"Friends Little Helpers". Well, that’s not exactly how the title of that song goes. But then I’m sure you’re aware it is “With A Little Help From My Friends”, even if you are not a fan of either The Beatles or their “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” album. Now, Ringo Starr is certainly one of the more underrated drummers, let alone singers. But with such mercurial music figures around him, it can be understandable.
But that is not the point. Ringo certainly used a little (and a lot) of help from his friends. So should any writer. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be a friend. It could be anybody that is willing to share their ideas, stories, views, images, even the people that are trying to earn money from it. Today, at least, it is not a problem to access all that. Look at all the online and printed resources available!
From the more ‘mundane’ as sources like Facebook (as some might think) to specialized journals, all those books…
Of course, the point is not to just simply pick up somebody else’s idea and copy it, but let it serve as an inspiration to develop your own, upgrade it, simplify it, whatever. Just as long as it doesn’t turn you into a copycat.
If you solely take a look (and that is an extensively large look) at the online source of ideas available, the choice is staggering. The most widespread social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and often maligned G+ do not have to be a source just to watch what your not so good friend who you are connected to anyway had for breakfast or whether your neighbour’s cat peed on his carpet (even though those can also come in handy) but a goldmine of good ideas that somebody intentionally or inadvertently put up.
The large idea and news sources such as Medium and Flipboard which you can usually tailor to your needs are a given. Let alone some specialized sites, where your writing needs and political/social affiliations play a part, like, lets just mention three out of million possibilities — Futurism, Bandcamp or philosophically inclined Aeon.
Or, how about that deluge of e-mails you get from thousands of writing guru’s you don’t even remember you subscribed to? Sure, they want your money for their course, webinar or the book(s) they wrote, but then, even if you just read their pitch, there’s an idea or two hidden there. Not much time? But, if you’re out of ideas, you should have some time to fetch one, don’t you?
The key is that writer’s need ideas, they simply don’t come out of thin air, and any help, even little help (from your friends) from Ringo Starr will do.
Way back in the Seventies Pressure Drop, a song by The Toots and The Maytals was one of those songs that helped Reggae music make a wider breakthrough it deserved. With all those juggling, happy-like rhythms, not many people paid any attention to not so happy-like lyrics, which included lines like these:
“Sometimes you feel alone
And the things that you're doing
People tell you that it is wrong
Life gets rough, life gets tough
So tell me what you gonna do about it?”
There, Toots and the guys pose a very serious question for any writer, as for anybody else for that matter. There are certainly going to be times when, as a writer, not everything is going to go the way it either should or you think they should go. From not being able to write anything meaningful, to your writing being rejected for an explicable or inexplicable reason, to you simply hating the thing you have to write about. It could be something uninspiring, something you don’t know much about, or simply something that in essence contradicts your views.
Usually, one of the key reasons you pick up to write something out of your comfort zone is that one size fits all explanation: “because I have to”. Probably the only really lovable thing there falls in that “I don’t know much about it category”. That one should be easy - learn more about it, you might get to like it, and as a writer that usually happens anyway.
All the other stuff falls in the category, “I need it as much as stress and everything it brings along” - the pressure drops, and it can really be a heavy drop with deep consequences. For you and for everybody else involved.
So, if the writing doesn’t fit, don’t do it, no matter how good the financial reward may be. The pressure should drop off, not on you. Basically, turn that on/off button to off. You writing should concentrate on what flows naturally, what really fits you and what you really know (or have learned in the meantime).
The reward that is sought will come, eventually. The more natural your writing is the more chance it has to get you where you need to be.
At that moment, you may truly enjoy those Toots and Metals rhythms and forget about their heavy lyrics. At least for a moment.
Way back when (1968 actually) Tom Rush came up with one of the well-covered ballads, “No Regrets”. It got covered so many times (Rush himself re-recorded it in 2009) for a good reason. It still stands as one of the better ballads around, no matter whether you think the lyrics are corny or not.
Actually, the lyrics can come quite handy as a message to any freelance writer when they themselves have to terminate a work agreement - there have to be no regrets.
Of course, there could be any number of serious reasons to do that - from a very favourable one - you have too much on your plate and the money’s overflowing (something which happens only in ads for all those writing courses), to god, forbid, something bad has happened to prevent you to continue. But in most general cases you do that reluctantly, since after all, as a freelancer, you never know when the next job is going to come up or how much it is going to pay.
In the good case scenario, you’re not going to regret it, even if the other party seemed like a good one to work with, while in the bad case one, you don’t really have a chance to care, just hope things turn for the better.
But in most cases, it is a more general spectre of reasons why you want or need to quit - you simply don’t like it, find it too demanding, it is paid poorly, and in most cases, the other party treats you like a hired hand stereotype in Western movies - as a disposable entity.
It can be in any and all forms of changing the terms of the contract and/or agreement, changing the due dates, not paying enough, on time, or ever, not responding to your messages or giving you the answers to questions you posed (even if the definitely know the answers), setting vague goals, and giving you lousy or no guidelines whatsoever, should I go on?
So, yes, you may need that job, but yes, you are much better without it. There Tom Rush’s great song definitely comes into play, in one of his version, or for example the great Walker Brothers one, even though Scott Walker himself disowned practically all of the early stuff he recorded. Guess he walked away from it with no regrets on his part.
Back in the Eighties Gordon Gano and Violent Femmes were one of the better, surprising bands to come about and produce a series of quite remarkable albums. Their third in that line was “The Blind Leading The Naked” from 1986. It even had a great version of T.Rex’ “Children of the Revolution” on it.
As a writer, the title of the album should make you think though when you start preparing your next story, none, article, copywriting anything… Certainly, you start writing your outline, put down your ideas and what kind of research you need to do, even if it is a personal story or just a flash of inspiration (you do your research, don’t you). Of course, it is your initial ideas that are the driving force behind what you are about to write - you start out with some preconceptions, even if they are just general ones.
And then you get to your research. Bit by bit, it turns out that this research starts either bringing down your preconceptions, changes your ideas or brings about new ones. What then? Do you stick firmly to your initial ideas, strictly follow where the research leads you, or abandon everything and pick up on the newly developed ideas?
Doing just one of those might put you in a situation Violent Femmes spoke of with the title of their album. You need to think about a possible balance with all of the above possibilities, with one exception.
Your idea is yours, even if it is a bad one. As such it can certainly be transformed with re-thinking, particularly if it is stimulated by quality research. If it seems implausible, see what is needed to make it a plausible one. That is certainly one way to turns facts into fiction. The new ideas you get… you will write them down, won’t you and pick up on them at some point.
Of course, the only time you’re going to stick to the results of the research is when strictly fact-based writing is involved, particularly if it is journalism or copywriting. You don’t want to be the blind or the naked in such a story, do you?
When The Rolling Stones came up with “Mother’s Little Helper” in 1966, one of their better singles of the era, the controversy arose about what kind of a helper were they had in mind. Some radio stations even refused to play the song. Maybe the song hit the exact spot it wanted to hit.
As far as the writers and writing are concerned the helpers these days go beyond a set of well kept and annotated notebooks, scrapbooks, piles of dictionaries and books marked with the research needed.
With all the software aids available these days, things might seem simpler. But only just. First, you’ve got that Mac, Windows, Linux, Android compatibility thing, and some aids being not compatible between platforms. Here though, I get the impression that Mac users are in a bit of an advantage since almost all writers tools are compatible with the user's Macs, iPads, and iPhones. Certainly, as a Mac user, I might be biased and/or unknowledgeable, but I’ll stick to what I know.
The second restriction comes with the fact that, no matter how nice and useful certain writing, note-taking or info gathering application is, it never can fulfill exactly what you need in a manner you need it. All that means one thing - you need a few of these and often you need to use them simultaneously.
The research and info gathering applications are certainly easier to talk about since they are usually cross-platform oriented and can be used on most systems, including Android phones. That particularly concerns Evernote and Pocket.
Evernote is more widespread and certainly efficient. You can save practically any information you need with it. Text, image, video, whatever. But a few down points - it can be slow, in the application form it eats memory like crazy, and can be hard to navigate sometimes. It also has the strange need to always ask you whether you want to leave Evernote when you press a web link.
Pocket does more or less the same thing as Evernote but is quicker, much easier to navigate and has full integration with some known information aggregator sites.
The choice of specialist writing tools beyond standard text processors is much wider and start with the almost industry standard Scrivener, which has almost anything you need - form all the standard formatting elements to having all your chapters, excerpts, stories, whatever, immediately available as they are saved directly in the app itself. Of course, the more input you make, the longer it takes for the application to open, the more memory it will eat even before the electronic breakfast starts.
Two smaller apps are following in the Scrivener’s footsteps on the Mac, and that is Bear and Ulysses. Both save all your work in the app, but are neither as large as Scrivener, meaning they are much faster in their operation. Bear’s problem is that it just piles the parts, and sections one after another, while Ulysses has a nice sorting and arranging capabilities. While Bear has no instructions, whatsoever, and is sometimes hard to integrate with a personal blog, for example, Ulysses has a direct integration with pdf creating applications sites like Medium and it does have instructions. But those instructions are a bit confusing, maybe having to do with the fact that the pre-formatting itself is not easy itself.
As far as just the pure notetaking on Mac is concerned the simply named Notebook program is noteworthy. It sorts all your notes in different notebooks and those notebooks in separate pages, all reachable directly from the application itself and can also perform most of the functions Evernote and Pocket do, but can also be a memory eater.
Of course, that is just a brief overview with a Mac accent, and if anything is still missing, you can always play that Stones song.
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