Category Archives: Tips

What do you know? How to reflect on potential writing topics

Maybe you’re like me and you’ve been struggling with finding your place in the world lately. While I decided to drop my PhD in English, I’m still not sure what new path I should start following. While I’m trying to take my place in the blogging and Web content world, there is still much I have to learn.

One of the main things I have gathered from professional bloggers is “write about what you know”. Most of us know many things, but often we don’t know most of them deeply enough to write about them on a regular basis. But dig a little deeper and you may find that there is indeed something you know well enough to share with the world.

Here are some tips on how to reflect on potential writing topics.

What do you know?

In what field have you trained? What’s your job right now? Does it require any special expertise?

Think about the skills and the abilities you use every day. There must be something you know how to do better than most people you know. Look at your resume or make a list of things you know. Don’t censor yourself and freewrite about your knowledge.

After looking at your list, you may find something that sparks your attention. Put your knowledge list in groups and see if a topic gathers a lot of words. You may have a potential list of keywords for your next blog.

What do you like?

Sometimes it’s not so much about what we know but about what we enjoy. For example, while I’m not a knitting expert, I can certainly say I enjoy knitting and could probably find ways to build a blog around it.

Sometimes, focusing on something you like may eventually turn you into an expert. Think about when you chose your major in college (if you did go to college): did you choose it because you were already an expert at it or because you were curious to learn more?

What do you want to share?

Sometimes people want to share concerns and ideas that may have nothing to do with their knowledge or their hobbies. However, sudden interests can be turned into hobbies or knowledge.

Read plenty of news and blog posts about a variety of subjects. Something new might just be thing you were looking for. Sharing these new finds is often a great way to begin to take part in a community. Share everything you find interesting with your friends and peers and you might become a reliable source of interesting news.

Everyone has something to say. What’s your thing? How did you find out what you wanted to blog about?


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5 ways to get in the write frame of mind

On some days writing comes easily–we sit down, we have a list of topics to cover, and we get down to work. But on other days (like today for me), the thought of sitting down to write travel articles just doesn’t get me going at all. It can be fatigue, emotional turmoil, boredom. But I don’t get paid just to show up… I get paid with results. So on days like this, when it’s hard to concentrate, I do one (or many) of these things to get me going.

Do some yoga poses

Yoga benefits your mind, not only your body. Consciously relaxing and letting your mind go as you take deep breaths can help dissipate whatever’s bothering you. You can perform the classic sun salutations or follow a routine of your choice.

Listen to brain wave music

If yoga isn’t for you, you can try listening to brain wave music. My personal favourite is BrainSync by Kelly Howell. The brain waves imbedded in the music or ambiance sounds can help you focus, activate your creativity or deepen your insight. I was skeptical at first, but I quickly realized how effective it is.


Peter Elbow, a well-known composition theorist and proponent of freewriting, argues that

freewriting gets you going, gets you writing, makes it much easier to begin. With freewriting, “starting to write” means just blurting out first thoughts, musings, and perplexities, starting anywhere–not trying to write a draft. (Everyone Can Write 86)

Freewriting can help you get rid of the mental obstacles between you and your writing. Try turning off your screen while you type for added “freedom” from the look of words.

Take a walk

Sometimes, just nothing will do. When the words don’t come, when freewriting doesn’t break through your sluggishness, sometimes a bit of fresh air can help clear your mind. Try to think about what you have to write as you walk–not about why you can’t write. You’ll come back to your screen refreshed and ready to tackle your tasks.

Take a day off

Unless you have something due that very day, there’s nothing wrong in taking a day off if absolutely nothing works. Sometimes, our brain just needs to rest or deal with the internal turmoil before it’s able to concentrate on work again. I call them my “mental health days”.

It took me all day to write this post; I came back to it every few hours or so. It’s also the only writing I’ve done today. Writing those posts takes me away from my turbulent thoughts while letting me write without constraints of topic, word count or keywords.

What do you do when you’re not in the mood to write?

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How to write a great Elance bid proposal

It’s through Elance that I started working as a freelance writer. It’s an easy way to connect to potential clients and eventually develop long-term relationships with people and organizations. They’re not the best-paying jobs, but they can quickly become so.

One of the features of Elance is that you have to bid for the jobs you want to get. The bid proposal is key to getting the writing jobs you want. Here are some tips on writing great Elance proposals that will get you the job.

Keep it short

Especially in writing jobs where the topics tend to be chosen by the client, you don’t have much explanations to give outside of your own skills. My bids are never more than 3 or 4 paragraphs. Here’s my personal breakdown:

  • 1st paragraph: Name the job, your time frame and your price. It shows you’ve read the job description. Mine goes this way: “I will (write x articles) in (x days, weeks) for (price).
  • 2nd paragraph: Describe, in short, your experience and your skills. Focus on what the client is looking for and show how your experience and skills relate to the job.
  • 3rd paragraph: Invite a visit to your profile for more information and thank your client for considering your bid.

Don’t be humble

There’s nothing wrong with having written hundreds of articles. Mention it if it’s relevant. Don’t boast or exaggerate, but use anything that can give you an edge over your competitors.

Choose a fair price

If your client has a low budget, try and bid a little higher, close to your usual fees. Once, a client contacted me saying my bid was a bit too high but that they were still interested in my services. It’s up to you if you want to lower your price to get the client, or move on to another job. Never be afraid to overbid a little, but never, never underbid. It hurts your Elance rank and it helps keep the prices low (2$ for a 1000-word article? I don’t think so!). I usually don’t worry about all the very cheap bids coming from providers in India and the Middle East; their English is often poor and the jobs usually go to Western providers.

Always attach a sample

If you have a sample in the area your potential client is requesting, go ahead and attach it. Use a PDF with a watermark or “read-only” if you want to make sure that the client won’t use it without your permission. A sample is a great way to show your skills in a work-related context.

Reread, revise, proof-read

I always find a few mistakes after the fact–but don’t worry, you can go and edit your proposal. Take the time to reread and edit your proposal. Mistakes in your proposal won’t help you find writing jobs. Do the same for your profile; clients often check these out before they award a job.

Elance has its own proposal guide, but writing jobs are particular in that they don’t use technical skills like web development or programming. Learn a formula that works for you and use it.

Do you have any Elance tips to share?


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Time management for freelancers

With 4 clients (one a regular client for the last 18 months), I discover that working freelance feels a lot like graduate school work. There’s no schedule (even though there are more deadlines) and you’re pretty much on your own. Here are some of the things I do to manage my work:


My best-paying, longest-standing clients will always have priority. It’s their business that enables me to survive and get more clients. There is no way I would miss a deadline at their expense. So, best clients first, and then down the list from best-paying to least-paying.

Use a task list

A few months ago I read a review of Things on Profhacker and I thought it was worth the 70$ for the combined Mac and iPhone app. It’s been a heaven-sent ever since. Read the review for a complete list of what it can do. But whatever tool you use, keep a task list. It’s easy to get lost with a lot of clients and projects going on at the same time.

Take the time to breathe

With big, overwhelming projects like those I am involved in right now, it’s easy to just work and work and work. But if grad school taught me something, it’s the value of down-time. It enables your brain to recharge. Allow yourself an hour an lunch. Take your evenings off (or at least an hour or two). Don’t work for at least an hour before going to bed. Take the time to relax and enjoy life!

So here are my time management tips for today. How do you manage your time? What techniques or programs have you found to keep yourself on task and keep yourself sane?

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The keyword density myth

I can’t say I know much about SEO yet, but something that affects my job as a web writer is keyword density.

According to some guides I’ve been reading (Google and SEOmoz), the idea that a high keyword density can help hike up your rank is totally false. In fact, keyword stuffing (the technique of putting a lot of the same keywords in web content) actually hurts rankings, because Google notices it and considers it spam.

I’m currently writing for a client who wants 3% keyword density in 500-word articles. In absolute numbers, it means I need to put the keywords 3 times every 100 words, or around 15 times for the entire article. Keyword density not only affects your ranking, but it affects the quality of the content. I find myself having to cut on useful, informative content in order to stuff in the keywords. That makes for bad, if keyword-dense, articles.

The bottom line though, especially if you’re ghost writing, is that you need to satisfy your client. They are ultimately responsible for their own SEO strategy. If they want 3% keyword density, that’s what they’ll get; but they certainly won’t get the best content possible.

Hopefully we web writers can expose this myth by educating our readers and our clients about the real effects of keyword stuffing. It promotes bad content and ultimately hurts rankings.


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