Guest Post: Surviving as an Academic Writer

This week’s guest post is from writer Steve Aedy. A lot of us have to do other forms of writing for our day jobs, so Steve has some tips for writing discipline and craft that can apply to a wide variety of writing types.

You’ll Never Survive as an Academic Writer If…

As you embark on your freelance writing career, you probably see glory and riches in your near future.  While this is entirely possible, it isn’t always probable.

Academic writing is a very specific breed of freelancing.  Do you have what it takes to survive the demands of this career?  If you want to make a living as an academic writer, consider the following personality traits.

You’ll never survive academic writing if…

You Can’t Master the English Language

All writers need to have a basic understanding of proper grammar and sentence structure.  However if you are an academic writer, this knowledge is absolutely essential.  While other types of writing might be more flexible when it comes to abiding by the rules, academic writing demands strict adherence.

If your writing skills aren’t up to snuff, consider improving them.  Try taking an online course.  For example, Coursera offers free courses on just about every topic under the sun.

You Can’t Drum Up Enough Creativity

It is difficult to tackle a creative writing project if you can’t get into a creative mindset.  If you find you don’t naturally gravitate to this style of writing, there are some ways you can encourage the creative muse to find you.

Try doing some creativity exercises.  Writing bursts are the perfect example.  Open a word document, set a timer for ten minutes, and just write about whatever pops into your mind.  You’ll find this will help get the creative juices flowing.

You are Too Creative

Wordiness can kill an academic essay.  If you insist on choosing complicated, elaborate words instead of simple, concise alternatives, your clients won’t be happy.  Likewise, using unnecessary words for a clear expression is also troublesome.  You may think you’re doing your client a favor by covering a point thoroughly, but your redundancy is annoying.

For example, avoid phrases like: advanced warning, circulated around, close proximity, constant nagging, downward descent, exact same, new discovery, and top priority.

You Are a Perfectionist

Edits happen.  They are a fact of life.  Very rarely will an essay pour out of you and be flawless the first time around.  If you expect perfection, you’re freelance career is doomed.  You’ll spend way too much time on each piece and never be satisfied with the results.

Don’t agonize over every word, every sentence.  Just get your thoughts out there.  After the first draft, you can come back and revise your efforts.

You Don’t Embrace Your Creativity When it Strikes

Creativity is probably one of the most difficult things to schedule.  It’s not always available when you want it to be.  However, deadlines are a fact of life.  You’ll be hard press to find a job that doesn’t demand you adhere to them at some point in your career.  As a writer, you are probably familiar with the importance of deadlines.  But like everything else, academic writing is very different from other forms of freelancing.

A blog owner might say a post is due on a certain day.  If you don’t deliver, you could seriously damage the relationship with the blog owner – but the world won’t come to an end.  If you are late delivering an academic writing assignment, it could be the end – of the student’s academic career.  We all know educators aren’t going to fall for the “dog ate my homework” bit.  Therefore, it is absolutely essential you meet deadlines.

However, creativity knows no boundaries.  If you try to beat it into submission in the form of a 9-5 job, you’ll be an epic failure.  Don’t try to force your writing mindset into a schedule.  Instead, schedule your writing time around your creative peak.

Experiment a little.  Find out when is the best time to write.  Are you at your best first thing in the morning before all of life’s demands kick in?  Or are you more focused late at night when all the stress has worked itself out?

As you are trying to find the best time to work, carry a notebook with you.  If creativity strikes and you aren’t ready for it (ie: sitting in front of your computer), you can whip out your notebook and jot down your thoughts.


You Aren’t a Good Listener

Obviously, your writing abilities will play a major role in your freelance writing career.  However, your listening skills are just as important.  You must be attentive to the client’s needs.  Otherwise you will find yourself in a never ending cycle of rewrites.

If you struggle in this area, start making attention to detail a top priority.  Read communications twice before taking action.  Learn to read between the lines.  Understand that clients may be using English as a second language.  Patience is needed while trying to get to the root of the message.

You Commit Plagiarism

Plagiarism is bad for business, will ruin your clients’ trust, and is unethical.  More importantly, you could destroy a student’s academic career.

Avoiding plagiarism is more than simply rearranging words.  You need to take a concept and put your own creative spin on it.  Try this: read a block of text, open a fresh document, and without looking at the original source, jot down your thoughts and ideas on the subject.  Let the published work be your guide, not your crutch.

Not all plagiarism is intentional.  You could simply make a citation mistake.  While these types of errors are unintentional, they can still wreak havoc on the lives of everyone involved.  Get yourself a good style manual.  Become familiar with various forms of citation.

You Aren’t Willing to do Research

In a perfect world, you would write about topics you studied during your own academic career.  However, if you want to be successful, you must be willing to write about topics you are unfamiliar with.

Acknowledge the fact that you will need to spend time doing research.  You own brainpower and creativity will only take you so far.  In order to produce the best possible results, you should be willing to devote as much time as necessary to the task.

Academic writing can be a rewarding, lucrative career path.  Hopefully, you have what it takes to be a success.

Steve is a full-time freelance writer and editor for; he likes to
write on education and social media related topics. You can follow him
via Google+.


  1. mary brady says:

    I ceased reading this guest writer’s piece well before the end.
    Here are my reasons:

    1) ‘Academic Writing’– This man thinks we readers are willing to participate in an immoral & dishonest activity. I’m not. OK, I am not starving at the moment; my view might be different if I were.
    But to suggest that providing ‘essays’ to college or high school students, who’ll pass them off to their instructors as their own work, is a perfectly normal career for the aspiring writer is astounding to me. It makes one complicit in a crime.
    Students make choices. If they took too heavy a course load, or partied too much, that’s their look out. Professors will accept reasonable excuses for late work. No one should ‘buy’ their way through school. Screw that.

    2) Under “Too Creative,” we are told never to use the (apparently redundant) term, “top priority.” Several paragraphs later, under “Good Listener,” we are told that if we struggle with listening closely, we should “make attention to detail a top priority.”

    If a person writing a brief blog post about good writing habits cannot be consistent even within such a short piece, why on earth should I waste any further time reading it?

    Nope, no reason occurs to me. So, I won’t.

    I reiterate my usual complaint about guest posts. To date, I have enjoyed ONE–count it–ONE of all the guest posts printed here. On the other hand, I enjoy ALL the BLH posts.

    Makes you think, doesn’t it?

    I know it is industry standard to ‘trade’ blog posts. I’ll live. And I’ll simply be even MORE appreciative that BLH is our regular writer here.

    That snooty, picky a-hole, MaryB

  2. Steve says:

    “No one should ‘buy’ their way through school” – sure, agree. Never bought any paper/essay, ever.

    “Under “Too Creative,” we are told never to use the (apparently redundant) term, “top priority.”” – not never – when writing an “academic essay.” – I like this part:

    “I am on pace for my best year yet. I will make roughly $66,000 this year. Not a king’s ransom, but higher than what many actual educators are paid.”

    What are your thoughts on how to fix the education system?

    • mary brady says:

      Uh, are you talking to me? I just made spiteful remarks about your guest column. I didn’t claim to know any answers to Big Questions.

      Still, if no one offered to ghost write papers for students in exchange for money, students would have to do it themselves. And flunk if they did a poor job.

      I do have one observation about the US education system: going to ‘public schools’ is now considered part of the ‘safety net’ for poor people. How did THAT happen?

      I went to a public high school when I was kicked out of a Catholic girls high school in 9th grade. It was a pretty good school, & ALL the locals sent their kids there (except for the Catholics…). I also graduated from a public university–UC
      Berkeley–where I wrote all my own papers.

      Maybe the education system would improve if, once again, everyone had to send their kids to the same local schools–& ‘public schools’ were not lumped in with other services forming a ‘safety net’ for the poor. No vouchers, no charter schools, none of that. Make public schools truly public again.

      L&K, MaryB

  3. This post left out what I would have found most interesting: the difference between academic writing and “popular” writing. What are scholars in university English departments expected to write? How many papers? Is there the same kind of demand to publish as a history department? Which subjects are considered acceptable and which ones aren’t? What are the options open to holders of masters degrees as opposed to doctorates?

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