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5 Marks of a Pro Writer

Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.

Updated 12.18.2023

A pro writer has a basic handle on the writing craft. If you have put yourself out there as a professional writer for hire (or you’re planning to do so), you’ve acquired basic writing abilities so you can do your job. People hire you to research a topic, conduct interviews, organize the content you’ve gathered, create a theme, tell stories, write clearly, edit ruthlessly.

As for personal development, too, a pro writer cultivates the traits needed to consistently produce quality content. Not the temperamental arrogance that is associated with creative genius, but the qualities that typify a hardworking freelancer. Discipline, persistence, empathy, patience, initiative, creativity – and a thick skin – combine to allow a writer to weather the storms of a writer’s life.

But beyond writing skills and personal traits are a set of behaviors that delineate a true pro. These are actions and habits grouped under the banner of “professionalism.”

The freelancer that consistently demonstrates these behaviors is a writer that other people are eager to work with.

Professionalism sets pros apart

“Professionalism is as important as writing skills when it comes to making a writing income,” says freelance writer Ethan Miller, author of The Freelance Writer’s Handbook: A Step-By-Step Guide to Immediate Income Working from Anywhere. “No one wants to work with a jerk or a flake, so you need to be able communicate and act like a professional at all times.” 

It's this set of behaviors that set apart a pro writer from an amateur or a diva or a hack.

Please don’t misunderstand – amateurs and divas and hacks are hired every day. But if the choice is between a class act and one who behaves unprofessionally, which freelance writer would you choose to write for you? You set yourself apart when you conduct yourself like a pro.  

5 marks of a pro writer

5 marks of a pro writer with Word Wise at Nonprofit Copywriter #WritingTips #FreelanceWriting

1. A pro writer communicates clearly

First impressions matter. So do subsequent communications. When you consistently write succinct email, you have a stronger chance of getting the nod to write for hire again and again. A pro writer communicates clearly, whether it’s through a letter, email, or verbally by …

  • Keeping your communication short. Editors get dozens of emails a day. They want to move through them as fast as possible.
  • Stating your purpose clearly. “Would you like me to include quotes from the leaders in this story?”
  • Avoiding text-speak, acronyms, emojis, and extra exclamation points. 
  • Answering email, texts, and phone calls promptly. When you respond quickly and professionally, you provide good service.
  • Being patient. You’ve sent the email. Give the recipient time to answer.

2. A pro writer follows writer’s guidelines

Writing guidelines are a list of “Dos” and “Don’ts” prepared by a blogger, publisher, or organization, which writers follow when preparing material to submit to that publisher. They’re also called “Submission Guidelines,” “Contribution Guidelines,” “Contributor Guidelines,” or “Author Guidelines.” You can find them on the publisher’s website or blog. And if you can’t locate them, ask.

Writer’s guidelines may be simple or extensive. They may include the types of pieces that are accepted for publication, submission procedures, style, word count, compensation, bylines, and rights offered. Read them carefully.

The reason is simple: when you follow writer’s guidelines, you show respect for publication.  You also have a better chance of having your submission accepted when you adhere to the procedures chosen by the publication’s editorial board. And if your content is selected for publication, you reduce the number of revisions you are asked to make – all by following the writer’s guidelines. 

3. A pro writer meets deadlines

Freelance writer Linda Formicelli asked several of her editors what percentage of the writers they hire turn in good work on time. The answer: ten percent.

If you promise an editor or client that a draft will be in their inbox by Friday at noon, then don’t press “Send” at 12:15 PM. And don’t even consider sending it the next day. Punctuality shows respect. Meet or beat deadlines and you’ll stand out as a pro.

Editors give writers deadlines because they are also under deadline. They need time to review your work, ask for revisions, and load the whole kit and caboodle to the designer for layout (for print publications) or webmasters (for online publications).

A pro writer understands this. That’s why editors adore writers who not only turn in clean, engaging content but do so on time. And if you submit quality content early? You’ll be on that editor’s Most-Favorite-People-In-The-World list.

4. A pro writer revises

If you publish your own content (say, on a blog), revise until your content reads as smoothly as a greased playground slide. And if you write for hire, re-write until you are as certain as you can be that you’ve completed your best work for submission. And once you hit “Send,” avoid the temptation to sit back and bask in the glow of your achievement. You’re not quite finished yet.

If you’re writing for a publication, then it’s the editor’s job to ensure the content follows the publication’s style sheet. If you’re writing for a client, remember they own the final product. In either case, there’s a good chance you will be asked to make revisions.

A pro writer is willing to do so. With grace. And in a timely manner. Because as a pro, you know that you have not cornered the market on understanding everything there is to know about writing. The prolific American author Stephen King emphasized this point. “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings,” he said in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. “Even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” 

If you become too attached to your words and are unwilling to tweak them, you may not grow as much as a writer.  A pro writer understands that making revisions – or studying the changes made by an editor in the final product – offers a free writing lesson. 

5. A pro writer says “thank you”

Think of how many people make it possible for you to write. Thank them – and you build goodwill that allows you to keep on writing. Show your gratitude to …

  • Your family: “Thank you for giving me time at the keyboard.”
  • An interview subject: “Thank you for your time and for sharing your story.”
  • An editor: “Thank you for publishing my article.”
  • A reader who comments on your work: “Thank you for sharing your thoughts.”

The marks of a pro writer mark you

It seems so simple: communicate clearly, follow directions, be on time, be flexible, and show gratitude. Mama taught you to behave that way since the time you were a toddler. Let those simple behaviors spill over into your writing life. They mark you as a pro – and a writer that people want to keep reading.

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