There is an overlooked element for professional writing, and it’s staring us in the face. During my education and my time as a professional writer and editor I’ve seen all the commonly taught elements for writing. Writing in an active voice, placing critical information early in the article, avoiding jargon when possible…the list goes on. There is a gap that being jumped without notice, though. Adaptability. Being adaptable as writers is absolutely key to quality writing. Let’s take a quick look at some of the things we are commonly asked to do.
Create Quality Content on Many Different Topics
My first freelance contract was writing copy for a company that sold heavy-duty farm equipment. My first paid writing job was throwing me for a loop. I enjoy fond memories of growing up on military bases and in cities. Yet, here I was having to write effective copy on why this company sells the best type of machinery. Not do I not have background knowledge of the product, but the business I was working for sold B2B inside its own industry, so I had to educate myself with agriculture industry terms as well. Even though I’m no longer fresh out of college and have developed more than a pure journalistic style, I still consider taking work in a new industry incredibly difficult.
Write In Various Styles and Voices
Speaking of styles, I am beginning to lose count of how many style guides I’ve had to pick up. I’ve even personally had a hand in creating several from scratch and updating a couple more. Styles range from similar (I use one every day that is closely related to the AP Style Guide) to worlds apart (MLA and AP for instance). But, a professional writer must blend with any style that comes along with the job, and do so in no time.
Just like styles, the writer has to change voices as well. Is the content promotional content for an esteemed organization or is it for a start-up children’s playhouse? Because your content is completely dependent on the answer. If you bring a prim, proper voice into the kid’s entertainment industry it will feel disjointed and out-of-place.
Write for Different Media
I remember a time when I was writing a promotional spot for an upcoming concert being presented by a local radio station. The ad would be placed on the air throughout the day, on the website, and in their monthly newsletter. I had to explain at first why I was presenting three versions of the ad. Even going from print to digital brings changes. Writers must be able to write for wherever the content is going.
So What about Adaptability?
In order to prepare for whatever the next contract is, practice being adaptable to new things. Athletes spends hours practicing for every hour they spend in competition. Musicians practice. Writing is no different. Even if you just sit down and write a fake TV spot or a throw-away blog post, practice. Educate yourself in what you don’t know (be it an industry, style, or specific medium) and practice until you feel you have a grasp on it. Make yourself capable of taking all comers. No one likes to turn away business.