Did you know that writing is big business? Not actually writing itself but selling stuff to people who want to be writers. I don’t think anyone could count all the services and products being marketed to wanna-be writers. So many. They’ll help you sell your stories, publish your books, build your platform, get organized, jump over writer’s block, and tell you how to write. They all seem to promise that if you just buy their products and follow directions, like baking a cake, you will have the books, the fame, and the money. But they can’t guarantee it. Most of the people who buy these things don’t get all the goodies. They don’t become full-time writers. I don’t want to discourage you, but what you really need to become a success writer doesn’t cost a lot of money but it does take effort, time, and faith.
First, you have to write well. Not only must your writing be grammatically correct, with proper spelling, but it has to say something original, something that is not just a copy of everything already published. It has to touch or help people in some way. It has to have substance, details, more than just what you pour out of your head. A million would-be writing coaches tell you to write every day, but they don’t tell you what to write or how to write it. You need to learn and practice the craft of writing. Take classes, read books, join a critique group or find a friend who will tell you the truth about where your writing works and where it doesn’t. And keep writing, even when you don’t have somebody prompting you to do it. That’s what makes you a writer.
Start with an idea, add information and thought, write it out, and revise it, revise it, revise it.
And yes, you need to market, to offer your stuff to appropriate editors in appropriate formats over and over again. Sure, there are books, magazines and blogs that will tell you how to do this, but it’s all the same information. Once you have learned the process, you just have to keep doing it. You will be rejected more often than not. Revise it again and send it back out.
Writing is like dieting. You can’t do it for a week or two then go back to living on burgers, fries and Coca-Cola. It has to become a lifestyle. No one can guarantee that you will become rich and famous. But if you write well and keep sending your work out, you will have some success. You will be published. You will be a writer.
Every time somebody offers to sell you something to help you be a writer, be suspicious. Ask yourself if you really need it and if they’re just in it for the money. Sometimes a product or service can help you work better or inspire you when you’re feeling blocked, but in the end what you really need to be a writer is hard work and persistence, something you can’t buy.
End of sermon. Go write something good.
That’s the question revered nature essayist Kathleen Dean Moore asked at last night’s Oregon Coast Willamette Writers meeting. It’s a good question. Moore’s talk was as much a work of art as her essays. This author of numerous wonderful books told us she’s struggling to figure out whether her job at this point is “to savor the world or to save it.” If one’s writing is all pretty pictures, what good does that do in a troubled world, but if it moves too much into advocacy, then it becomes hard to read. So what’s a writer to do?
Maybe our work is to bear witness, Moore suggested.
This struck home for me. I have just released a new e-book called Childless by Marriage. Of course I want you to all buy it, but this post is more about bearing witness. The book started as journalism and morphed into memoir. Here’s the teaser from the sales material:
“First you marry a man who does not want children. He cheats and you divorce him. Then you marry the love of your life and find out he does not want to have children with you either. Although you always wanted to be a mother, you decide he is worth the sacrifice, expecting to have a long, happy life together. But that’s not what happens. This is the story of a how a woman becomes childless by marriage and how it affects every aspect of her life.”
Okay, catchy, a little glib, but wait a minute. That’s my life. The book tells about my sex life, my fears, my failures, my selfishness, my stupidity. I’m exposed on the page and screen for strangers to see. Why do that?
To bear witness. I want people to see what it’s like for the women who never have children. I don’t believe most people understand how different my life is from that of women who are mothers and grandmothers. I am hoping they will begin to understand, to be more compassionate, to make wiser life choices.
Do I want to become rich and famous, too? That would be nice, but I think our role as writers, no matter what genre we write in, is to take notes so that what we observe and experience can be saved and shared with others who do not have the gift of words.
What do you think about this?
In the next couple weeks, I’ll post about the process of turning this manuscript into an e-book and later into a print book. It’s time consuming and a little nerve-wracking but not difficult. You can do it, too.
2010 is almost over. We have a few days before the beginning of 2011 to take stock of the old year and make plans for the new one. So take some time this week to look at your freelance business.
What have you accomplished this year? Go ahead and make a list. If you have written but not published, that counts, too. Think of it as sowing seeds for future harvests. If you have published, have you organized your clips so they’ll be handy when you seek future work? Have you safely backed up all your files?
What do you want to accomplish in the coming year? Now is a good time to set goals. What will you do by this time next year? What do you need to do each month, each week, each day to make that happen?
What about money? Did you make money or lose money in 2010? Either way, if you’re freelancing for money, you need to report it to the IRS. If you have kept records all year, that won’t be hard. If you haven’t, set up a system this week that you will use starting on Jan. 1. I just signed up for QuickBooks to better organize my accounting. You can use any kind of computer program or write it out in a notebook, but you must keep records. On Jan. 1, write down the mileage in your car. You’ll need to know what the odometer says.
All the best to all of you for the new year. May it bring much success and happiness.
Have you purchased your copy of Freelancing for Newspapers yet?
>It’s a new year. Resolve to get going on that writing dream. Set a goal, perhaps one submission a week? Make it a goal you know you can accomplish if you just apply seat to chair and fingers to keyboard. While you’re at it, if you haven’t been keeping careful track of income and expenses, start now so you’re prepared at tax time next year. Whether you do it with a spreadsheet, a program like Quicken, a handwritten ledger book or notes on your calendar doesn’t matter as long as you have the numbers when you need them.
To help you get started, I found another site where you can locate lots of freelance jobs. Go to www.online-writing-jobs.com and click on Freelance Journalism Jobs. The ads are quite specific about what they’re looking for, and the work is the kind of thing I’d be doing if I were starting out and living in a bigger city.
As with any ad, be somewhat cautious. Before you dive in, look up the publication and see if it’s something you want to write for. Then find out what they pay and what rights they buy. If it’s looking good, write up some ideas, then contact the editor in whatever way they request.
If you don’t find anything in the journalism section, there are lots of other options for freelance work that might also be fun and profitable.
May your clips and checks be plentiful in 2009.