focus on the importance of reading as a writer. The interview even described the page count that he read everyday, which I remember thinking was a massive amount. Unfortunately this page amount is a detail that, as Billy Collins describes, “decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain, to a little fishing village where there are no phones.”

I have not always been a voracious reader like Conroy, but I have always aspired to be one. As an academic, I ironically lost my habit of reading for pleasure. Overwhelmed by work reading and academic literature, the time for pleasure reading was moved aside. Over the past two years, I refocused my reading habit and built time into my day for pleasure reading. By reinvesting in reading fiction or literary non-fiction (as opposed to academic literature), I have found myself recentered in the things I love about reading…and writing.

How I learned to stop worrying and love the semicolon


Photograph of Joan Brossa’s “Poema visual transitable em tres temps” by Dvdgmz, CC by SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

I have always felt that the semicolon was an odd punctuation mark. Like a chimera, it seems to be a mixture of a period, a comma, and a colon. For most of my life, I avoided using the semicolon; it seemed so strange and its rules so fuzzy. The Oatmeal calls it the “most feared punctuation on earth,” which, while being a little hyperbolic, probably isn’t far off from being true.

The most basic and often used rule for the semicolon is that it connects two independent clauses. Sometimes these clauses are also connected by some type of transitional phrase, like “in addition” or “of course.” I think part of the confusion with semicolons is that they often do the work that other things like conjunctions can do; as a result, people usually just use the other forms for expressing their ideas instead of using a semicolon. This is what I did for most of my life. And yet, it doesn’t need to be that way!

About 5 years ago, when I began writing on a more regular basis, I became reacquainted with the semicolon, surprisingly, through student writing. As a university instructor, who teaches writing, I have read a lot of student papers. For some strange reason, the semicolon seems to light a fire in a select handful of people. People, who love the semicolon, really love it; they use it a lot. If you are a student and you love semicolons, I would advise to hold yourself back a little bit. Too much of a good thing is still too much.  But if you use it judiciously, sprinkling it in here and there, it can really add a little variation to your writing, which can make your prose more enjoyable to read. You may notice a lot of semicolons in this particular post. In a normal post, I would say I was perhaps a little over zealous in my semicolon usage, but, after all, this is a semicolon post!

So, when do I use it? Even if you know the rules, the use of a semicolon is more of an editorial decision than a writing requirement. I use a semicolon when I have two sentences that need to be closer to each other; the semicolon indicates this closeness. Its like a little link between them saying, “we belong together, but we are still our own independent ideas.” If you are one of those people who approaches semicolons with trepidation, try it a few times; it might not change your world, but it will change your writing!