The Jack of All Trades Is a Master of Trading

November 6, 2010

They say that a jack of all trades is a master of none.

But I don’t think that’s true. I think that a jack of all trades becomes a master of trading.

Over the last 5 years, I’ve been calling myself a professional writer and editor. In that time, I’ve gotten written or edited an animated sitcom, my book, other people’s books or book chapters, a few white papers and technical manuals, hundreds of magazine articles, a bunch of Websites, an annual report, academic papers, some 130 blog posts, about 10 minutes worth of a stand-up comedy routine, a four-hour writing workshop, and many other things I’m sure I’ve forgotten.

If any one person comes to me and asks, “How much experience do you have doing x,” the chances are good that the actual, hard and fast answer comes down to, “Not a lot.” Which may occur as a disadvantage. The jack of all trades is the master of none. But in truth, my experience goes way beyond that answer. Because really, what I’ve become a master in, is the ability to do anything. What I’ve mastered is the process for figuring out how to deliver an amazing writing project. What I’ve mastered is the ability to be a chameleon to your needs, fitting any and every tone, because a travel memoir sounds different than an article on how to upgrade your landscape equipment.

The jack of all trades is the master of trading.


A Word Your Website Should Avoid at All Costs

October 3, 2010

Sometimes I write and edit web content. I don’t actively market myself for that, and I don’t particularly enjoy it, but I’m good at it and it seems to find me fairly regularly. And of course, when you do something professionally you have a tendency to critique (perhaps subvocally) that skill anytime you see it performed by someone else.

So when I look at people’s websites, I immediately see all the things they’re doing wrong. I have a few pet peeves. One is when people hyperlink the word “click here,” which of course completely kills any search engine optimization that your site otherwise might have had. Do you know what shows up first if you google “click here”? Adobe Acrobat. You’re not gonna win an SEO battle with them, so try targeting your market instead.

But something else I notice, that’s just as big a pet peeve, is mediocre and/or undescriptive copy. Which includes my least favorite word of all time: full-service.

Okay, maybe it’s a compound word. Let’s not nitpick here. My problem with that particular phrase is that it doesn’t really mean anything. Consider:

  • “We’re a full-service consulting firm.”
  • “We’re a full-service financial broker.”
  • “We’re a full-service family law firm.”

I know what a full-service gas station or a full-service restaurant is, but I have no clue what distinguishes a full-service consulting firm from any other kind. I now know exactly nothing more than I would have known had the copy just said that they were a consulting firm, financial broker, or family law firm.

In reality, I think this is code for, “We do a lot of different stuff in this realm, and are really willing to consider whatever you throw our way, so please consider us!” As a result, it occurs as amateurish and fails to distinguish y0u from the competition one bit.

I made this mistake when I first entered the freelance writing market. At the time I was willing to write whatever anyone would throw my way. Now, five years later, I’m a little more discerning and have found a niche for myself in tech writing, ghost writing, and book editing, with some proofreading thrown in for good measure. Today, if someone says to me, “I need a press release” or “I need a brochure,” I don’t even hesitate, I send them right to William Reynolds, who enjoys that stuff. If someone asks me, if I write blogs, I tell them, “I barely write my own, here let me refer you to William, who does.”

So perhaps, for a firm that truly does do everything, it’s harder to come up with a succinct way to describe yourself. But still, you have to be more creative.

That, incidentally, is why you hire a professional writer for your Web copy, instead of trying to do it yourself.


How to Write for the Web (a guide for authors who learned on typewriters)

May 12, 2010

I recently published this article as a guest blogger on Author Tech Tips. The subect is how Web content differs from other kinds of writing.

How to Write for the Web (a guide for authors who learned on typewriters)


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