Some Useful Stuff for Freelance Writing I Learned from My Journalism Degree

I talked about why you don’t need to go to university last week. But the truth is if I went back in time, I would still go. Admittedly not because I desperately need my degree, but because it was one of the best times of my life. Also, it meant I didn’t have to figure out what the hell to do with my life at the tender age of 19 – an age when nobody knows shit.

And actually, you know what? I did learn some useful stuff:

Put the most important part first

Never start your sentences with ‘On Monday…’ or shit like that. Read a newspaper and see if that ever happens. It doesn’t, because journos know they need to grab your attention straight away, and that by telling you that the thing they’re about to tell you happened on a Monday is just not interesting. If it’s relevant, put it at the end of the sentence.

‘On Monday a zombie horde infested the Lincolnshire town of Grantham,’ versus ‘A zombie horde infested Grantham, Lincolnshire, on Monday.’ See the difference? It’s so simple, but you wouldn’t necessarily think about it if you weren’t told to think about it.

Be succinct

Use as few words as possible to convey your meaning. And really think about every word – does it need to be there? For example, can you tell me what could easily be removed from this sentence without affecting its meaning? ‘The zombie horde arrived at 12 noon.’

The sentence should read, ‘The zombie horde arrived at noon.’ Or I guess it could also read, ‘The zombie horde arrived at 12pm.’ Point is – there’s never any reason to say ’12 noon’ because noon is 12. And this sort of thing creeps into writing all the time. Watch out for your adverbs and adjectives, too. ‘Very’ is one of the biggest offenders and not only will your writing still make sense without it, it’ll have more impact too.

Let the other person talk

If you’re interviewing somebody, silence is not yours to fill (unless your question has been answered). Just ask your question and keep your mouth shut – your interviewee will feel obliged to fill the silence, and will hopefully do so with something useful. (If not, you’re asking the wrong questions.)

While I learned this for journalistic purposes, it isn’t just useful when interviewing people for articles. It’s also useful if you’re having a chat with a new client. Just shut up and let them talk, and they will reveal more and more to you about their needs. Bonus points: you won’t end up sounding like a rambling imbecile.

Don’t eat chocolate before recording an interview

For reals. Claggy mouth. Water is your friend.

There are about 3 words to a second

This is useful if someone hires you to write scripts. Divide your word count by three if you want to know how long your script will be when read aloud but can’t be arsed to actually read it aloud.

Want some more real-world guidance on working as a freelance copywriter? Check out my freelance copywriting course.