Freelance Writer Files: Eight Grammar Mistakes You Should Never Make Again

Here’s a good, brief article I came across today on Open Forum. I’m pasting in part of it AND giving you the link. Not trying to fool you into thinking I wrote it. Just wanted you to have the info. Here goes:

Affect vs. effect. The easiest way to remember the difference between the two is that “affect” means “to influence.” So if you’re going to influence something, you will affect it. If it’s the result of something, it’s an effect.

Impact. Impact is a noun, not a verb. A plane can crash on impact. You can have an impact on something. But you cannot impact something. (When you are tempted to use “impact” as a verb, use “affect” instead; see #1

Their, they’re and there. You’d think everyone would have learned this rule in fourth grade, but it’s a very common mistake. Use “there” when referring to a location, “their” to indicate possession, and “they’re” when you mean to say “they are.”

Care less. The dismissive “I could care less” is incorrect. If you could care less about it, then you’re saying you could care less about the topic, and you’ve lost the impact you meant to have. To use this phrase correctly, insert the word “not” after the word “could,” as in, “I could not care less.”

Irregardless. This word doesn’t exist. The word you should use is “regardless.”

Your and you’re. Another mistake you’ll often see in people’s social media profiles or other content they create is the incorrect us of “your” and “you’re.” If you mean to say “you are,” the correct word is “you’re.” Use “your” when referring to something that belongs to “you,” as in “your business.”

Fewer vs. less. Another common mistake, “less” refers to quantity and “fewer” to a number. For instance, Facebook has fewer than 5,000 employees, but I got less sleep than you last night.

Quotation marks. Among the great debates, people ask all the time whether or not punctuation belongs inside or outside of quotation marks. Let’s set the record straight. The period and the comma always go inside quotation marks. The dash, the semicolon, the exclamation mark and the question mark go inside when they apply to the quoted matter (if it’s not the entire sentence) but outside when they apply to the whole sentence.

People make so many grammar mistakes today that The Elements of Style is on its fourth edition. If you keep a copy of it on your desk and practice your craft, you’ll never have to worry about the grammar police paying you a visit.

Freelance Writer Files: Working on a Chain Gang

If you’re an independent creative working from home, do you ever feel like a latter-day Jacob Marley, your clanking chains making you the prisoner of your computer? Or like chain-gang member Woody Allen in “Take the Money and Run?” (If you like to laugh, please check it out.) Or have you broken your bonds, like escapee Paul Muni in “I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang?”

I'm free!

The reason I feel compelled to sit at my desk all day is that most jobs come to me via email, and some must be done post-haste. So when I have to go to the grocery store or pharmacy, I feel as if I’m playing hooky, and I high-tail it back home as soon as I can to check my email.

To feel a captive in one’s own office is not good. There’s a whole wide world out there waiting to be explored! So how can I get out there more?

First idea was to get a smartphone, so I could tell when email came in, and whether I needed to tend to it right away. FAIL! Got a paygo plan that offered a free Samsung phone. Now I know why the phone was free! It stinks. Oh, yes, you can check email, but it takes flippin’ (as dear Sarah P. would say) forever. And the batteries hold power like a sieve holds water.

This phone stinks.

Okay, I know some people who have ditched their landlines and gotten iPhones or other smartphones that let them do everything but clip their toenails with them, but am I ready for that? I have both cell phone and landline, the equivalent of wearing suspenders with a belt. But someone pointed out to me that if you only have a cell phone, when the power to the cell tower goes out, you have no phone. HELP! No phone at all?

Right now isn’t the best time to think about going out on the town, or in the town, actually. I’m preparing to move a certain amount of my stuff from my 4-bedroom house to a 2-bedroom apartment nearby. Right-sizing my lifestyle. Problem is, I’ve inherited a lot of stuff (beautiful dishes, linens, etc.) from two generations before me, that I never use. Like my mother before me, I have kept them in storage in the basement because they’re “too nice to use.” Now, there’s a silly idea. As long as I keep them, I’m chained to this stuff, too.

I’ve got some lovely pieces of Royal Ruby glassware on Craigslist, and today I’m listing my mother’s milk glass. All of that stuff is beautiful, but I have to think of the 3′ X 4″ storage cage at my new apartment, and exactly how much will go into it. Not much, that’s how much. And my son in Shanghai doesn’t give a chopstick for any of it. Not to mention, it would cost more than the national debt to send it to him.

All this Royal Ruby glass for sale!

In an attempt to downsize, I took five U-matic cassettes containing all of the TV commercials I’ve ever written and produced to a fellow nearby who is transferring them to DVD, so I won’t have to lug these obsolete plastic boxes of tape around forever. I also gave a 16mm film my dad had made back in the 50s for Purina to a friend in communication studies, and someday, he says he’ll transfer that to DVD. So I’m at least shrinking my media load.

Remember George Carlin’s terrific riff on “stuff?” It’s all true. And moving stuff is very trying. Moving while trying to get some work done is doubly trying. Oh, AND trying to organize a big garage sale (though you get more for your stuff at an “estate sale,” I’ve heard). Never have I done a garage sale, and this will be a pretty big one. Anybody have folding tables I could borrow?

Anyhow, when I am finally ensconced in the new apartment, I dearly hope I will not feel chained to my desk and stuff. As I recall from living in an apartment before, I tended to go out more. Say, tree leaves are still green, aren’t they?

Freelance Writer Files: What to do when there’s nothing to do.

Got that done.

Biz sure has been slow this week. Everybody slacking in anticipation of the Memorial Day weekend. So what am I doing? Nothing, income-wise. Ho hum. But there is still plenty to do, even if there’s nothing that makes me money. There’s stuff that always needs to be done, but you’re glad you’re too busy to do it. So do it now, when you’re not busy. C’mon, try it. You’ll like it! I suggest you try the following:

1. Improve your chi.

Boost your chi!

Some spell it “qi,” which probably is more authentic, but however you spell it, it means “energy.”

OMG. Where to start?

Closets, bureau drawers, file cabinets and basements are full of stuff you don’t use, don’t need, maybe don’t even like. Like that godawful avocado-colored lazy susan your aunt Marie gave you for your first marriage. Get rid of it. Or those clothes from a former life that don’t fit (and even if they did, they’d only be in fashion if the 80s came back). Or all those old files in your home office. And books you’ve either already read or never will read (Those you can sell on It’s easy!).

Excess clutter blocks chi, which means energy in the form of income, opportunities, friendships, and lots more. Think how much more energetic your office and your mind would be without clutter.

Wherever you start, sort your excess stuff into three piles: Keep, Toss, Donate. When you’ve done a box or two, take a good hard look at everything in your Keep pile, and ask yourself, “Is this thing either beautiful or useful?” If the answer is “No,” then move it to the Toss or Donate pile. Be ruthless.

2. Spiff up the yard.

If you own a yard, it probably has weeds. Weeds are symbolic of distractions in your mind, by the way. I’ve always found pulling weeds to be a calming, meditative, useful activity. Gets me out in my little patch of nature, improves the look of my yard, and kills my back when I forget to use a stool instead of stooping over from the waist. That last is not a benefit, by the way. It’s what I call a “stoopid.”

Trimming shrubberies is fun, too. Gives me a chance to express my inner sculptor. It requires just enough mental energy to distract me from whatever big, heavy issues have been worrying or distressing me. For a time, I’m Chauncey Gardener (From “Being There.”) Mindless, happy, content.


Mowing the lawn can be rewarding. It’s a good workout, and I kind of enjoy it. It’s sweaty, honest work. It’s the ritual of getting out the mower, filling the tank, priming it and taking off that satisfies. Then, the hard work begins. There is some mental, as well as physical, effort. I’ve been experimenting for years with various ways to mow around the giant oak tree in the front yard: in circles, in vertical lines around the perimeter, mowing around it a row at a time, then tackling what’s left. It’s these little problems that make life interesting.

3. Write a blog post.

Well, you see I’m taking my own advice.

Happy chi day!

Freelance Writer Files: Where do ideas come from?

A new idea is often represented as an incandescent light bulb glowing over someone’s head. Now that the old Edison bulbs are banned in favor of the CFL ones, we’ll have to think of something new. ‘Cause those CFLs look weird, and they’re slow to reach full brightness, while new ideas usually come flashing into your brain fully formed.

Or so you think.

• Ideas begin in your subconscious mind.
It’s that mysterious part of your brain where memories, impressions, images, smells, and bad old jokes are stored. You see, hear, smell, feel or read something, and it kicks off a fast conveyor belt carrying associations (Think of Lucy and Ethel working in the chocolate factory). When your subconscious sees the germ of a good idea, the conveyor belt jerks to a stop. What then?

• Your conscious mind plucks the “proto-thought” off the conveyor belt and holds it up to inspect it.
At this point, what you have is an amoeba-like blob: an association and a thought kind of oozing together. If it seems as if it might jell into something useful, the mind starts integrating it (or “mooshing it around,” as we creative professionals say) with other thoughts to create an idea that has form and substance. A creative idea, a business idea, whatever it might be. Perhaps “THE IDEA,” perhaps not. If not, it’s back to the conveyor belt.

• Coming up with “THE IDEA” takes a little time.
People (left-brained people, usually the account people) must think all you have to do is drop in a quarter, the machine goes whirr-whirr-zing, and at 12:59 p.m., “THE IDEA” chunks out of the chute. Not so.

• The “monkeying around” time is essential.
It takes place while you’re sleeping, showering, walking, watching TV, reading a book or newspaper, playing games, doing something unrelated to “working on” THE IDEA. When it doesn’t come is when you’re sitting rigid at the computer keyboard feverishly thinking, “OMIGOD, what am I going to do? Only 35 minutes to go! Come on, IDEA!”

• Now, deadlines for ideas are a good thing.
They focus your mind. They’re helpful, as long as they’re not so close you can feel their hot, humid breath on your neck. Nothing closes down the creative brain like time pressure. On the other hand, sometimes your very first idea is “THE IDEA.” Not often, though.

• So where do ideas come from?
Out of your dank, dark subconscious mind, through your collected associations, up into the conscious mind, out into the daylight, then into the monkeying around process. Then, you devoutly help, they will transmogrify into just “THE IDEA” you need.

• So don’t short-cut the creative process.
Good ideas are like shy little bunnies hiding in the shrubberies of your mind. If you rush to grab them, they’ll high-tail it into the woods. But if you sit down quietly some distance from them, eventually they’ll come out and reward you with a wet sniff with their cute little bunny noses. That’s my take, anyway.

Need good ideas? Come and find me. I’ll be sitting near the shrubberies.

Freelance Writer Files:What can a professional freelance writer do for your business?

When I have asked business owners who does the writing for their website, ads or brochures, sometimes I get the most alarming answers. Check out the following:

“What do I need to pay a writer for? I write my own copy.”
“Oh, I write my stuff, and my Web guy puts it on the site.”
“Nobody reads anymore, so I use a lot of graphics and Flash.”
“I want my ads to sound like me. I don’t want it to sound high-falutin’.”

Oh, dear. We’ve all seen printed or Web copy that is stunning, but not in a good way.

The eternal struggle: getting stuff from your brain onto paper.

Do you really need to mess with this?

There’s writing, and there’s typing (pardon me, ghost of Truman Capote). As a professional writer, I have run into a few business owners who had the gift of superb writing skills. But generally, business owners are better at what they do for a living: running their business. And some are not so good at spelling, punctuation, grammar and syntax. Finally, some are very good at “burying the lead,” which means sticking the primary sales point or exciting news in the middle of yawn-producing text.

What can a professional freelance writer do for your business? See if you think these considerations are important —

• You know a lot. Maybe too much. Hire a naive writer.

Are you answering your prospects' questions?

Your prospects and customers have questions you might not have thought of answering.

A professional freelancer sees your business and the services it provides from a naive perspective, that is, as the average person would see it. That writer can ask questions your prospects may have in their heads, ones you never realized were important to answer.

• In other words, what you know can hurt you.
You know hundreds or thousands of factoids about your company. Which ones are relevant to a prospect? Interesting? Compelling? You may not be able to say, because ironically, you know too much about your company. A professional freelance writer knows how to pull a compelling narrative out of all your company info.

• Experience saves time and pays off.
An experienced professional freelance writer has written scores of communications, from ads to brochures to websites, about lots of different types of companies. S/he knows what works and what doesn’t and can create a custom-made approach for your company that will get your phone ringing, or people hitting your website.

• Hiring another brain makes sense.
Is there something amiss in your communications approach? Ask the writer. A professional freelance writer is also a professional thinker, a problem-solver. So brainstorm your brains out. And come up with a great solution.

• Don’t be afraid to reveal yourself in your company’s story.

A writer is a story-teller.

Writers are born story-tellers. Let one tell your company's story.

A professional freelance writer is also a story-teller. Your writer can develop a story or narrative that goes beyond raw facts and interests people in your company. Some businesses try to hide any hint of personality from public view, thinking it’s unprofessional. But that’s not the case. People want to relate to a company on a personal basis. There are lots of companies out there communicating with their audiences in cool, innovative ways. Look at Apple. Personality plus, and professional, too.

• Your money or your time?
Do you spend days trying to find the time to write that Web copy or that ad or blog post? Do you struggle mightily with writing it? And maybe you try to squeeze it in between your actual job duties, which makes you stressed. Let me ask you this: Have you ever thought about how many dollars per hour your time is worth? How about your sanity? An efficient, reasonably priced, effective freelance writer can help you save both.

• Help is at hand.

Help is at hand.

Quit stressing. Help is at hand.

So next time you’re sweating bullets trying to write your own ad or Web copy, remember that professional writing help is available. Feel that 100-pound weight lifting from your shoulders. Now, don’t you feel happier just thinking of letting go of that hated writing task? Of course you do. Now seek out the help you need, from me or from another professional freelance writer, and get back to your true calling: running your business.

Blogger, blog thyself: Lesson from an ant

What’s the best way to rise in the Google page rankings? That’s the question I get asked. And I always say, “Blogging frequently and relevantly.” So why don’t I follow my own advice? Well, lately I’ve been busy with paying work. But that’s no excuse.

The project of this week may be done next week. The gaping maw of living expenses, like Seymour’s steroidal plant, Audrey, keeps screaming, “FEED ME!” And if you don’t keep blogging or otherwise changing content on your website, new clients might not find you on the Internets. So I say to all freelancers and independent contractors, even if you’ve got paying work today, keep on a-blogging to get work tomorrow.

You remember the familiar story about the ant and the grasshopper. When the grasshopper had collected enough food to feed him for a day, he kicked back under a big tree on a fallen leaf patio chair with a tall green grass Slushy close at hand, and now and then he would scratch out a happy tune on a miniscule violin. While he was hanging out, he observed an ant scurrying around feverishly, out of the anthill to forage, back with a leaf or a bug on his head to the anthill, and then out again to forage.

After observing about 30 of the ant’s round-trips, the grasshopper yawned and said, “Hey, ant. You’ll work yourself to death that way, dummy. Why not chill out, like me?”

The ant came to a halt, the leaf on his head quivering, and addressed the grasshopper.

“Well, grasshopper, I’ll tell you why,” the ant said, in a rather sharp tone. “All of us foragers keep working to gather enough food to feed the ant colony through the winter. When it gets cold, and there’s no food to forage, we’ll be inside the anthill, cozy and well-fed. Meanwhile, you’ll be freezing your fat rear and starving out here because you’re lazy and short-sighted. And that stupid fiddle won’t help you one bit!”

The grasshopper laughed and said, “Oh, fiddle-de-dee! I have enough food for today. I can’t worry about tomorrow, let alone winter!”

The ant scurried away, calling back over his shoulder, “Don’t say I didn’t warn you, grasshopper!”

And so blustery winter came, and one day the grasshopper, shivering and hungry, rapped on the anthill door. The industrious ant opened the door, and the grasshopper begged to be let in to warm up and get some food. “Go away, freeloader! I warned you!” screamed the ant, slamming the door on one of the grasshopper’s antennae and snapping it off. Then, just as the ant had predicted, the grasshopper froze his fat rear and starved to death.

Moral: If you have a blog, keep blogging. Because you may have paying work today, but who knows about tomorrow? And you can’t count on ants to help you.

LinkedIn Job Tips

Thanks to Doug Richards, Social Business Evangelist, for these ideas.

Here’s a conundrum for job-seekers: Employers are looking for employees who stand out from the crowd, yet also fit in to their crowd very nicely. So how do you stand out AND fit in? Your LInkedIn profile can help. Because LinkedIn is where employers, HR people and recruiters look for new employees.

Are you just one of thousands of faceless souls tramping the well-worn paths to certain companies in search of a job? You need to stand out to get employers’ and recruiters’ attention. And you need to have the skills most employers are looking for these days.

Pick me! Pick me!

So what skills are those employers looking for? Yes, some technical proficiency may be on the list, such as familiarity with Excel, Word and other programs. But the skills most sought-after don’t have to do with hardware, they’re “you-ware” skills. In your LinkedIn profile, highlight experiences that illustrate these:

Tech trainability – Ability to learn new things. You may have to learn a new database management system or company routine. Are you flexible and teachable?

Ability to multitask – Just common sense. When companies downsize, one person may have to juggle two or three different jobs. Are you the kind of person who can keep all of those balls in the air?

Lifelong learner – Once you’re out of college for a few years, the type of degree you have doesn’t matter much, unless it’s specifically aimed toward the job you’re seeking. But professional certifications in a relevant field can separate you from the herd. Like Microsoft certification, for instance, for an IT job.

Low maintenance – No manager wants to babysit employees. In your LinkedIn profile, indicate that you do your job without excessive hand-holding. Demonstrate how you figured out how to solve problems on your own and were able to implement the solution.

Are you a good fit?

Cultural fit – Know what’s more important than knowing how to do the specific job you’re looking for? Cultural fit. The ability to play and work nicely with other employees in the company. Do you share their values, speak their language, match their energy level? If you do, employers will train you. Address your values and style of interaction in your profile to let recruiters and HR people know who you are, so they can imagine how you would fit.

More info for job-seekers to come. Stay tuned.

LinkedIn Tips for Job-Seekers

You know that among all the social media platforms, LinkedIn is the most business-oriented, right? You put your professional info into your profile, gather more connections, ask for introductions to people you’d like to know, and so on. You can do a lot with LinkedIn. But as I look at job-seekers’ profiles, I’m betting many are using it only 10% effectively to get recruiters and employers interested in them.

Got one?

What are you saying in your LI profile that will catch the right people’s attention? Unless you know, you’re likely to waste lots of words and get nowhere with your job search. Here are some of the mistakes I see on LinkedIn profiles:

• Too much (irrelevant) information
It’s nice that you like doggies and kitties. But unless you’re looking for a vet tech job, that’s irrelevant. And posting irrelevant content makes you seem clueless or unfocused.

• Too little (relevant) information
Some LinkedIn profiles show no photo and only the barest outlines of educational and professional accomplishments. If you’re just getting started on LI, okay, you can always fill in more later. But be sure to do it. Give employers enough info to see if you are a fit for a position they’re looking to fill.

• Too much information altogether
One person’s LI profile listed every job she’d had since high school, with a five-line paragraph after each job title. And the verbiage simply told what her duties had been at each job. If your duties don’t relate to a position you’re looking for now, either try to make them relate or forget all the exposition. If I have to scroll twice to see all of your employment history, you’ve got three times too much content.

Summary: Keep it brief and relevant to the job you’re seeking.

More tips to come…