If you’re a freelance writer – or working to become one – nothing will get you off course faster than a shiny object.

Shiny objects are tips, tricks, or techniques that distract you from your main path. They make you think there might be a better, faster way to succeed.

Many shiny objects come in the form of promised shortcuts to getting what you want.

But, it’s important to understand there are two types of shortcuts:

The first is the distraction kind. For example, you might see another niche or technique for getting to the writer’s life faster and easier. If you buy what they’re selling, you’ll likely get a plan that might work. But you’ll be distracted from your original path and likely never finish anything. Many “shortcuts” are just that – distractions.

The second is the kind of shortcut that works. They can be applied to any situation to increase your effectiveness and decrease your learning curve. Here are five shortcuts I’ve found that work:

1. Pick a Niche

It’s been said many times before, but the best shortcut you can take to the writer’s life is to pick a niche. This needs to be done before you do anything else because your niche will determine many other factors in your business, like your website, potential clients, and marketing message.

Yes, you can learn the basics without a niche. But without a niche, you don’t have a focus. And without focus, you’ll flip and flop from one plan to another without getting any real traction.

Plus, having a niche will give you a huge shortcut when it comes to learning the ropes. If you know, for instance, that you want to be a social media expert, you can ignore all the advice for B2B copywriters because it doesn’t affect you. This will cut back on the material you need to absorb and allow you to take action faster.

2. Invest in the Right Training

Once you choose your niche, you’ll need to invest in a program that will give you relevant advice for that niche. Many of AWAI’s programs tell you step by step how to get from wherever you are now to a successful freelance career – and they’ll be specific to your niche.

Decide on a program, and then make a commitment to go through the entire thing and take the recommended actions before moving on to anything else. When I first started this writer’s life journey, I didn’t know my niche. I floundered about, reading every course and wondering why I wasn’t seeing any progress. If I would have picked any of those programs and actually completed them, I would have seen results right away. Sticking to one path will give you a complete roadmap to success. Don’t discount the value in that shortcut.

3. Get Started Now

So many beginning writers think they have to know everything before they get their first client. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Fact is, you could know just one thing – how to write a great email, for example – and get more than enough clients.

This shortcut is simple – learn just enough get your very first client. Then build your business from that.

If they ask you something you don’t know, say you’ll get back to them, and then look up the answer. You don’t have to know every answer as soon as someone asks the question.

Just remind yourself that no one knows everything, and you can learn what you need to know as you go.

4. Start a Swipe File

A swipe file is a collection of sales letters, ads, and other examples of copy that are eye-catching, successful, or interesting. It’s important to have a library of these promotions to “swipe” ideas from.

Most “A-level” copywriters use swipe files so they can learn from other copywriters and gain inspiration when they experience writer’s block.

I have a virtual file saved on my computer and a physical file next to my desk. I put “direct mail” from my mailbox in the physical file and save screenshots, websites, or emails to the virtual file.

Anytime I see copy that makes me want to buy something, I save it. Later, I can look through my collection to get inspiration and trigger ideas for current projects. Because of my swipe file, I rarely have writer’s block. This alone makes having a swipe file one of my favorite shortcuts to the writer’s life.

Helen Buttery, an experienced marketer, says, “The trick to building a big swipe file is getting your name ‘seeded’ onto mailing lists.”

5. Create Cheat Sheets

I’ve found that there is so much advice floating around that if I try to remember it all, my head might explode. Now, whenever I come across something I want to remember and use often, I write it on a “cheat sheet.” I have one for headlines, one for leads, and one for every type of copy I write. I also start one for every client.

Sometimes, the one cheat sheet turns into a few pages, but it really helps to keep all the information I need in one place. Instead of spending time searching for six articles about headlines, I can glance at my cheat sheet and have all the advice I need.

Keep in mind that your clients aren’t testing you. Just like they don’t expect you to know everything, they don’t expect you to remember everything either. If you need to have cheat sheets and note cards and write friends to ask for help, that’s completely okay and encouraged.

These five shortcuts have worked wonders for my freelance business. While there aren’t any magic pills, there are tips and tricks that make it easier and faster. I hope these shortcuts work for you, too.

What about you? Have you found any shortcuts that work? Let’s talk about it in the comments below …