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.
If there is an art form where recycling ideas have been taken to the higher level than it is pop music. Actually, you are bound to by the set, and usually very strict norms of the genre - you have to be very catchy and easy on the ear and usually you have to stick to a certain time limit that fits perfectly into any diffusion media - radio or YouTube, doesn’t matter. Of course, there is yet another line you can’t cross - you may connect to somebody’s idea, even quote it, but you can’t copy it. Now there’s something that sounds familiar to writers…
ABBA was one of the biggest masters of recycling musical ideas, theirs or somebody else’s. Not necessarily in that order. Even if you don’t like ABBA and think they are just pure pap, tell me when was the last time you switched off your radio, or mobile or whatever when they were on? Unless of course, it was Money, Money, Money. If that was too easy in every respect, take then, for example, Steely Dan. They had the mastery of jazz and applied it to the pop song format, quite often recycling great jazz ideas, as well as their own, and for that, you can pick anything they recorded. Absolute excellence.
Applied to writing, techniques might differ, but the principle is the same - some ideas are simply worth repeating. Definitely not in same words though. Particularly not somebody else’s. So it is even essential to go back to practically everything you wrote down and see what worked and what didn’t. If something worked, it needs repeating - in different words, different setting - the boundaries always need to be at least reached, if not moved. If something didn’t work and the main idea still seems good and valid, then it definitely needs repeating, usually overturned on its head and in new clothing. Of course, there is always that possibility that the idea was never good in the first place, but then, there’s always at least an inkling that could be salvaged and you can always apply the process experienced knitters do - slowly retrace your steps to the point where you are certain you made the first mistake in your reasoning or writing process. That’s probably the only way to salvage an idea.
So forget the standard connotation the idea of recycling is connected to - garbage. By the way, even there there’s always something to be salvaged. In writing, that might be a good way to reach the heights of that ABBA song - only as far as the title is concerned, hopefully.
Tom Petty was just “Waiting…” Lou Reed and The Velvets were “Waiting For My(their) Man”. So what would you be waiting as a writer, particularly if you are something that is considered an all-round freelancer?
Actually, more or less everything, from assignments, through contracts to payments. But there’s one more important wait to be considered, and it is connected with ideas. No, not the wait for the ideas to come. If you simply wait for that, they will not. The waiting I have in mind is the moment when a particular set of ideas fall into place when they form the exact kaleidoscope that will lead you meaningful, well-rounded text. A page and a half or a three volume novel. Makes no difference.
But how you tackle all those jotted down notes, typed pages scattered over at least five different word processors or notes programs, mumbled messages to yourself on your mobile while waiting in a supermarket line? It is easy to say any way yo want, but there’s got to be a method. With the exception of when you are already working on something and there is this single piece missing, you cannot simply rush into transferring half-baked ideas into a full-blown project. All the credits to Lou and his then band for coming up with a classic rock song of urgency and ennui, but while there might be urgency involved in writing, you don’t really need the ennui. Of course, unless you are writing about it and want to express it through your words.
All those written, typed, spoken notes need to be put to rest (even if it is a matter of a brief pause) for a while, put into separate compartments where they belong, or you think they do and even if those compartments are only mental ones. Metal ones will do too. Then your wait can produce something really worth (the wait?) putting down as a set of words that you would wish somebody else to read. Exceptions are there, they always will be, when words just start pouring out of you, as they have their own setup, but those situations are rare (and usually produce something exceptional). But then, such outpourings themselves are more often than not a product of accumulated and compartmentalized ideas placed somewhere in your notebooks, files or mobile recordings and definitely your mind.
When the ideas are set up they are meant to be, you might find even more enjoyment in Lou and The Velvets wait.
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