5 Ways to Look Like an Inept Writer

What’s on the iPod: Plenty of stuff; I’m in the car driving to Ontario

View from the cottage
Vacation time. At long last, I get the heck out of Dodge. At first I felt guilt for wanting a few days off — didn’t I just have a surgery/convalescence? Isn’t that time off? Yes. And definitely no.

While I took it easy during that time, I didn’t take but maybe three days off from actual work. Sure, I worked maybe a few hours before having to take a nap (which I miss), but I worked when I should have been resting. Luckily I recovered despite my own attempts to rush things.

After a few months of light work and a few days of intense work, I’m ready for a real vacation. Alas, this one is only a few days long — I’ll be back with you on Wednesday. But as you read this, I’ll be an hour and a cup of chai into my trip.

We had a great time on our free call with Cathy Miller yesterday. Cathy presented a great topic of discussion – What do you want from your freelance writing? – and everyone who participated was candid with what their issues are and where they are in their careers. It sounded like a group of motivated, really smart people. I don’t think they’ll have issues for long.

Contrast that with the correspondence I’ve been receiving from a certain company. They bill themselves as experts in their industry, as the go-to place for their kind of services. Yet they present themselves like amateurs. It’s frustrating to see because I know they have more going for them than their wrapper suggests. But we consumers do judge a book by its cover. In the case of this particular company, I’d leave them on the shelf amid the cobwebs.

Maybe we writers make similar mistakes. In fact, I know some of us do. So here are five ways to look like an inept writer instead of the pro freelancer:

Keep that stale image. That brochure or website (or even the business card) got you business ten years ago, but is it still relevant? Tastes change. Likewise, technology evolves. If it didn’t, wouldn’t we all still have that running dog graphic on our websites? Review your website. Does it look dated and tired? If so, freshen it up. Same goes for your business card.

Be inconsistent. I’m guilty of having a website design that doesn’t mirror my business cards or brochures. I think to some extent that’s okay as long as the messaging is the same. For instance, you don’t want to get authoritative on your brochure and have your website read like a teen’s diary. The best idea would be to make it all cohesive, but if you have a stack of business cards to use up (like I do), make sure you use the same tone in each piece.

Drop the ball. I’ve worked with companies whose clients have been disappointed time and again. Why? Because in the rush to get new business, these clients forgot to keep the existing clients front-and-center. If you promise something by a certain deadline, meet it. If you can’t, tell them as soon as you realize you need more time.

Cliche it to death. When the Dot Com boom was in full swing, I would get press releases from PR firms and I knew they had no idea what they were writing about. It was all new and the buzz words were sexy, but a little explanation would have done wonders. It became ridiculous how often the same buzz words were tossed around — it was even more hysterical to torture PR people by asking them “Yes, but in plain English, what is that?” Still, cliches will kill your writing and your image. Find a new way to say it. You’ll gain more attention for your creativity than for using throw-away lines.

Cover your gaffes with half-truths. In one case I knew of, a company pretty much  lied its way out of the tongue-lashing they deserved. Why not just admit it, apologize, and break your neck to make it right? Doing that earns you honesty points and, if you can rock it properly, awesomeness points.

In what ways are you seeing companies or writers looking particularly inept?

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  • Cathy Miller August 30, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    Beautiful photo, Lori. Enjoy your vacation! I go to Tahoe in a couple of weeks for a 10-year anniversary of my Fight Like A Girl team. I can't wait. 🙂

    Thank you for the opportunity to chat with the writers yesterday. It was a blast. What a great bunch of people. And, you're right, you can tell they all have what it takes.

    I know it has been said before – many, many times – but, one way I see where writers err is those seeking guest posts. They've read how guest blogging is the be all/end all for getting visibility, but then they go about it in such a way to irritate the hosts of the blogs they approach. It's gotten so bad with one blogger that I had to blacklist her email because she ignores my I am not accepting guest posts at this time response and bombards me with requests & follow-ups.

    Try participating in blog discussions. Interact on social media. Share posts you like. In other words – build a relationship before asking for guest posts.

  • Paula August 30, 2013 at 4:26 pm

    One thing I've seen a LOT, especially on LinkedIn groups: so-called professional writers spamming groups with how great they are (always with a link back to their website or blog), when their writing is full of simple, obvious errors.

    You might remember a self-proclaimed writing guru (or was it "rock star"?) who was adamant that writers don't need résumés when they have a bio page. The link to her bio proved only what a poor writer she is. Proudly sharing links to error-riddled, inconsistent copy only showed her inability to recognize the difference between good and bad writing.

  • Paula August 30, 2013 at 4:30 pm

    Disclaimer to my previous comment: I don't hold writers to the same professional standards when commenting on blogs or websites. If so, I'd be in big trouble! My criticism is on the work those writers are presenting as their professional best.

  • Lori September 4, 2013 at 1:42 pm

    Cathy, I thought of you. Did I tell you that last year, we drove to where you used to stay? Still there, still looks lovely. 🙂

    Enjoy Tahoe. I'd love to see that someday.

    Paula, poor writing is just unacceptable in the writing world. Aren't we supposed to know what we're doing? I'm with you — blog comments are free-form communication, so there are allowances made. But professional sites should be proofread, and a writer should understand basic grammar and sentence structure. If not, they have no business IN business.

    I've been spammed on LI by other writers, as well. I've seen writers recommending sites, courses, etc. that they make a clear profit from, yet they don't mention their affiliations. Drives me nuts. It's unethical.