If I could give just one piece of advice to every new freelancer writer, I know what it would be. Most of the time, such questions require me to ponder for a while to consider just what one thing would be so worth passing on to others who may come after me that I would select it. But, in this case, I don’t need even one second to know exactly what one thing will make your career as a freelance writer start out better, faster, and easier.
Here it is.
Now, don’t get the wrong idea. This isn’t some Earth shattering thing, and it most definitely does not apply to the rest of your life like a lot of other really good professional advice might. On the other hand, it also isn’t some vague, guru-sounding advice that can’t really be considered advice since there is really no way to "do" it. I’m thinking of those faux advice tips people are always giving others like, "Do what you love," or "Always take care of your customer," or whatever. That doesn’t really help. It isn’t like you hear that and then go, "Oh, yeah! O.K. now I can go forth and succeed, because otherwise, if I hadn’t heard that first, I probably would have messed up a lot."
Even if that kind of advice were profound or somehow managed to be real advice and not some fortune cookie saying, there wouldn’t be anything you could DO with it. Do what you love? O.K. Does that mean that you never do anything you don’t love? That might be a tough way to run a business. Of course, there is a gray area there, but that is exactly the point. The whole things about this so-called advice is that YOU have to figure it out for YOURSELF, so it isn’t advice so much as a pointer in the right direction. Ironically, 9 times out of 10, you already kinds of knew about that direction.
So, what is my real world, tangible, concrete, usable advice that I would give to any and all new freelancers who want to start up a writing business and join the fraternity of freelancers?
Turn off smart quotes.
No, actually, that is not it.
Turn off smart quotes in every single piece of software you have on every single computer you own, use, borrow, or touch.
Don’t worry. No one will ever miss it. In fact, no one will ever notice. The only people who will ever notice whether or not you are using smart quotes are the people who HATE smart quotes with the fiery passion of a thousand hot suns. And, by the way, that includes every editor, website owner, publisher, or anyone else in the writing profession. Smart quotes are despised. They are not just the mark of an amateur, but a mark of someone who is too dumb to be a writer.
You can lose freelance writing gigs over smart quotes. Smart quotes are actually dumb.
So, open up Microsoft Word, or whatever word processing software you use, from MS Word 2010 down to Word 95, and go into Options or Preferences, or whatever they call it and uncheck that little box that comes checked by default where it says, "Replace quotes with smart quotes."
You can thank me later.
Or, don’t, but don’t come back here when someone gripes at you (or worse), because I’ll just say, "I told you so."
P.S. You should also always meet your deadlines, but that would be two freelance writing advice pieces.