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.
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