Writing Thoughts

Where to Find Writing Prompts

Writing is an art and, like any art, it takes practice to improve. You can practice by free writing a little each day or you can add some structure and challenge to your practice by using a variety of writing prompts.

Writing prompts are suggestions that take you in a certain direction. They may be a topic, a first sentence or a more specific challenge. Writing prompts are particularly useful because they spark your imagination and may take you outside of your comfort zone.

So where can you find interesting writing prompts?

1. Google some inspiration

Google the phrase “writing prompts” and you are sure to turn up several sites devoted to providing inspiration. Many offer daily writing prompts, along with archived lists of past suggestions. There are prompts designed to be used by teachers with their students, prompts for personal journaling and prompts for creative writing. Challenge yourself by trying a variety of writing prompts.

2. Browse your bookshelf

When it comes to writing exercises, your bookshelves are full of great ideas. Write your own version of a favorite scene from memory, write some letters between fictional characters, or copy a sentence from a random page and use it as the first line of a short story. You can also practice different skills by writing book reviews or short summaries.

3. Record ideas from daily conversations

Keep a small notebook with you and get in the habit of jotting down phrases or sentences that catch your imagination. Over time, you can build a list of writing prompts to use in your exercises. For more challenge, choose two or three completely unrelated phrases and find a way to use them together in a short story.

4. Go people watching

You don’t have to hear conversations to capture ideas for writing prompts. Head out to a coffee shop, park, or other public place and spend some time people watching. Imagine stories for the people you see. Where are they from? Where are they going? Describe the people you observe, using rich details to capture appearance, mood and personality.

5. Join a writer’s group

Writing is a solitary practice, but it can also be shared with others. By joining a writer’s group, you can exchange writing prompts with others or work together to create a shared story. Take turns building a story by letting each person add their own sentence or paragraph. The results are often hilarious, and the exercise is a great way to stretch your imagination. Writing with others can push you to up your game, and it’s a lot of fun.

However you find your inspiration, plan some time to practice your writing for a few minutes each day. These simple exercises sharpen your skills and some may even lead to ideas for larger projects.

Copywriting vs. Content Writing

When it comes to freelance writing, there are several different types of assignments available. One distinction is between jobs which fall under either the category of copywriting or content writing.

Each of these writing styles has its own approach, but both require skills that can be blended to create more effective, attention-getting articles.

In essence, the difference between copywriting and content writing is simple. Copywriting typically refers more toward advertising, while content writing is more focused on simply providing information or “content.”

Copywriting

When working on copywriting jobs, your focus will usually be on promoting an item or service. Some examples of copywriting jobs include:

  • Writing product descriptions for a catalog
  • Writing advertisements for an upcoming sales event
  • Writing promotional materials for a hotel or inn

The approach of copywriting is to sell something. You goal is to persuade readers to buy a product, sign up for a service, book a vacation or otherwise invest in whatever you are promoting.

Copywriting often uses more energetic writing (e.g. Act now! Don’t miss out!) and emotional appeals (e.g. Be the envy of your friends! Let us help you reach your dream.) Some clients want a harder sell, while others prefer a more subtle, less pushy approach.

Content Writing

Instead of being used to sell a product or service, content writing is typically designed to inform or entertain. Some examples might include:

  • Describing health conditions on a medical website
  • Writing how-to guides for a home improvement company
  • Offering real estate advice for new homebuyers
Content writing may touch on a particular service or product, but it is not focused on promoting it. Blog posts, like this one, often fall under the category of content writing. The tone and perspective may vary widely, depending on the approach of the writer (or at the request of the client). 
Blending copywriting and content writing
Sometimes, magazines and websites use a blend of both copywriting and content writing styles. A good example of this is an advertorial piece. With an advertorial, your goal is to create an article that reads like informational content, while subtly selling a product or service. 
If you look through magazines or newspapers, you will sometimes see articles that are stamped with the word “advertisement” or are followed by a disclaimer telling readers that it is a paid advertisement. These are advertorials. 
Even when you are not writing an advertorial, you can use some copywriting skills to make your content writing more engaging and energetic. On the flip side, strong content writing skills will often help your copywriting assignments have a more natural feel.

Experiment with both styles to enhance your freelance writing skills.

What To Ask Before Accepting a Writing Assignment

When you’re just starting out as a freelance writer, you may be eager to accept every assignment that comes your way. That may not be such a bad approach, since it can lead to a variety of opportunities. However, you should know some basic facts before accepting any assignments.

Pinning down the details of a job will avoid conflicts later on and make it easier to meet your client’s expectations. It also shows that you are a professional.

Here are five simple questions to ask before accepting any freelance writing assignment:

1. What is the expected word count?

Clients may give you a word count as a range (e.g. 400 to 600 words) or as a set count (e.g. 500 words). If you receive a range, stay within it. If you receive a set count, get as close as possible to it without going over. When working on an assignment that includes anything beyond the article body, such as sidebar information or a sub-header, clarify whether that is included in the word count.

2. What is my deadline (or the writing deadline)?

Always confirm the deadline and check your schedule before accepting an assignment. Sometimes the initial offer will have vague language, such as, “Could you finish it by the middle of next week?” Get a specific date. If other people will be involved, such as an editor and/or fact-checker, be sure you know your writing deadline as opposed to the deadline for the whole project. (Your deadline may be earlier to give the others time to work.)

3. Are there writing guidelines for the assignment?

Publishers may have their own style guides, which they expect freelance writers to follow. This could be anything from a detailed, multi-page document to a brief statement like, “AP Style, family friendly.” If you are given writing guidelines, follow them. Writing for a client means tailoring your voice to match their style.

4. What sources are required?

This is another area where the requirements can differ greatly from one client to the next. Some clients have strict guidelines about sourcing information, including a list of sites which they do, and do not, want you to use. Others may ask for inline citations only or not require sources at all. (It’s good practice to document your sources for your own records even if they are not required.)

5. What will I be paid?

While payment is likely to be at the top of your list, assignments are sometimes offered without mentioning your compensation. You are a professional and have a right to ask about payment before accepting. Ask if you will be receiving a byline or if the article will be ghostwritten, and nail down the legal aspects of the contract (i.e. the rights being purchased).

Freelance writing can often be feast-or-famine, but don’t be in such a rush to accept every assignment that you overbook yourself or otherwise agree to a project that you will not be able to successfully complete. Asking a few questions upfront can help you choose the assignments that will be best for you and your career.