Okay, let’s start by tackling that caveat shall we? Why, ‘What makes a great Future Content writer?’ and not just ‘What makes a great writer?’
Great writers come in many different guises, and no two writers are the same. A great author will pore over every sentence, some writers can only create in isolation, cutting themselves off from everyone to create their masterpiece. Others are single-minded and inflexible, their way is the right way and God forbid an editor try and make changes to their work.
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However, over the last two years, there are certain characteristics which have come to define writers that we work well with, and characteristics that we, as a fast-moving content creation agency, look for, nay require, from our editorial team.
Not all writers need to be versatile, and actually there’s an argument to say that finding a niche will be more profitable and valuable to a writer in the long run. But to be a great Future Content writer, it’s an inescapable must.
When you’re working with clients in industries as varied as food manufacture, liquid waste management and app design, a certain amount of flexibility is a must. Being able to pick up a subject and talk about it with authority right off the bat is a skill which is developed over many years, but you need to learn it.
Swiss army nice: A picture representing the versatility of our writers
We don’t expect our writers to be polymaths, but we love people who can pick up a topic and run with it. And further to that, it’s important for writers to gain actual knowledge on a subject – it’s easy to see where a writer has reworded a brief and not worked to do any research of their own. Without this research, specialised articles turn into very general-sounding pieces.
While we work as an agency, we use a team of freelance writers. If a writer takes on a piece of work, they are entering into a contract of sorts. Once an article has been assigned, the responsibility of production is passed onto the writer, at least until the editing stage (where our in-house editors take over). While we do chase work, we’d rather not.
Organisation is key here, knowing what work is due and when, and delivering on time is the responsibility of the scribe.
This is a biggie. A client of ours once told us, “I don’t mind bad news, I just can’t deal with no news.” It’s absolutely true, there is nothing worse than silence.
Be it a note on Trello (the organisational tool we use for editorial production), text, email, whatever, if a question is being asked, it needs an answer, whatever that answer might be. Thinking about it, this is probably the most important point of the lot.
And communication isn’t just about answering questions, it’s also about asking them too. A writer doesn’t have to take a brief at face value (although we do put a lot of work into getting the briefs right), a writer can query things, put forward suggestions or even *gasp* disagree. I mean, we may disagree back, but that’s part of the process.
Having trouble contacting an interviewee? Let us know. Don’t understand something? Ask. Know you’re going to struggle to meet a deadline? Speak up, as quickly as possible.
An inquisitive mind
The internet is the absolute best resource for research, hands down. BUT, let’s see if this sounds familiar to anyone. You get assigned an article on, say, the history of plimsolls (one for the Bristolians there). What’s step one? Google ‘History of plimsolls’. Step two? Read Wikipedia? Step three, check the other results on page one. Write article. Okay, maybe not the best example, but let’s not kid ourselves, there’s a whole world beyond page one of Google. Page two for instance.
Seriously though, continued learning and inquisitiveness helps with every aspect of your writing. Don’t just learn for the purpose of each article, learn for the love of it. You never know where else your knowledge of Samuel Plimsoll may come in handy for a totally unrelated piece of work, or even a pub quiz. This ties in nicely with…
We’ve talked about originality in blogging before, but this is from the writing side. With so much content being flung at the wall of the internet, only the pieces which are perfectly cooked will stick. What am I on about? Basically, to make yourself heard above the noise, the work has to be good.
It’s no longer enough to prescriptively write a list of things to do, or go through the motions. Each of our clients has their own tone of voice, and that is essential to hit, but within those constraints is a huge amount of freedom. The reason writing is exciting is that you can create anything. As Michael Scott once alluded to, a blank piece of paper represents an opportunity; don’t fill it with something boring, cliché-filled or unimaginative.
Hands up, we’ve been known to chuck a desperate email around our editorial team on the eve of a deadline, and to their credit, they always come through. But speed isn’t just to get us out of a sticky situation, speed is about understanding your own value. If you want to be a freelance writer, you need to be strict with your time, and this comes down to being able to turn around work swiftly.
We do want to help writers to get into their dream writing job, be that marketing, journalism copywriting. And we have. But one thing that has been vital to their success is the ability to focus on the work, manage their time and get work finished promptly.
We’re all guilty of procrastination, luckily our content editor, Emily Knight, has further tips on how to write great content – fast.
Increased speed should never be to the detriment of accuracy. A statement online should never be taken at entirely face value, we can cite, quote and hyperlink to all manner of studies, but there is likely to be conflicting evidence for both. While one site may tell us that millennials are leaving Facebook in droves, others may suggest otherwise. Research, checking and double checking, and self-editing are all key.
If you mention a person’s name, make sure it’s right and consistent throughout the article. If you have cited a quote, or date, make sure it’s the right one. Make sure hyperlinks are relevant and work. Basically, fact check (article coming soon).
You have to love what you do, otherwise, stop it. Go and get a proper job.
Swiss army knife – By Andrew Toskin (Victorinox Swiss Army Knife – Climber) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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