Your career as a freelance journalist or writer is chugging along nicely. You’ve landed a few steady clients and people seem interested in continuing to work with you. Some have even given your information to colleagues or clients who also need writing. But, sometimes people don’t respond to your writing the way you hoped they would. Or, an editor passes back an assignment to you, asking you to make it “pop” more or asking you to improve the tone or voice. Even after years in the business, you can still make some mistakes that pull your work down or make it a dull read. Below are just a few of the more common issues even relatively experienced writers have, and what you can do to avoid them.
The passive voice is liked by no one. It takes what could be an interesting thought and makes it duller. See what I did there? Instead of writing “no one likes the passive voice,” I made the sentence itself passive. You probably felt bored reading it or as if you were about to endure a lecture about passivity.
When you write in the passive voice, you do two things. You rob subjects of their agency. They aren’t doing things anymore, things are done to them. You also suck the action out of whatever it is you are writing.
How do you know if you’re writing in the passive voice? An easy test is to add “by (noun)” to the end of the sentence, as in the “passive voice is liked (by no one),” above. You can also try switching your subject and object and see what happens. For example, no one likes the passive voice not only works as a sentence, it’s an action filled sentence, in which someone (or in this case, no one) does something.
Sometimes, the right word is on the tip of your tongue, you just can’t think of it. In that case, looking a thesaurus to jog your memory or help you find a better word is OK. But, if you’re using a thesaurus as a crutch or as a way to make your writing more exciting, you might actually be bringing yourself down. Take this sentence I had the joy of reading in the local paper recently, “her begetters run a pizza place in . . .” By “her begetters,” I’m pretty sure the writer meant parents. Why not just say parents, then? It sounds more natural and doesn’t leave the reader scratching her or his head. The best thing you can do is simply put down the thesaurus and trust that the word you’ve chosen is the right word.
The Wrong Voice
Now that you’re a professional writer, you need to write formally all the time, right? Not so fast. While a formal voice works in some cases, such as when you’re writing a grant or contract, it’s going to feel out of place on a blog or in newsletter copy. The reverse is also true: An informal voice, full of contractions and slang, isn’t going to work for business writing or in another situation when you need to be completely professional.
Getting the tone right can take some practice, but one way to know for sure what your client wants is to ask. Some people really dislike contractions and want you to use cannot and will not, even on their blog. It’s a matter of taste and preference and knowing what your clients want will help you nail the right voice right away.
Writer Bio: Amy F is a freelance writer based on Philly. She tries to keep things active and doesn’t own a thesaurus.