If you’re a freelance writer the advice is to read and write as much as you can. But what should you be reading? What kinds of works make the difference?

Whether you’re an amateur who needs to learn how to write to market yourself through content or you’re a freelance writer looking to sharpen your wit and abilities, this little list should help you.

Here’s my essential reading and viewing list for the curious freelance writer together with a few tricks of the trade

Books to help with your writing  


A bunch of journals are bound and stacked in a hall cupboard of a freelance writer or keen journaler.

Photo by
Julia Joppien

Why I write – George Orwell. This essay (and expanded into a larger book – here’s my review) helps the freelance writer stay away from lazy copy and using the same boring analogies everyone else does.

Made to stick – Chip and Dan Health. Really helps apply journalistic principles to copywriting and social media as well as advertising in general.

The Writer’s Handbook – Kate Grenville. This is a book on writing fiction however it’s good for learning how to be a stronger writer overall.

Do the Work – Stephen Pressfield. So, you stay applied and focussed on the work and remain motivated.

Who killed creativity? – Andrew Grant. Great for getting back to basics with writing and also adding flare to the work you do. (I have also written some notes from it on my website).

Essential documentaries

Understanding how design and copy work together really help turn a freelance writer from word nerd to content marketing expert.

Here are some of my favourite documentary choices:

Art and Copy – great doco on the early days of advertising to the noughties. Speaks about how the relationship with design and writing is one done in tandem, not isolation. And how you can influence one to be better by knowing and respecting the other. Also looks at some of the most memorable slogans in marketing and advertising.

Abstract – series featuring designers and artists talking about their creative process. Takes a look at advertising and marketing and the relationship between story in design form. Again, great for helping with copy etc from that perspective.

Freelance writer tricks of the trade

There are a few things that you can do to finesse your writing:

Get stuck into word limits

Take a 200-word paragraph down to 75 word then 25 words then under ten. You start to see how language can get tighter. If you can get pitch perfect, it really helps both long and short form.

Look for your own buzzwords

We all have weasel words we lean on. Circle words you see popping up in your work all the time. Make it a habit to reduce that word by at least 50% in the editing process. Common ones are “that”, “actually” that are not needed.

Blog, blog, blog

You get better at being a freelance writer when you spend time writing. And a blog is a great way to do that. Write about writing. Write about what pisses you off about the industry and the profession. Explore what excites you. Talk about what you’d change. Highlight the problems you see with marketing and journalism and the alternative ways to go about your content marketing or journalistic endeavours instead. Explore the idea of writing in your own writing and add credibility to your works through tangible proof.

Get comfortable with a self-imposed brief

When you blog, give yourself constraints. Have an idea of the intent of the blog and who it is for before writing it. Think like your customer, chart out that experience and move your blog through the cycle they experience blog by blog. Have a self-imposed cap limit on the word limit.

Experiment with SEO

Use your blog to explore SEO so that you are optimising as you go. That way, you can learn by doing and translate those skills to your clients. People that say SEO doesn’t matter fail to realise you don’t have to go down the SEO rabbit hole to be able to reap rewards. It also helps not only build a body of work, but one that works for you.

If you don’t know much about SEO, look for the opportunity to learn. Hang out at places like Moz blog, HubSpot, and The Content Marketing Institute. Play around with WordPress plugins like Yoast. By learning SEO even a little bit, you’re growing your marketable skills as a freelance writer.

Want more help becoming a freelance writer? Come play in the Freelance Jungle.   


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