7 (More) Deadly Writing Career Sins

What I’m reading: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
What’s on the iPod: Right in Time by Lucinda Williams

What a couple of days. That cushion of time I had last week to finish two articles vanished thanks to whatever this latest winter storm was called — Nika maybe? I’m sorry the term “Snow-mageddon” was ever coined. The weather geeks are now out of control. It’s a new name every week. I can’t even tell you which one is headed this way tonight. To me, it shall be known as “The next damn storm.”

Despite four missed days, I pounded out two articles, which I hope are both decent. Not ideal circumstances under which to write, but the job must be done on time. I finished sometime yesterday afternoon, which gave me a little breathing room. I took to the blogs and the blog feeds.

Let’s just say it was a learning experience.

I’ve seen a lot of mistakes over the years — I’ve committed a number of them myself. But what you do as you move forward in your career is telling. What I’ve seen repeatedly are people making the same mistakes time and again. I wonder how those mistakes translate into lost business opportunities? We may never know.

A few years back, I wrote this post about the Seven Deadly Freelance Sins. They’re all still true, but that list just keeps growing.

That’s because clients who don’t hire you don’t tell you why very often. Unless pinned to the wall, they’re more inclined to just click off your site, delete that email, forget your name, and find a better fit.

So maybe it’s time someone told us what we’re doing wrong. Here are a few of the more deadly writing sins:

Terrible writing. One post I saw recently (by a writer, no less) had sentences that were so poorly written the point was lost entirely. I stopped and tried reconstructing the sentence to get the meaning. No dice. It was too convoluted. Is our online writing up to snuff? Sadly, this blog’s audience was the writing community. That’s one message that isn’t resonating, for sure.

Avoiding challenge. Can you read that author’s book #10 if the author hasn’t moved beyond the same formula used in book #1? Writers, challenge yourself to move beyond what’s safe and familiar. Experiment with technique, read and study others’ techniques, push yourself to improve your skills. In other words, commit to growing your talent, not resting on it.

Using fifty-dollar words. In one blog comment this week, a commenter went a little nuts with his thesaurus. Either his first language wasn’t English or he was trying to impress the blogger with his superior vocabulary. Unfortunately, he sounded like he’d vomited up a dictionary. Keep your audience in mind, and keep the flowery words to a minimum.

Failure to click on Spell Check. Yes, mistakes happen. I’ve been known to let “form” in where “from” should be. But there are some mistakes that are easily fixed, and yet you know the writer never ran Spell Check. It screams “I’m lazy” to your readers.

Having a high opinion of oneself. Am I the only one who is tired of hearing people go on about how special they are? Writers do this from time to time — you’ll hear about the blog awards (does anyone even notice those anymore?), the great things this person has done, and anything else that’s oozing in self-promotion. It’s usually these same types of people who, when they fall, hit bottom hardest. If the goal is to be a great writer, just go be a great writer. Yammering on about it doesn’t make it so. In fact, it looks like someone trying to cover up some shortcoming.

Calling out clients in public. Only one writer I know was ever successful at this, and it’s because she’d warn the clients that she’d do so if they didn’t pay the bill. But writers who complain publicly about clients or who name names are just digging their own career graves. Act professionally. Always.

Not knowing your audience. At all. This blog faces you, the writer. It doesn’t attempt to sell to you (except that e-book over there) because that’s not my goal. My audience comes here for free advice and a sense of community. If tomorrow I started charging you to read, you’d disappear. Likewise if I decided to start writing about remodeling. Your writing, all your writing, has an audience. If you don’t write to that particular segment, your message is lost.

What sins can you add to the list?

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  • Cathy Miller February 12, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    A great list, Lori. Another deadly sin for me is stating uncategorically that doing X is wrong. X may be wrong for you, but perfect for someone else.

  • Lori Widmer February 12, 2014 at 1:45 pm

    A great addition, Cathy. I agree. Any time I hear the words "only" or "must" in someone's advice, I'm no longer interested. None of us are identical, and as you said, what's right for X may not fit Y.

  • Devon Ellington February 12, 2014 at 3:56 pm

    Lack of interaction, when every post is trying to get someone to buy something, but you never support anyone else in return.

    When all the "blog" does is self-promote, and there's no interest in actual connection and interaction, it's a turn-off.

    I dread the upcoming storm. I have a meeting tomorrow night and they don't want to call it off. Honey, I am NOT fighting my way across the bridge in a bad storm. I am staying home!

    I usually love winter, but I think I've had my fill this year! I remind myself every day how pretty it is, and I started seeds inside to cheer myself up.

  • Cathy Miller February 12, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    Way to make lemonade out of lemons, Devon! πŸ™‚

  • Paula February 12, 2014 at 6:25 pm

    I'm not sure which sin offends me more – an overly inflated (and usually wrong) opinion of oneself, constant self-promotion, or a poor writer writing about writing. Sadly, I've seen more than one blogger who commits all of those sins.

    While I don't wish people like that ill, there is a part of me waiting for them to be found out as a self-promoting fraud.

    As for winter storms, I love the Weather Channel but hate how they now name EVERY weather system that produces snow, sleet or ice. It's laughable. Let's hope they don't start naming summer storms, too. Tornadoes, floods, lightning damage, straight line winds, microbursts, derechos, bow echoes all produce more damage than the worst winter storms.

  • Lori Widmer February 12, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    Devon, that's one of my peeves, too. If you have a blog community, you shouldn't ignore it. Nor should every communication with that community be an attempt to sell them something.

    No meeting is worth that — I agree! Stay safe.

    Paula, I had a feeling you were with me on the storm-naming nonsense. πŸ™‚ Next it will be Thunderstorm Carl or Hailstorm Hannah. LOL

    I've seen people like you describe fall exactly as you've outlined. They over-inflate, then when the numbers contradict from one story to the other, they crash and burn.

    That's why you should tell the truth always — then you have just one story to remember. πŸ™‚

  • Susan Johnston February 12, 2014 at 8:36 pm

    First off, there is a Jhumpa Lahiri book I haven't read yet? Just added to my list. How is it, Lori?

    I haven't commented in awhile (life gets in the way sometimes), but I agree with all of these, Lori, especially the last one about not knowing your audience. It's especially bad when a writer transitions from writing for consumer pubs to trade pubs or vice versa and is still in the mindset of writing for the readers of the other type of publication.

  • Jennifer Mattern February 13, 2014 at 6:50 am

    Starting the seeds is a great idea Devon. I'm heartbroken by all this snow because just before the wave of storms started a couple of weeks ago, we had spring-like weather. All of my spring bulbs started coming up. Now they're buried under a thick layer of snow and ice. I won't even watch the snow fall tonight, and that's something I usually love. I've already heard the plows out and this storm has barely started.

  • Lori Widmer February 13, 2014 at 1:33 pm

    Susan, great seeing you! The book — has a strong storyline that pulls you in, but I'm getting hung up on the author's style. Too many. Fragmented. Sentences. On purpose. You get the idea. πŸ™‚

    So true about the transition from one audience to another. It's weird to see writers who refer to themselves as "business writers" when clearly their articles, while about business topics, are written for consumers. There's a market for that, I suppose. Same with writers who can't quite make that transition from trade to consumer — there's a different vibe to it.

    Jenn, your bulbs may bounce back quite well. Normally, they can cycle a few times without missing a beat. Most of them love the colder temps and the snow is going to act as insulation, believe it or not.

  • Lori Widmer February 14, 2014 at 12:34 am

    Paula, are you watching The Weather Channel today? They're camping out in my neck of the woods. πŸ™‚ I thought you'd appreciate that.

  • Devon Ellington February 20, 2014 at 7:41 pm

    Jennifer, sending best wishes to your bulbs!!!

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