Sebastian Lindemann wrote recently in “Uxdesign.cc” that we should all, writers included, embrace idle mind which will lead to higher creativity. Personally, if I try to see whether a theory works, particularly if I agree with it like I agree with this one, I try to see if there is a musical example.
And sure enough, there’s one, and quite a good one at that. What better than Otis Redding “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay”, where his ‘wasting time’ actually brings about some deep perceptions about his life. Otis probably did exactly what he says in his lyrics and that boredom, idleness, or whatever about him the conclusions he made, maybe even the lyrics and the music to the song itself.
And here I’m off in a somewhat different direction. So as a writer, in a situation where your mind, through idleness, or otherwise, comes to an idea, what do you do? Do you trust your ‘brilliance’ and write it down immediately or do you sit down first and do a detailed think and re-think before you commit anything to paper?
This time around, it might be good to recall one of Bob Dylan’s best ballads, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”. Or re-formulated, “Don’t give it a second thought, just write it down”?
Maybe, but maybe not, no matter how trite it sounds. On one hand, it could really be a flash of brilliance, a stream of conscience that brings about exquisite writing, or on the other, pure gibberish that you should throw into the trash, real or electronic, doesn’t matter.
Dylan himself wrote (hopefully he still writes) in those flashes. Music journalists often mention the legendary conversation between Dylan and Leonard Cohen, as recounted by Cohen himself, where Cohen asks Dylan how long it took him to write the lyrics for a certain song (it escapes me which one it was) and Dylan answered: “Ten Minutes”. He then poses the same question to Cohen asking him how long it took him to write “Hallelujah”. Cohen answered: “A month I said. I lied. It took me a year”.
So it all depends on how formed your idea is. It can flow easily and you can have a formed piece of writing in no time, or it can have a series of veils and layers that you have to peel or take off until it is truly formed and ready.
Whether you need to sit by a slowly flowing river and clear your mind, immerse into thousands of words of others, it makes no difference, as long as the idea for your writing is clear and fully formed. I agree with Sebastian Lindemann that some idleness will certainly help.
“Start Me Up”. Not one of the greatest Rolling Stones songs, but surely better that thousands and thousands of others. So I see no shame in borrowing their title when setting out thoughts about working as a freelance writer for Startup companies.
A few days ago somebody said that being a freelance writer is like having a startup company. Very true, even though these days everything is being lumped under the tag start-up. Still, let’s stick to the basic idea behind the startup, a company that is ‘starting up’ and is searching out all sorts of methods to finance the idea that gathered together more than one (or just one?) person behind it.
The only difference I see is that for a freelance writer practically every new project is like opening up a startup all over again. Unless, of course, he is being asked and gets a contract for a long-term or an ongoing project.
But then, another question comes to mind. What if that long-term or ongoing project is being offered by a startup company?
Well then, ABBA and the stock market concept come into play. ABBA, who seem inescapable in music, whether you like them or not, had that hit (wasn’t everything they recorded a hit?) “Take A Chance On Me”. As if they were inviting people to roll the stock market dice.
And writing for startups as a freelancer is in a way like playing a stock market — if they hit it big, you can be in for a lucrative writing deal for a while. If they sink (usually very quickly), there is a good chance you will never see the reward for the work you have done. In a way, you become one more investor into an idea that could go either way.
But then, you are always in a situation to make some choice or other and as in any kind of a gamble, after a while, the odds even out. The Rolling Stones and ABBA seem to be the only all-time winners…
As a writer, freelance, novelist or as a member of a staff somewhere, rejections should almost be a part of the daily routine. They will keep on coming, no matter what - whether you have made a name for yourself or you are just starting out. And it can by anything - the novel you consider your life’s work which you have been tweaking for years or a routine batch e-mail or newsletter, that turns out not to be so routine.
And the reasons for rejection? Does it matter? The thing is, no matter how routine it becomes it is still unpleasant and will put a small bump, dent or a large crater in your confidence.
Of course, it is easy for somebody to say, suck it up, it is not their work and confidence in question. And as far as you are concerned, that might be the perfect moment to put on that absolute soul masterpiece from 1972 by The Staple Singers: “Respect Yourself”. It is not only a great song but a perfect advice for that very moment.
So, what then? Easy to say, but sitting down and recounting all the acceptances and rejections you got, and at some point, they start evening out and some kind of balance is made.
But then you should make yet another recount. Try to list all the good reasons and the bad ones why this rejection came about and all the good and bad outcomes as well. Somehow and for some reason, those seem to even out too.
The key here though is to draw your strength from all those good reasons and outcomes, but certainly not forget and always have in mind all those bad ones. They'll always come in handy. As will the Staple Singers and their sage advice.
To my horror, Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, two of the funniest men around have decided to quickly to end the magnificent “Flight of the Conchords”. I guess the guys either had enough or thought the show has run its course. Still, not only was it incredibly funny, it had some brilliant music, that was incredibly funny at the same time.
One of such songs during the second season was their “disco hit”, “Too Many Dicks (On the Dance Floor)”. I’m sure the guys didn’t have just the dance floor in mind when too much competition and crowding was concerned. I don’t know whether they had the crowd created in the writing and freelance writing courses floating online, but they certainly should have.
There it currently seems the rules of “having enough” and “something running its course” do not apply. It seems that practically everybody is running some writing course or other. My email inbox is flooded daily by up to 10-15 offers of writing courses in some shape or other. Personally, I’m presented with a dilemma, where do you draw a line?
On one hand, you never know enough. There’s always something you should or need to learn or inform yourself about. On the other hand, there’s so much repeating, some “professors” seem to offer absolutely the same thing, some may be even copying one from the other. Let's not even mention some exorbitant prices asked, where obviously the higher price should immediately mean higher quality. And usually, it is the beginner freelancers who need quality courses the most who cannot pay them.
So it is certain that you do need a course or courses, even if you have a university degree in writing, journalism or similar. Each profession has its specifics and practical instructions are a must, particularly the basic, ‘starter” ones. But even with those basic courses, you maybe need one or two, otherwise you will get the feeling the dogs have when they are chasing their tail.
Then there are specific skills. There we get into the really expensive terrain, and you have to be picky and know exactly what you want and what suits you the best. An extra specific skill would come in handy, but so would some cash to pay for it.
And choosing them? Sometimes, if you’re uncertain, maybe the golden rule of the thumb (left or right, your choice too) and common sense judgment will help. Basically, if they are offering too much, or have a too aggressive approach, skip them. As The Concords said, there are too many dicks on the dance floor anyway.
The Clash was probably the best band that came out of Punk rock. The guys had the characteristic energy but were also excellent songwriters players, and obviously thought with their heads. And they had a great grasp of any music genre. That is why they also liked Reggae and were able to recognize the genius in Junior Murvin and one of the best songs to come out of Reggae, “Police and Thieves”.
Now, this song came to my mind not much due to the mention of the police, but because of the thieves. Or, to be more precise, when freelance writing is concerned, various scammers, the number of which seems to be growing.
You may wonder what I’m talking about unless you are a freelancer that frequents various freelance sites serving as job offering centers. It is usually a place frequented by writers that are starting out, or are looking for a quick job or jobs to not only get experience or thicken their portfolio but get some needed cash in their pockets. So it is no wonder that it is a place where it seems two types of scammers seem to prey behind the corner.
The first is trying to lure less experienced or job hungry writers by offering them seemingly better pay that the most poorly paid jobs that are usually on offer. Their tactic is to keep the communication with the writer as much off the grid as possible, usually through Skype, where their real personal details and location can be hidden well.
They usually keep piling the work on the writers, up until the moment when they have to pay for the work done. They evade as much as they can, and when the writer finally realizes that none will be forthcoming, all traces of them are lost.
The sites usually cover themselves well in these cases, because they have there is an obligation that all the communication about the jobs should be carried through them. In some cases, they offer some kind of compensation, in others they don’t. In any case, the writers are always the party that ends on the shorter side of the stick.
Recently though, another sort of scammers, I guess they consider themselves pranksters has shown up in the freelance writing world. Basically, it is the ever-present malicious hackers. They present themselves as a regular employer seeking freelance writers, usually with reasonable offers.
When a few writers respond, they quickly offer them a job, usually sending them two or three files that are supposed to writing guidelines and payment offers. Again, Skype seems to be the preferred choice of contact. Some of these files are pdf or word files, and one is usually some form of a trojan or virus. Of course, most commonly it is the pay scale or payment offer, or whatever, something probably any hungry (or not so hungry) writer would tend to open first.
It seems I was lucky recently when in such a situation I opened the writing guidelines file first, which seemed quite senseless. When, before touching other files I asked “the editor” if he has any other instructions or files in another format, and got the answer: “Nope”, I got the inkling that it might be a good moment to trash all the files received and “gracefully” thank “the editor” on his offer. Getting in touch with the job site, of course, was a must do.
But then, the sites are not really the police, they can ban such “employers”, but what else they can do, they’ll have to see, because both types of “thieves” seem to be multiplying. In such, cases, I doubt that either The Clash or Junior Murvin will be of much help.
Remain In Light?
Yes, the title is borrowed from that great Talking Heads album. But what does it have to do with writing?
Actually, you can fit it in any way you wish, here it has to do with: can you keep writing practically every day and what does that mean to you - can you remain in (writing) light?
But then, maybe the question is not can you sustain your urge to write but whether do you need to sustain it at all, does it just simply come by itself, do you feel that in the moments you are not writing something down during the day you feel a bit of emptiness creeping up?
As The Beatles themselves were, I am a big fan of Badfinger an ill-fated band that was one of the first signings to The Beatles Apple label. They came up with a cute little ballad called “Without You”. Like with all they did Badfinger themselves had not much luck with it. Another big fave of mine, Harry Nilsson did. So did Mariah Carey.
Leaving Mariah Carey aside, and I never bothered to listen to her version of the song, even though I like both Badfinger and Harry Nilsson I didn’t care much for either of the versions, Badfinger version just slipped by me, and Harry’s, even with his great voice, always sounded a bit bombastic.
But then, thinking about the urge to write, the title, “Without You” brings in the essential question, can I you stand a day when you didn’t at least write down a few lines?
Of course, it might not be something that is immediately obvious, you do have to get in into some kind of a writing groove, until it starts forming a habit, like grabbing that cup of coffee in the morning as soon as your eyes are at least half way open.
But if you have some free time, are reading something that might seem inconsequential, or are about to doze off and you just get the feeling that something is missing, like writing down those few thoughts that just crossed your mind, you can be sure that you can’ do without it. You need to write.
Sure, there will be times when you just can’t pick up that pen, or sit by that keyboard, or whatever, but even at those moments, if it turns out that you would feel more at ease to write something down, you’ll know you can’t do without it and that you’re doing the right thing.
Maybe then, like me, you can digest any version of “Without You”, even though it is by Mariah Carey not lip-syncing it.
Sometimes, actually a lot of the time the work you do can be hard, arduous. It doesn’t matter even if you are a freelancer and a writer at that. You pick up writing because you love it and are apt at it. Quite often both.
Still, a lot of the times, particularly if you have to go by that often used phrase “you have to live off something”, doing something you love turns into that now almost forgotten Lee Dorsey hit “Working In A Coal Mine”. For a bit younger generation the Devo version might be the more familiar one. Forgetfulness might have something to do with all the coal mines closing down but their vision of exacerbating work is still around.
The idea of the work you love turning into digging coal in a very dark, poorly lit hole for writers might have something to do with a number of things - they simply don’t like the subject matter they have to write about, have no affinity to it, don’t know much about it and it requires a lot of often tedious research.
What you often get is something where, instead of writing down ideas and thoughts and perceptions, there is a series of typed words formed into something that is supposed to be a sentence. Oh, the writers usually end up with something else - complete exhaustion and a feeling of a mission not really accomplished. And in those moments they can feel even more down if they play that brilliant Will Oldham song I See Darkness. His version, or even better, the even more brilliant one where he backs up Johnny Cash.
So how can the writers turn those lumps of coal and the surrounding darkness turn into a friendly light of a crackling fireplace?
Well, this time around that old, worn cliche of “the light at the end of the tunnel” is quite fitting. You should usually start off with an understanding of the purpose of the assignment from the aspect of the person/entity that wants it. Understanding their goals can clear the light for the writer too.
Then there is the purpose of the writer and reasons why he took on the assignment. Usually, when you pick up to work on something you don’t like or are not too familiar with, the predominant reason is a financial reward. And the value of that reward could be even higher if you learned something new that becomes more comprehensible through the process.
That is when that coal mine might resemble the contours of your working space at home or wherever and you might truly again enjoy Lee Dorset, Will Oldham or Johnny Cash and their coal mine and darkness scenarios.
A while back in the late Seventies and early Eighties when Peter Gabriel was coming up with great albums all just under his name (first three to be exact), he also came up with a great song titled “Games Without Frontiers”.
Formally titled based on a very popular TV show in Europe with an international character, that had teams from different countries compete in usually very ludicrous games, Gabriel, of course, had in mind very different games that crossed borders.
Many people still consider any kind of games as ludicrous, particularly in this digital age, when such a plethora of them is available on every single computer that comes out of the store. As far as freelance writers are concerned, they are usually mentioned in the context of procrastination and steering writers away from their work. But is it always the case, and should games, any kind of games, be simply discarded s useless?
Actually not. They should actually be used as a useful tool when you are /really/ procrastinating, or when you are really stuck at that moment.
Getting stuck usually leads to procrastination, or you get tense and upset that things are not going the way they should, or those sentences that should be fitting like a glove to the other text are simply not there at the moment.
Letting your work rest for a while and relaxing with a game might actually be the right trigger to get you back on track. Concentrating on something like a puzzle releases the energy and pushes in the right direction - it clears the way for those ideas to come back your way and actually give you that additionally needed spark, even new ideas.
Or maybe you want to get away from that flickering screen and can’t go out to fresh air for some reason or other. It is better than to get out an old fashioned deck of cards and play some solitaire or other. Or get yourself a set of Tarot cards, not necessarily to use them for divination, but to simply spread them out - all sort of inspirational thoughts might come out of it and not necessarily tied to any mysticism or spiritualism, and even that can be a clue to some future story or a novel.
In essence, by turning games into a tool instead of time wasters, some frontiers that have cropped up in your mind might drop down, and Gabriel’s Games Without Frontiers might get an additional meaning.
Back in the mid-Sixties, Billy Joe Royal had a big hit with Joe South’s song “Down In The Boondocks”. A great song, a good lavish arrangement, although I prefer Joe South’s more minimalistic version, which it seems he recorded after Royal’s version became popular. Boondocks were supposed to be some kind of a backwater region nobody wanted to go or return to. Later the meaning transferred to any such place. In many administrative companies, as well as what they call now media outlets, and then mostly newspapers, that place was the archives.
I had myself a taste of a few newsrooms - if you were new, or you messed up something, particularly with fact checking, that is where you would end up for a certain period of time. That is unless you unearthed something in usually a big messy chaos that the archives in newspapers then represented, or somebody did something worse than you. Particularly as fact-checking was concerned.
Then, as you progress and actually learn something you realize you cannot be any kind of a journalist or a writer, lance or freelance, without a good archive. If it was your own, even better. A good writer would have rooms, even whole apartments full of article clippings, photos, even handwritten copies of documents, let alone notes taken.
That is why in these times of being able to stick complete archives on a hard drive, even a few USB sticks it would be a shame that as a freelance/journalist somebody would not create a serious database of the info they need. The level of sophistication available to us to us is such that you may need even to create an archive of what is available to you to meaningfully store the information that you need (and don’t need but want to have around anyway) - from simple and more detailed notebooks to apps like Evernote and 'clipping' sites like Medium and Flipboard you’re capabilities are almost limitless. Of course, that almost deals with how much you can intake and remember where you stored what. An organization system is then in order.
Ok, so it may sound like everything you hated when you were starting out. But then you were starting out, not realizing why you were having to listen to that Billy Joe Royal or Joe South interpretation of “Boondocks’. These days, you might even enjoy listening to the song.
Ian Dury’s song Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick from way back when is still one of the funkiest, funniest songs around. Unfortunately, Ian is no more among us, hit himself by a chronic illness which he fought to the bitter end. The way he knew how. With Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll, but also with an all-encompassing humour and life energy and great songwriting.
So I guess everybody gets hit sometimes by something, particularly when illnesses are concerned - from a ‘simple’ cold to something quite hot, like burnt fingers. Let's not get into something more serious, you wouldn’t wish it on anybody, no matter how much you think they might deserve it. So what has all this to do with freelance writers?
Well, first of all, freelance writers get hit by illnesses like absolutely everybody else. Secondly, in a strange way, illnesses in a way actually operate like they do - they hit at times that seem to be more or less freely set up, and they have absolutely no concern what your schedule might be, whether you have an article or a book due tomorrow or in a week. So what do you do as a freelancer, presuming and sincerely hoping you still have enough capacities on you?
You have to cope. Of course, everybody’s been sick before one way or the other and is aware that is not at all simple as it can be said. Do you give up work completely, deadlines or no deadlines and recuperate fully, or do you soldier on in spite of everything that is ailing you? Neither, or both, whichever way you want. You do have to recuperate properly, or you either will not be able to function properly, body and/or mind (usually both) and the work will suffer. You can still(if possible) use that time to gather your thoughts, ideas and see how to proceed in the best and most efficient manner possible. But then, the work itself can and should be a part of the healing process and one of the best ways to subdue ‘the hitter’. You just have to strike the right balance, so that you can stay in the lead, get well and not let the work suffer too much (it will have to suffer some, accept it). It will also give you the possibility to truly enjoy that Ian Dury song, dance, and work at the same time.