Online Writer: Write Faster for Increased Productivity
A tool kit for making more money as an online writer: basic writing skills, using a timer, the Pomodoro Technique, reducing rewrites, researching efficiently and raising your hourly pay rate to increase your income. One of the easiest ways to increase your pay rate is to write faster. These are skills and tricks I use to make all my income writing online. I've included resources and pointers to help you get started or move to the next level. Make 2014 your most prosperous writing year ever!
Writing articles gives you a legitimate way to make money online. It requires no tools beyond a computer of some kind and an Internet connection. It has the advantages of allowing you to work from home -- or even on the road, in cafes, libraries and outdoors.
One of the challenges comes from needing to produce enough writing to make plenty of money. To freelance full-time, as I do, or even to make a substantial part-time income as a writer, you need to be able to produce copy on a regular basis.
To get writing assignments, keep clients happy, get more assignments and make more money writing, you need to increase productivity by becoming more efficient -- and produce clean copy. It takes practice, yet it's something you can train yourself to do.
Ways to Make Money Writing Online
To make money writing online, you can submit your work to rev share sites, write for upfront payments from sites that publish articles, write for private clients, create your own websites, blog, write eBooks -- and/or all of the above.
Agencies that provide a meeting ground between freelance writers and clients offer another option. There's usually no charge to writers, although some offer a free and a premium membership. The downside with most of them is that it's necessary to weed through a great deal of severely low-paid assignments to find any that might be worthwhile, and it can take time to build up a reputation and gain regular clients and better pay.
Always read the terms of service, TOS, in detail, and watch for changes -- including at rev share sites such as Hubpages -- so you understand the terms of payment and the rights you're selling. If it isn't something you'd agree to offline, why would you agree to it online? Some of the contracts for online writers are completely insane, so watch out.
In the post-Panda era, I've returned to copywriting. I write a lot of website copy, mainly travel and product articles. At many agencies, there's no editor between the article and the client. Efficiency and catching all errors have become more important than ever in the highly competitive arena of online writing.
I've launched five niche sites, and that's another venue where there's no safety net. If I make a mistake, it's live for every visitor to see. I've been taking online tests in AP style to memorize the rules and overcome errors as much as possible. Newsroom 101.com has good resources for studying AP style. The Associated Press Style Guide is the main style guidebook for many online writing gigs.
My new favorite productivity tool is the WorkRave timer. It's available for free at CNET.com. You can customize it for the Pomodoro technique or any work and break timing you prefer. It also includes stretches and eye exercises. It's made a big difference in how I feel after a day at the computer. This tool is an easy way to boost production and keep your eyes and body comfortable.
Task List Guru, also a free version, gives me a simple way to organize multiple projects. With more than 50 rev share pages, several niche sites and multiple clients, I needed a system to keep it all organized and see to do lists and task notes in a visual form. This is the first online organizer I've found that's fast and easy to set up -- and I can change deadlines and rename projects with a click.
I've also created routines for all the promotional tasks -- that's another exciting adventure in the world of creating your own business online.
May you enjoy your work and succeed at it.
Resources for Writing
The Purdue University Online Writing Lab, OWL, offers an excellent resource for improving your writing skills: Purdue OWL
The lab offers sections on writing, grammar, style guides, English as a second language and professional writing.
Basic Writing Skills
Mastering basic writing skills increases your confidence -- and the confidence of your readers.
Needing to polish your grammar, use a spell-checker consistently and proofread everything you write doesn't mean you're not a good writer -- it means you're a professional and respect yourself and your readers.
Proofread, and proofread again. Using spell-checkers and grammar checkers isn't a substitute for reading the copy over before you submit it. I like to read it a second time, from the bottom to the top, to trick my brain into seeing all the elements of the copy as though I haven't seen it before.
How to Write Faster
Start using a timer when you write. Working with a timer has the advantage of keeping you mindful of how long you're spending to create an article. Focus Booster, designed for use with the Pomodoro Technique, Instant Boss -- which features an applause soundtrack when you finish your goal -- and WorkRave, a customizable timer that includes eye exercises and stretches to reduce the risk of repetitive stress injuries are my favorites.
Set a goal for how much money you want to make per hour and per day to give yourself specific work quotas. Based on comments I've seen in writers forums, it's common for beginners to take two hours or longer to write a 400-word article.
To make much money at piece-work rates -- which is what you get in upfront payments for work-for-hire online articles, you have to be able to work fast -- while fulfilling all the client criteria, producing clean copy and maintaining quality.
At first this feels like running backward chewing gum while shwooping a hula hoop and balancing a stack of books on your head -- but with practice, you get faster and increase your hourly productivity.
Best of all, you increase your hourly pay rate. Getting faster gives you a raise, and when you're self-employed, you're the one who gives out the raises.
Update: How to Find Assignments Faster
Grab and go: It pays to grab assignments quickly and refrain from searching excessively for the "best" title. I rarely spend more than 10 minutes looking at titles, although I will trade up if fresh ones come in. The lower the pay rate, the less title-hunting time -- that's my guideline.
Use Your Core Keywords: At some agencies and content sites the fastest way to find titles is to enter keywords for your core topics. I find verbs particularly useful for some topics. Put five or six keywords in, hit search and grab the first title you can write with no hassle.
Pass Up Research Projects and Forgo Fudging: A handy rule: if you couldn't talk about the subject in detail at your local coffee shop without pretending you know more than you do, don't claim the title. Having to look things up is only worth it at professional pay rates, and even then, you'll generally make more money when you work near your zone. If you fake it, you risk errors, low-ratings or even losing clients.
Work in Series: Do batches of articles. Even if you're dealing with a site that only allows one title at a time, getting in a flow with a topic can help the writing to flow faster. From the beginning I've snagged related titles as often as possible. For gigs that require references or links this can save a lot of time. Now I'm ready to write eBooks.
Mix it Up: Once you're established, stretch into new areas. Having multiple topic zones can help reduce burnout and provide good breaks. It can even keep the gigs fun. Another perk is you'll develop more clips and be prepared for new opportunities.
Increase Writing Speed and Quality
- Increasing your writing speed and quality not only helps you make more money online, it improves your reputation over time so that you save even more time by reducing rewrites. Two years ago, I had a 20 percent rewrite rate -- average for freelancers, according to author Robert Bly. Now rewrites are rare -- I haven't had one in more than 30 assignments. This means I spend all my time completing new copy for more money without losing time reworking previous submissions. Another financial bonus from quality control: getting good scores, ratings and rankings for sites that work that way helps you qualify for higher-paying assignments.
- Write on topics you know well. Be honest with yourself about whether you could sit down over coffee with someone and talk about the subject of the article off the top of your head. If you can't, you're looking at a title that will take you extra time -- and cost you money. A good test at the beginning is to see if you can write an introduction for the title off the top of your head before committing yourself to writing any given title. If you can't, do yourself a favor and pick a title that you're more familiar with.
Speed Up With the Pomodoro Technique
- Learn about the Pomodoro Technique. This method -- developed to improve focus and increase productivity -- taught me to recognize and master distractions, beat procrastination, write faster with less stress and keep my writing projects on track. The name comes from the Italian word for tomato, and there's a tomato-shaped timer available to use with the Pomodoro Technique.
- Set a time limit for research. Based on how much money you'll make for the title, set a limit on your research time. Some clients require references to show where you got your information for the article. This is another reason to write about what you know -- if you're already familiar with the subject, you'll find any supporting information you need faster than if you're working outside your knowledge base.
- Set a timer and write the article without stopping. Get that first draft out as if you're being chased by rabid wolves. Do not stop to fix typos, look up facts, find another reference, rephrase a sentence or do anything else. Just get it out there. This can take a lot of practice.
- Once you train yourself to write the first draft without stopping, experiment with working in shorter bursts. I usually work in the Pomodoro Technique 25 minutes work, 5-minute break pattern, with a longer break every three sessions. On projects that require more depth, I increase the work time to 30 minutes. To challenge myself, I'll cut the work period to 20 minutes.
Finish Writing Assignments Faster
- Take a break and then write the next draft. Repeat, until you complete your quota or sub-quota. Some people like to write all the drafts, then edit and then submit them. Lately, I work in sets of three. I set up three templates with references and anything else that's required, such as a note to the editor and a pic or two. I write three drafts and then edit and proofread each one. I use the After the Deadline app in Firefox to check for spelling, grammar or style issues. Try the polishmywriting website when you're first starting out. It provides drop-down explanations of style and grammar issues so you can learn to recognize passive voice and other common problems. Spellcheck.net will correct copy to comply with British, Australian or Canadian usage, although it doesn't catch idiomatic differences such as jumper for sweater.
- Take the time to read over every word of the copy, check every caption, header, subhead, link and link title for accuracy. This one step catapults you from possibly submitting something that turns off an editor to turning in copy that's polished and professional.
- Think of every article you submit or publish as your opportunity to make a positive first impression. Respect yourself, your editor and your reader, and you'll find yourself making more money with less stress. Maintaining a high first-time acceptance rate saves you time, so you keep making money online with minimal time expended with rewrites.
- Writing fast means being efficient and focusing on the priorities. At first I worried that shooting for speed would mean sacrificing quality. Instead, my acceptance rate improved, my scores/ratings with all publishers increased, and I gained access to a new higher-paying market without having to apply. Writing fast makes me focus and keep the copy tight to the title -- one of the keys to content writing for websites.
Research Tips for Online Writing
- Keep bookmarks and files of links organized by topic and subtopic. This pays off over time by increasing efficiency for entering reference links.
- Focus on using quality references: university websites, government websites, Google books by experts in their fields and top-notch books from your own library.
- Use the most recent references possible.
I made my online writing debut on Hubpages four years ago. For the past three years I've freelanced full-time, producing content for several websites. Working in several topic areas buffers me from the fluctuations in assignment availability that can cause drops in freelance income. I enjoy writing about fitness, nature, health, travel, gardening, science -- and any odd thing that catches my interest. I spent Monday at my favorite beach and wrote a couple articles on my laptop while I was there.
To clarify, most of my experience is with freelancing for up-front pay. I didn't monetize my hubs until this year and am a beginner at rev share. I've been spending more time on creating niche sites than I spend on commercial writing and enjoying the freedom.
December 2013 New writing tips:
Fill out online profiles completely and include samples. Write about yourself and your work with the verve you'll apply to the client's projects.
I revisited eLance recently. Many pitches don't even address the client's request. That's like sending out a photocopied form letter and expecting a job interview.
Build a website, even something simple on Wordpress to start. An increasing number of clients and agencies ask for social networking and website links, so be prepared. A pen name is great for this. Clients don't need to know what's on my personal Twitter account.
Whatever your goals are, it begins with taking the first step. I wasn't planning on leaving my job to write full-time when I wrote my first hub. So, I'm offering this Make Money Writing Online series as a way to give something back, in gratitude for the life-change that has allowed me to follow my dreams. I wish the same for you.
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Updated December, 2013
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