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On Being or Becoming… a Writer

Now that the internet has all the communication media dragging along behind its bloated and sagging lowest common denominator ass, it seems anyone who can string a few words together without making too many spelling mistakes can be a “writer”, which by default means that virtually anyone with a computer and an internet connection can be a “freelance writer”.

Unfortunately, along with this automatic assumption comes its apparent concomitant: thousands of badly educated, inexperienced people with 500 word vocabularies now actually calling themselves “freelance writers” and flocking into this new, already overcrowded cyber-world – every one of them expecting to make a dollar out of it.

They won’t, and it doesn’t take the better ones long to realise that the internet is a giant sweat shop where only those in control make any money out of the willing slaves who swarm to its tempting, brightly colored hype like flies around an outback dunny. A few, a very few, finally realise that there is only a limited number of honest ways to make money out of writing, and that every one of them depends upon four basic but absolute essentials, lacking any one of which, a writer looking to make a living from his craft will find it hard going indeed.

I suppose you want me to tell you what these things are. Alright, but don’t be too disappointed when you realize I haven’t given you the secret keys to success. They are the keys, but just not secret – they never have been. In fact they are so glaringly and boringly obvious that a lot of people seem to think they just don’t matter. How wrong they are.

Number One: Know your subject. No, that doesn’t mean having all the information at your Google-powered fingertips. I mean know it, experience it, live it, and understand it to that level where you can question it, make new hypotheses about it or put it into practice. It doesn’t matter if you are writing non-fiction or a novel, if you are not the world authority on your subject, your characters or your story, then you had better know at least enough to make a reader think you might be. Never, never, never fake it. And don’t rewrite or regurgitate anything someone else has written unless you know it conforms to the criteria above.

Number Two: Know how to write. Oh dear, I can hear the cries of the high school dropouts already. Sorry, but if you cannot write your own language in a formally correct manner; if you have no understanding of punctuation and why it is necessary; if you do not understand grammar and why it is necessary; if you do not know how to spell the words you wish to use or cannot be bothered to find out, then you are not, and never will be, a writer.

Number Three: Hone your skill and create your talent. Writing can be done well, or it can be done poorly. It can entertain people or it can make them yawn. At worst, it can drive them so crazy with frustration that they will never read another word you write. The difference is in the art: the way you use ideas; the way you structure your thoughts: the way you use metaphor, image and analogy to either inform, describe, amuse or grip your reader. Without this talent your work will be pedestrian and lack the freshness and wit that makes people want to turn the pages, to hear and see more. A story or novel written without such skills reads like a junior school diary, a plodding “he said, she said” shopping list of poorly presented characters and events. Learn your craft. Read the best writers, and then read more of them: let their different skills and talents bleed into your mind, until you can at least write something which contains the kind of literary dynamics they use. Then find and build your own unique way of being a writer and forget them.

Number Four. Do not give your work away. Do not write anything you consider worthy of your true talent for anyone – unless they are willing to truly pay for it. Your work should be worth at least as much as a highly paid tradesman. Do not sell yourself short. Make sure you know your markets, target them, and insist on the correct remuneration. Don’t waste your time flogging yourself to anyone and everyone like some literary whore. If someone likes your work and wants you to write for them, that’s nice. You can even take it as a complement. Then get down to business. Don’t get sucked in by the old “we’re doing you a favor” bullshit. They’re not. If they didn’t want your work they wouldn’t ask for it. And if they do want it – well they can bloody well pay for it.

Some of you might ask then, why do I write this blog? Because I have the time; because the real writing I used to do made me money. Dollar for word, it made me what I consider – and what a lot of other freelance writers would also probably consider – a reasonable amount of money. Perhaps writing is not your life; perhaps you just do it for fun. That’s great; you’ll never have to worry about what it really takes to make it in the business. But there are some, I know, who really want to do just that, and that brings me to my other reason. A vast number of good, well written books are out there which deal with the subject of writing well, building your skills, and marketing your work. But it is blatantly obvious that only the people who are doing well have taken all that information to heart and made it useful. And just in case you think I’m preaching to the converted here, don’t kid yourself. Reading around the blog universe is enough to see that only a few of the people who like to write actually appear to make any effort to write well. As for the rest – if they are, well, they’re just not getting it.  So, sometimes, I write about writing too – and hope that maybe someone, just one person who really does want to be a writer, does get it.

2 Comments

  1. Maybe someday I be able to write something worth reading, maybe not. That aside, I write and write and write as if my soul depends upon me doing so. Thanks for telling it like it is without trying to wrap up the basics in bubble-wrap. – Robert

  2. admin says:

    Thanks for the comment Robert. I have not forgotten you btw. I read you when I can. Figured it was about time to get some words out there before the Gods decide to silence me forever. 🙂

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