Merriam-Webster says inanimate stands for “a thing that is not alive, such as a rock, a chair, a book, etc
.”. Dictionary.com goes further with its definition in linguistics: “belonging to a syntactic category or having a semantic feature characteristic of words denoting objects, concepts, and beings regarded as lacking perception and volition”
Sure, but with writers, things rarely stick strictly do dictionary or general definitions. And they shouldn’t. Not always, anyway. Writers often use inanimate objects, concepts and beings as a starting point to transpose them and give them a ‘live’ human meaning, defining us, them, anybody, or some form of human relations.
There is always a human element, anyway when we write about inanimate objects. When he came up with “Famous Blue Raincoat”, one of his best and most celebrated songs/poems, Leonard Cohen through that coat gave all he felt about a failed relationship, treachery, love, and at least a dozen sense of other human feelings:
“Oh, the last time we saw you you looked so much older
Your famous blue raincoat was torn
at the shoulder
You’d been to the station to meet every train
But then you came home without Lili Marlene…”
Nothing inanimate there. The raincoat has taken all the shapes and forms of a person wearing it and how Cohen perceived that person and their relations and relations with others involved.
That is why a writer can (and often should) see all things inanimate as something that can give them inspiration for their writing. Past, present, future, it can all be ‘seen
’ and viewed from that object, whether it is just a starting point or something that permeates the writing throughout. Basically, a writer could give life to things that are seemingly not alive.
Comes a time… so goes a song from the album of the same name Neil Young came up with a few decades ago. Still a great song, but its context for quite a number of writers could be that the harsh writing times demand some serious compromises, and that could be joining one of the ever-growing numbers of writer farms.
Actually, they used to call them content farms and more often these days content mills. Allena Tapia wrote on www.thebalancesmb.com, that “A content mill or writers mill is a slang term used by freelance writers and given to a company, website, or organization designed to provide cheap website content, usually at a significant profit to themselves, and usually by paying very low rates to writers.”
The farm connotation was changed I guess, since it reminded of peaceful cows grazing some (relatively cheap) grass as a reward for their writing, while the mill connotation has probably more to do with those heavy stones that grind the flower, or every ounce of writing strength. The rewards are still the same as on the farm.
So, if you can swallow Allena’s definition, you’re in need, you may want to dip your writing (hands and feet) into content mill waters. It may sound like a simple proposition — you check out the organizations and find the ones that pay better, you apply, sign in, start writing, get paid for your writing. Well, not so fast.
Most of this writing is business -oriented, and in this day and age, it means it has to abide by the rules of being as visible as possible online, which means you have to be quite a bit informing with ever-present or search engine optimization, better known as SEO. Often you have to pass a test, sometimes more than one, and most often that science fiction trilogy you got rave reviews a few years back won’t do you much good here.
If you do get through, you have to get acquainted with usually a strict set of rules that look like a cross-country hurdle race, since everything has to be more or less uniform. But then, wasn’t the hurdles and uniformity the reason you got into writing in the first place?
Of course, that’s not all. When you get done with your article(s) you get to encounter the editors — the mill’s or the customer’s, it could depend, but possible surprises will at least keep you on your toes if by chance you encounter an editor that is not exactly keen on what you have done.
Oh, and you get graded. Usually, you start somewhere in the middle and often go down before you start getting up. As you might suspect, going down on the list, means getting paid less for your work. If you get it, that is…
At some point, you get financially rewarded (more or less, depends), you get a byline or (more often) you don’t, but then Neil Young is always there to remind you that … comes a time…
It is that time of the year. Since we start off with elementary schooling, sometime before winter holidays, they teach us to start making resolutions for a new year, always to make ourselves better, think positive, correct our mistakes…
This process sticks with us, and as the years go by, the number of things that need to get better, the ays we have to improve ourselves and the mistakes we have to correct somehow seem to grow in number. Hopefully, we don’t end up like the main character in that Tom Waits’ classic, “Xmas Card From A hooker In Minneapolis”:
“Hey Charlie, for chrissakes, if you want to know the truth of it
[I don’t have a husband, he don’t play the trombone
I need to borrow money to pay this lawyer, and Charlie, hey
[I’ll be eligible for parole come Valentine’s day…”
Maybe that is a reason why almost everybody this time of the year keeps on coming up with these resolutions, for themselves, and it has become a fad to do those for others, including writers. I guess the hope is eternal. And it should be.
But at some point you get fed up with those, but you can also ask yourself, do you, as a writer need these, or do you, like in that “New Yorker” cartoon that ended up on holiday cards recently that depicted three trash cans, one for old bottles, second for old newspapers and the third for new year’s resolutions have to do the same?
No good answers there. If your writing is content oriented, if you are one of those ghostwriters, where you need to make a balance between being a writer and being a ghost, I guess tight planning is of the essence and there are certain goals you need to achieve, and it all depends on your writing.
But what about if you need to, or essentially rely on your impulses, the fancy of your imagination, the ideas you are not even aware will come up to your mind. Maybe it has something to do with the way Death Cab For Cutie put it in their “New Year”:
“So this is the new year
And I have no resolutions
It’s self-assigned penance
For problems with easy solutions.”
One thing is for sure, it’s a situation where ‘rule of the thumb’ rules. Just don’t let anybody make any resolutions for you. Particularly when your writing is in question.
So you pitched your latest masterpiece of a novel to countless editors, even those you never heard of, and there’s no money available to publish it on your own. Actually, there’s practically no money available whatsoever.
The family’s got to eat, and writing is the only thing you can do…
You scramble around, through the familiar ground, nobody needs or wants a daily life story, cosy crime fiction or your detailed commentary on the current political situation. All you got is an offer to write poetry with a science fiction theme, a copy for new toiletry products or even ‘worse’, the possibility to hang all day on Quora and answer specific questions.
In such a situation, quite a few writers would rather resort to good friends or not so friendly banks and wait, wait, wait…
Actually, that is a syndrome, a syndrome of fearing anything that’s new, something that is personal uncharted territory. Back in the Seventies, Blue Oyster Cult, one of the better, intellectually charged heavy metal bands, had quite a hit with their song “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”.
So if you shouldn’t fear the reaper, why fear new uncharted writing ground? Incidentally, Sandy Pearlman and Richard Meltzer, the founders of the band started out as rock critics. The switched their writing to song lyrics, and obviously didn’t look back…
The key lies in the fact whether your writing is ‘readable’ and whether you have confidence in yourself and those words you commit to paper or your word processor. If you are aware of the fact that every writing, including the most outrageous fiction, requires detailed research (whether you have an attack of stream of consciousness and particularly if you don’t), and you have already done it for your work within a familiar writing territory, that you have the initial equipment to try something unfamiliar. Have in mind that if you are able to comprehend the unknown, you are able to transform it into words, you are certainly able to write about something you never wrote about before.
Oh, by the way, those bills that are piling up don’t ask any other questions than to be paid.
Every writer has a stance about writing humor, taking a humorous stance, injecting humor in ‘serious’ writing, the whole shebang. The differences start with the definition of humor itself, what it constitutes, what it are the limits and so on.
Many writers consider humor as ‘second grade’, or as something that will trivialize the words they have committed to paper (word processor). Hopefully, the number of ‘keep it serious’ thinkers is not that large. Maybe they’re not aware of a saying that exists in almost any language and roughly translates into “a truth lies behind every joke”.
Around this time exactly fifty years ago, while The Bee Gees were just getting out of their teens back in Australia, still dabbling in pop psychedelia, they came up with “I Started A Joke”, one of their early hits.
It included the following lines:
“I looked at the skies, running my hands over my eyes
And I fell out of bed, hurting my head from things that I’d said
’Til I finally died, which started the whole world living
Oh, if I’d only seen that the joke was on me.”
They were young, but they got it. You cannot avoid humor, and yes, behind every joke there is at least a grain of truth. But then, I guess, some writers are even unconsciously afraid that things can turn out like in The Bee Gees song, and that the joke could be on them. Or that it might reveal too much about the writer herself/himself. Or that they simply aren’t funny.
Of course, you cannot inject humor in your writing if it doesn’t warrant it or just because you think it needs to be there. It usually crops up by itself, naturally. But shying away from humor just because of a general notion that it is trivial, is actually THE thing that can degrade anybody’s writing. Everybody is funny in some way or other and it should reflect in their writing.
What triggers you to start writing? For a start, forget guns and their triggers. Think what is that thought, emotion situation or any element of life that triggers you to write. What are those new sensations and experiences, old or fresh memories that represent that moment when the ice clicks and you pick up your pen or start typing?
Of course, differing to that trigger, or starting point, there has to exist a writing drive, that general idea, sense, that you have to commit your thoughts to words saved on paper or somewhere on one of your electronic devices.
Somehow, it seems that memories and the way we interpret them in most cases represent that starting point. In “Change Is Gonna Come”, Sam Cooke wrote and sang that he was “born by the river” and used that thought to come up with one of the best songs about racial inequality. For Otis Redding, that same song triggered not only thought and emotions but also the ability to come with one of the best interpretations of somebody else’s song ever, Sam Cooke’s notes and words became his own.
Interpreting somebody else’s words is yet another trigger, as anything that comes up in your mind has the potential to be turned into an idea and words. The words come up at the moment as I’m watching the patisserie across the street and a horse statuette in its window. From here, it looks like it is a patisserie product itself. As you get closer, you see that it is actually made of ribbed velvet fabric.
Between a white chocolate and ribbed velvet horse, there are at least five stories that could evolve — from the reasons the horse is in that window in the first place, to what it takes to make it to who did so and why. And if that is not the trigger, how about that gun and its trigger and the infinite number of stories that could evolve from those two words.
Back in the late Sixties when the prog rock is still in its infancy and late Keith Emerson who became huge of the power trio Emerson, Lake & Palmer, was still a member of The Nice, he came up with a song “Diary of an Empty Day”, that included the lyrics:
“I want to write words to this music
But my head’s all set to refuse it
I can’t think of words to this music
No reason or rhyme to abuse it
I can’t think what to say
My mind’s a blank today
I could write a book this way
A diary to an empty day
I could write a book
Fourteen lines in fourteen days”.
Well, it might not be just a blank ‘empty’ day, it might be one when you don’t want to write, or just are not supposed to, for some reason or other. So, after all, what should the writers do on such days?
Write anyway! Usually, those days turn into the days of waiting, days of expectations, days of anxiety and such days always bring up writing ideas, ideas that would probably get lost, or modified in some way or other before you record them.
On the other hand, the truly blank days, actually just seem that way. The less you are concentrated on what you are writing at the moment, the more other ideas, for other writings crop up, something that you can turn to when the right time comes around.
Being so tied to the thinking process, writing simply doesn’t stop, it flows along with your thoughts. It is just up to you whether you want or can record them down and turn them into a unified set that can be called a poem, an article, a short story, a novel…
Lists, listicles, whatever you want to call them, seem to be all the rage these days. Whether it is the short attention span or time devoted to the reading of today’s readers or Marshall McLuhan’s prophecy that media is becoming the message, with online discourse dictating how and what we read, makes no difference. The fact remains that lists and listicles dominate, and writers have to cope with that as something that will also dictate their writing.
So, if you want to put it in musical terms, whether you prefer rock and you would favour The Killers and their “My Lists” or country, and Toby Keith’s song of the same name, as a writer you would still have to deal with a fact that listicles will be something you’d be requested to write more often than not.
Now, you might be of the opinion that it turns your writing into consumer-ready shopping lists, that it puts constraints on your imagination and style and curtails any free-form writing. But then, who says that you have to limit yourself to writing lists. It is just a fact that they can support your ‘other’ writing, that it in most cases cannot do.
Still, there remains a question whether there is something else to be gained in writing lists besides the financial backing all writers need. As could be expected, there certainly is, besides the fact that any writing is better than no writing at all.
You can approach writing listicles as if you are writing pieces of ‘flash non-fiction’ grouped together. That would mean that you have to be quite succinct, both in your thinking and writing process, concentrating your thought process to come up with as much essence in as least number of words and sentences as possible.
In many ways, that purifies both your thinking processes and your writing of anything you might do without. Applied to your ‘ordinary’ writing it will most probably make it clearer and easier to read and understand. And that is not only for your readers' sake — it will clearly show you whether your ideas have been translated into writing the way they should be.
When you think of ‘old ways’, the first thing that comes to mind is conservatives in some form or other, going back to something familiar, ‘tried and tested. sticking to what you know. Somehow, it seems that everybody takes that approach at some point or other, no matter of their way of thinking or age.
Even a usually forward-thinking, and now at a forward age singer/songwriter Neil Young made a song and an album called “Old Ways”.
But what would happen if approach old ways in a more literal manner, as a process of retracing your steps with an outlook on how it can bring benefits for the future?
Of course, for writers that process corresponds primarily with the editing of what they have written, looking hard at all those grammar and spelling mistakes, hard to read sentences and inconsistencies in presenting their thoughts and ideas.
But retracing your writing steps should certainly go beyond that. It is not just looking at what was done wrong, or what could be made easier to read and understand, but what can be done in another way, taking in all the circumstances. And those circumstances include how the writer has evolved personally, how his outlook and ideas and changed all in the respect of how his writing can be better and how he as a person has changed, even if the text is only a day old. That process also includes a look at the ideas, books, art or anything else that has inspired us, what is their place in our mindset now.
In that respect, looking at ‘old ways’, retracing our steps can serve as a source of new, fresh, or refreshed ideas and inspire us to take our writing in new directions, whether they refer to something old, conservative or something completely new.
Usually, one of the things that overflow everybody’s electronic mailbox (quite often the standard one too) is piles of polls, questionaries and other requests for your opinion — from politics and climate change to which garbage bags you use. You even get offers to be paid for one or all of these, for seemingly pitiful sums of money.
For most writers, as for anybody else, these are the nuisance they can’t seem to get rid of, more unnerving than a message of rejected manuscript/story/article. Who wants to waste time and effort on telling somebody about which shampoo you use most often when you get better things to do.
But what if you don’t have better things to do? What if you are still waiting for that publisher’s response or all ideas have gone down the drain or are not coming up at all, or when pitiful money is better than no money at all? Turn to polls and questionaries!
No, I’m not kidding. I did not have the time, I did have better things to do, but people that create the polls and questionaries are writers too since they are usually quite good at what they do, they manage to reach and intrigue anybody at any level of intelligence and education. So I decided to try my hand at answering as many of these in 30 days. On top of everything else, from writing to throwing away the garbage (with no polls in it).
Let's get the question of the money out of the way first. No, you can’t get rich out of it, but any money is exactly what it is — money. The second thing to always have in mind is that the people that composed those polls and research questions are marketers, with a specific goal of extracting the targeted information out of the polled audience.
Sometimes they are very open in the direction their questions are going, more often they circumvent and they lead you towards the information they really want from you. In a way, sometimes it is an open market, other times it is like that great fusion jazz band Weather Reports would say “Black Market”.
To do that they use practically the same techniques any writer would use in building their plot, story, even a set of characters. Usually, they try to keep you in ‘suspense’ who their lead character (the company which wants the information from you in the first place) is. To be able to get straight answers from you, to get the reaction they are aiming for from you as a ‘reader’, they really have to be good at it, and quite a few of them are.
As a writer, you can approach the whole process with this question — isn’t information, your thoughts, and opinions, the thing that you want to offer your readers after all? And secondly, isn’t researching other methods of building your plot and characters something that you need?
Not really the conventional writer’s way, but certainly useful. Oh, and after a month, I was able to cover a full supermarket shopping list.
To learn more about me, please check my LinkedIn page at www.linkedin.com/profile/preview?locale=en_US&trk=prof-0-sb-preview-primary-button.