Are you an avid viewer of Tv reality cooking shows, Master Chef et al? No? As a writer, you should be! Why? Because you could easily play the game every writer should. It is called ‘spot the cliche’. After all, the game itself includes a fancy-sounding French word that has stuck into practically every language round world to signify a trite, stereotyped expression, as almost any online dictionary would tell you.
‘I gave it all I got’, ‘I was cooking from my heart’… Just a couple of the usual ‘standards’ you can hear it over and over in any of these shows done in the English language, from New Zealand on one end of the globe to Canada on the other. They have become such a standard that that gospel/jazz tune “When the Saints Go Marching In” could easily change into “When the Cliches Go Marching In”. I’m afraid we’re all prone to cliches, and writers need to be reminded once in a while (can become a cliche expression itself, can’t it?) about them.
Usually, when a writer notices one (or a few) in the text(s) he’s written he grabs a Thesaurus or any such writing tool to seek and replace it with something else. Fair enough. Sometimes you’re just stuck, or distracted and cannot exactly express what you really want to say.
Then, there could be deeper problems. What if you haven’t been doing some extensive reading recently or have stuck to texts that are in a rut themselves and have more cliches that saints marching’ in?
That is easy(er) malady to correct. You can read more, diversify your reading, particularly if it is research-based. The words and expressions just stick in your head, and then, why not even write them down? But, what if the problem lies somewhere else?
There, maybe one of the cooking cliches mentioned comes into play. The one where the contestant(s) bring their plate of food to the judges and utter: ‘I was cooking from my heart (or soul, take your pick)”. What if you as a writer was not cooking, or to be more precise, writing from your heart (soul)? What if you were actually indifferent to your text, what if it was on a subject matter you don’t care about, or you simply are not into it for any reason?
You can bet that the cliches will fly in then, whether you want it or not, and no thesaurus will help you there. That text will simply not fly. There you have two choices - the easy, where you simply give up on that text or the other one, where you start all over, find a good reason to try, involve yourself in that text and then start all over. Then the cliches will probably simply disappear and the real (word) saints will start marching in again…
When aspiring writers, copywriters, journalists (the list goes on) read or hear all that is written or said about doing it freelance, it is usually these fairytale-like things, like freedom, working at your own pace and no bosses or colleagues trying to climb over your back or even doing it based on your work. These last few elements seem to be prevailing elements. Oh, so I don’t forget, after you set yourself up, the money starts flowing like best red wine…
Now, let's leave the money thing aside, even the new starters in the writing venture(s) have their doubts in that respect. We’ve all had too many of those sweepstakes winners stories piling up in our (regular or email) mailboxes every day. If you are any good, the money will start coming. Eventually,
But that ‘eventually’ can be a long, ongoing process and certainly an unpleasant one if you constantly have nagging and demanding bosses and trickster back-stabbing colleagues, that are not that collegial after all. That is one of the key reasons why most of the people would contemplate going freelance. And anyway, most of the writing is a single person process, isn’t it?
Well, you can only hope so. Even if you start writing freelance, you have that publisher, site or magazine editor, or company PR guy who wants all those white papers. They can and would be all your bosses. One after the other, or sometimes, a few of them at the same time. And all those trickster colleagues suddenly transform into anonymous writers who bid for the same writing job achingly low, giving you no chance of getting it, even if you seem to be a perfect fit for it.
When freelance writing jobs are offered these days, the term often used is - remote work. And remote seems to be the operative word here. In all its positive, but also negative aspects.
It might seem nice and pleasant, even time saving to have as little personal contact, particularly these days when online writing seems to be dominating. But that remoteness can create a loss of sense of obligation, even decency.
Just remember how many times you solicited for a writing job, sent in your writing samples, CV’s, and you didn’t even get a one sentence response in the form of: “Sorry, we(I) am not interested”. Or, you get a job, with a ‘trial rate’, with a promise you’ll get more work that would be paid better, only to never hear from these people again. And lets not even mention those SEO writing scavengers circulating the content mills trying to suck out work out of fresh into the field writers without ever paying them a single cent.
In the words of grate late Captain Beefheart that he sang on his “spotlight Kid” album - “When it blows its stacks, he ain’t nowhere to be found…”
Not the stuff that all those inviting established freelance bloggers would tell you about, but then, they are still here, aren’t they? Just, have in mind that there’s quite a few of the other stuff you’ll have to swallow along with all that milk and honey that is coming to you when you become a freelance writer.
‘Taking stock’ advice is practically available on almost any writing site or blog page. Usually, it is something that you have read before, but that is not necessarily the problem. Reminding yourself of what you have been doing for those three hundred and something days is certainly a necessity in itself.
The problem can be that all that advice can often be in some vague, general terms, like telling you that the weather in December is usually very cloudy. And you don’t need somebody to tell you to take stock of what you’ve earned from your writing this year, you got your bank account for that.
Unless you are currently writing a novel (or two), or are involved in some long-term project, pre-holiday and holiday season is usually quiet and it does allow most of the writers time to really take a thorough look at what they have really achieved, or what they didn’t.
Certainly, all that feedback you got from clients, readers, reviews is the first thing you will get to. And like all those pro and con sheets you used to make in high school about which college you should apply to (or not), so can the feedback you get on your writing be sorted. It does give you a nice, imaginary balancing scale about how your writing was viewed.
Fine, but what about your own, personal rating? Again, nothing new, but taking a cue from literary, music, movie critics might be quite helpful - make a list of how you rate your writing. From top to bottom, or another way around, whichever way you prefer it. Even better, separate the list into the best and the worst.
You can then compare your list(s) with the feedback you received, and see where you agree with it and where it doesn’t. The real answers will most of the times be in matching opinions. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t stick to your opinion where you strongly agree or disagree with somebody else.
But what it definitely does is give you a perspective, not only about how you have done in the past period, but what you need to change or what you certainly need to stick to. Some more vague, general advice, guess.
Oh, and don’t forget to make your own lists of best books, movies, music. I certainly got The War on Drugs, Aldous Harding and The National on my music 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.