Writing Refresher

What’s on the iPod: Animal by Neon Trees

I have never been so glad to see a day come. It’s Election Day, which means after 8 pm, all the phone calls, emails, mailers, and door knockers will leave me the hell alone for four more years. I’ve donated to my candidate twice. I won’t do it a third time (my funds are more limited than his), and you already have my vote. Go away.

I will also avoid Facebook, Twitter, etc. until the losing camp stops complaining. I hate the polarization, the lies told on all sides about the other sides, the false generalizations, and the way everyone digs in their heels and won’t talk intelligently or rationally. If you can’t listen as well as blather on, shut up from the get-go and save me the trouble of telling you to, I say.

Enough of that (I hope).

I was chatting with a writer friend yesterday about the different things we see writers taking as fact. It’s especially harmful to new writers, who may hear one or two seemingly established writers spreading such “facts” and adopt into their business some unhealthy (if not unethical) practices. So just in case you were wondering, here are some things to remember:

Rewriting is stealing. Oh please. Don’t try convincing anyone that taking someone else’s article, blog post, or book and rewriting it in your own words isn’t theft. Try rewriting a best seller and selling it. Go on. I dare you. Wait. It happened already (allegedly). And it lost her a budding career. Don’t rewrite anything. Create your own story. Use more than two sources to find your information, and interview when necessary.

You can’t hide behind Fair Use. I’m reminded of the dude who lifted tons of websites and blogs, wrapped his own URL and web format around them, and gave “credit” to the original sources, but only if you clicked three different times to get to your site from his. He argued it was fair use under US copyright law (it isn’t). Worse, he teaches this kind of crap to other designers in his copyright course. He’s skirting the law (and in some cases ignoring it) and trying to wrap it in a better package. Theft is theft, gift-wrapped or not.

Keyword stringing is not writing. There’s a difference between being asked to add a certain number of keywords to your client’s projects and stuffing as many as you can into incoherent, nonsensical articles. If someone expects you to write without regard for the readability of your piece, that’s not a client worth keeping.

Writing content and writing for content mills is different. Really, really different. Writing content could mean anything from brochures and slogans to websites and white papers for a rate you’ve negotiated with the client. Writing for a content mill means keyword stringing (see above) and being forced to write fast and possibly rewrite someone else’s work in order to meet some ridiculous quota just so you can get five extra bucks. See? Different.

Without ethics, your career is headed for disaster. I cannot tell you how many promising, even on-fire writers I’ve seen flame out and disappear because they skimped on ethics or truth and treated their communities or their colleagues like subjects in their own personal kingdoms. The more you step on people, the more tread marks are now aimed at your own back. Those who fail to realize that are either already gone or on their way.

About the author




  • Devon Ellington November 6, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    All great points. Too many people getting into freelance writing see it as a quick and easy way to make money. It's not, but it's one of the most rewarding.

    What you put out = what you get back, karmically as well as every other way.

  • Paula November 6, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    Two more:

    1) Mashups aren't the same as citing two sources. At best, mashups are rewriting multiple articles. When you don't to any interviewing or (original) research, you're not actually writing anything. You're parroting what other people wrote.

    2) Citing someone's Twitter comments in an article is not the same thing as getting a fresh quote.

    If you're a US voter, don't forget to vote!

    (And if you're a US citizen who has chosen not to register to vote: Shut up. You can't complain about the system if you don't participate in it.)

  • Lori November 6, 2012 at 6:27 pm

    Devon, great thoughts re: karma. I don't think many people realize just how each of their own reactions create their own destinies, so to speak. And I laughed out loud at the thought that freelancing is quick, easy anything! If only! 🙂

    Mashups–good one, Paula. Mashups are NOT original writing. If you're giving a client a mashup of two or more articles, you're giving them garbage. I think it would be more work to do it that way than to do it the right way — from scratch.

    A Twitter quote? Hilarious! Did someone actually do that? Wow, let's hope not! That's not journalism — that's gossiping.

  • Anne Waynan November 6, 2012 at 8:28 pm

    sorry, I've been making calls for my candidate… not in PA, but elsewhere… I know, I know, but I feel like I have to do something… oh and I donated a few times too and I did vote.

  • Lori November 7, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    LOL! Anne, human calls don't bother me — it's the robotic calls I cannot stand. That's all I had this year. Maybe one human call total. That's absurd. No one votes for a computer!

  • Paula November 7, 2012 at 3:24 pm

    There's a local "entertainment reporter" who does a fine job with local events, but now and then she has "quoted" TV producers (and possibly a few actors) sort of like this:

    "'Just heard my series just got a full season pick up!' so-and-so said via Twitter last week."

    The same paper used to print days-old blogs from one of their new hires in the layout department, and at least half of his blogs were mashups or links to other blogs. That doesn't belong in newsprint.

  • Amelia Ramstead November 7, 2012 at 9:14 pm

    One of my biggest challenges is not plagiarizing myself! I do a lot of work for one huge web design client who has a lot of "subclients." It's healthcare work, and often there's only so many ways to describe a procedure. Since most of these clients want the same sort of thing, I worry that I might be unintentionally phrasing things similarly. How do you solve this issue?