How did that line from the famous The Beatles song go?
“Get back, get back
Get back to where you once belonged”
Works a charm in writing too. When you have to borrow an idea, borrow it from yourself first. A known blogger (can’t remember the name nor find it in the mess of newsletters I have to at least skim daily) wrote recently that when he gets short on the inspiration he goes and reads his own blogs. Great idea. Ok, I’m borrowing his, but I’m going in my own direction because he’s checking his ideas, I’m checking mine. Of course, picking ideas from somebody else does not necessarily have to be a bad thing unless you go in the direction of full-blown plagiarism. And if you constantly keep borrowing somebody else’s ideas you’ll end there no matter what. It just depends on when will you get caught and whether you’ll have any profit from it in the meantime.
Those who are familiar with a certain Balkan songwriter/musician known also outside that region are also quite familiar that he is one of the most frequent musical “borrowers”. From himself, but also from others. He got sued a few times, and as the story goes, on one occasion he paid up readily. He had no financial trouble doing it and I guess he knew what he was doing. Now he’s even got a plane named after him.
The thing is, most everybody else suffers more dire consequences from borrowing too much from others. Starting on a trail that somebody else blazed and then taking an unexpected or even expected turn, just as long as it is yours and not somebody else’s, is one thing. Even trying to retrace somebody's else’s steps can be a legitimate thing - you can try to resolve another writer’s reasoning, see if he could have gone in another direction, there are quite a few possibilities there. Just as long as it is not a blind, and as the writing is concerned, word for word thing.
But then, to do all that you have to know your own writing to the full and explore your own ideas first. Looking back to what you have done previously can show you what idea you can develop even further or where you went wrong somehow the first time around. I guess retracing your own steps could be just the course towards a really new idea. So I guess here we “Get Back” to The Beatles…
Way back in the Eighties (yes, way back) when Eddie Murphy was the king of comedy there was a recorded stand-up show he did that was absolutely brilliant (should he have just stuck to stand up?). Eddie in a bright red leather combo, doing among other things his interpretations of James Brown and Elvis Presley. And he did them great. Particularly Elvis. At one point (and this is just my interpretation), talking about Elis acting in the movies, Eddie says something like: “But Elvis couldn’t act shit. So the directors would should to him - sing Elvis, sing!” and at that point, Murphy goes into a perfect Elvis singing mode “Lemonade, it's a cool drink!”
Sounds quite mundane in written words, but, personally it proves a point - if as a writer you have to get your readers excited about the fact that lemonade is a cool drink, you have to get into the Elvis/Eddie Murphy. You see, most of the time the stuff you most like to write about is the one you have to do “for yourself”, basically for free. At least at that point in time, unless you already have at least two novels that sold a ton behind you. But then, what if you are trying to be a copywriter who has to write a B2B sales paper for a company that, well, wants to sell printing paper to another company, or have to get your readers excited about buying a brand new type of garbage bags?
Yes, it does sound mundane (not to everybody anyway), but also another yes, it not only can but has to be aspiring. First of all, you have to write that paper and secondly, it is a great test for your imagination. If you can’t come up with something imaginative about those garbage bags, then you should have second thoughts about whether that big novel you’ve been conceptualizing all these years will amount to something.
Take for example that recorded Eddie Murphy show. It was originally recorded on one of those now obsolete objects called a video cassette. It was one of most cherished in my collection. When the video cassettes simply disappeared, I never got to getting one on DVD (never was big on those), or I simply didn’t bother. But imagine writing a story/short (or long) novel about discovering a box of old video cassettes and a barely functioning player. Going through the tapes you discover there is a taped murder, and go on from there.
Ok, video cassettes are not garbage bags, but are by themselves just another obsolete object. But you can give imaginative attribute to any inanimate objects or routine daily situations. You can’t just sit (or walk) around telling yourself (and everybody else) this is uninspiring! Otherwise, if you keep on doing that you might do it to the tune and words of that real Elvis hit: “You ain’t nothin but a hound dog…”
“My faith was so much stronger then
I believed in fellow man
And I was so much older then
When I was young, when I was young”
So sang Eric Burdon with his “The Animals” way back then, when he actually was young. As somebody of a more tender age, he was certainly guessing, getting some things right, some things wrong. You could sense one sadness that “I was so much older than”. Sure, you can have some bad experiences as young, but then, at that age, you keep on rushing into things, as some more metaphysically oriented people would say, like that “The Fool” in Tarot cards. You take some things for granted, not realizing they just might not always be there.
But what has that got to do with writing? Well, as Material, an Eighties experimental band led by Bill Lasswell said, “Memory Serves”,until it might start failing you. As anybody, and particularly as a writer, you get ideas, and if you don’t note them down and organize them (then or later), you’re bound to forget them, or they just become the blurred outline of your thoughts. At youth, you quite often don’t bother to do that, because you rely on your memory. And that is not only a certain way to forget facts but also a sure way to lose ideas. Or not even get them. You will get them based on what?
Somebody under an interesting name, Sharif’s Twitface wrote on Medium an article called “Why You Should Script It”. It did give me this idea, so I saved it. These days, we have so many ways and means to note our ideas, the ideas of others, texts, books, images, whatever. It is so easy to use them, almost anywhere. Sitting behind your trusted work machine, with an iPad/tablet in hand, or with a mobile phone on a train or wherever. Just use them. Usually, the first idea might not be the best or the best developed one, but it is certainly the freshest. And fresh is good.
One word of warning though. The number of modern tools available to memorize could also disorganize. Unless, of course, you make a script for that too (and you should) of what you are going to use for a certain purpose and when. Otherwise, it could turn into a mess. Or, it might not be a bad idea to keep one of those old fashioned notebooks around - you might note have one of your tools around you, it might not have that certain program on it, or it just might not be handy to type on those dinky mobile phone screens at that very moment (Blackberry type keyboards are on the way out, I’m afraid). I got myself one of the fancy “Moleskine” strikingly red notebooks with Thelonious Monk and Blue Note logo on the cover. So whether I feel like doing the “Bemsha Swing” or it is that time “Round Midnight”, I can still write something down. At least I can be sure to cross out one thing of that Eric Burdon’s youth regret lists. Even at my age.
“What does It Take” or “What it Takes”,? take you pick between the soul Junior Walker or something a bit more on the hard side, if you go for the Aerosmith (second) variation.
Although Aerosmith was among the best at what they did and had quite a few moments as far as I’m concerned, I’d still go for Junior Walker. Hands down.
Still, I’m drifting from the point, and that is, as far as freelance writing goes, that question in a more precise version should be - how much does it take, what are all those supplementary actions, things you must do to get somewhere in the freelance writing world. Besides writing, of course.
Look at the plethora of “instructional” sites, among which those that don’t ask you for at least some kind of financial contribution there are a few. As many as there are sites, you can at least quadruple the advice you’ll get.
Sure, there are things in those bits of advice that overlap - branding, e-mails, newsletters, social media… And sure, all of those are right on the money. With the accent on the money. And yes, you should try quite a number of those ‘supplemental’ activities. And again, yes, it does depend on how much money you can invest into those activities.
But, what is more important, is the time you can devote to such activities. There, balance is the first word that comes to mind. You not only need those activities, but some of them can not only give you good leads, they can, more importantly, be inspirational to your work, if you give them a right approach.
Still, they can also be very distracting, lure you into them like a trap and make you lose your focus from the primary thing you got into them in the first place - and that is writing, So Junior Walker or Aerosmith (or both), be sure to ask yourself the right questions, the answers will come by themselves.
Jimi Hendrix came up with his first album titled “Are You Experienced?” practically 40 years ago. Even by today’s standards, that album can with ease hold the epithets such as revolutionary, legendary and quite a few others.
I’m not sure whether the question, “are you experienced?” has either revolutionary or legendary status with aspiring, or even not so aspiring writers, copywriters, journalists… but it is definitely they encounter at least three to five times a day. And by that, it is not whether they have experience as such, or as a particular scribbler, but experience in writing within a specific, sometimes too narrow to pass through the category.
In those situations, the authors usually opt to one of the following situations - they say no and give up immediately or they lie - make up some fake experience, get the job and promptly lose it shortly afterward. And you know, a bad word spreads around quickly.
So is there any other choice? Of course, for bystanders, it is easy to say, “be diplomatic”. Maybe by that, they mean that instruction usually given to aspiring, in this case, diplomats get - “never lie, but bend the truth as far as it goes”. In brief, spin it.
I’d say, definitely don’t lie, don’t bend the truth, but don’t give up either. Stress your past or current experience, how it is tied to the one you need but don’t have for the designated job.
This is also a good litmus test whether you are a good writer. If you’re persuasive, it’s two positives, you’ll get the job and it means you’ll be able to do it. You’re good.
Then the harder part kicks in. You have to prove it, and you do that by learning everything you can about the subject matter. If necessary, get a new vacuum cleaner to suck in everything. Mental vacuum cleaner, that is.
And get new knowledge (and experience) in ever-widening concentric circles - a bit by bit. That way it will stick. Soon enough, you’ll be in Jimi’s position to ask the question - “are you experienced?”
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.