Almost every aspiring freelance writer I know asks me how to improve. One of the best things you can do is take a composition class.
It’s true that one of the best things you can do as a freelance writer is to practice your writing. The more you write, the more you’ll improve over time. I notice a difference between my writing seven years ago and my writing now.
Another way to improve your writing is to start with a basic composition class. I’ve benefitted from my writing-heavy studies. My undergraduate experience as a communications major included writing classes. It goes without saying that my journalism masters degree came with a great deal of training in the written word. When a freelance writer asks me what he or she can do to improve, I almost always suggest adding a composition class on top of practice.
Benefits of Composition 101
By the time many of us have finished our formal education, we’ve forgotten the basics of essay writing learned in high school English class. Few of us take composition classes in college. So, while you don’t need to run out and get an English or journalism degree to succeed as a freelance writer, I do think it’s worth it to check your community education catalogue for basic composition — or even audit a composition class at your local university. Here’s why:
- Learn how to structure your writing so that it follows a consistent and coherent pattern.
- Receive a refresher course in basic grammar and usage.
- Obtain constructive feedback from an instructor.
- Once you better understand the rules, you’ll know when and how to break them in a more effective manner.
A good composition class can provide you with help honing your skill, and even provide you with confidence in your abilities. While it can be a bit of a confidence-killer at first, once you go through such a class and see your overall improvement, you’ll be surprised at how helpful it can be — as long as you are willing to learn.
One of the best classes I ever took while in journalism school was from a professor who started by grading our first assignments with Cs and Ds. He required us to improve over the course of the semester. Only with improvement could we work our way up to an A in the class. It was a confidence-buster at first as he helped us learn what we had been doing wrong, and encouraged us to change. He also emphasized that once we understood the rules and knew what we were doing, we could begin to take liberties with the rules in order to make our writing more compelling.
By the end of the class, I felt better about myself and my writing — and I also had a better understand of how to bend the rules.
If you want to excel as a freelance writer, get back to the basics. Even if you don’t take a composition class, at least read The Elements of Style. This is the definitive book on composition, and even includes a guide to commonly misused and misspelled words.
A good freelance career is built on a solid foundation. If you want to take your writing (and your rates) to the next level, build that foundation first.