This is as hysterical as it is true. Freelance writer Karen Briggs presents 20 golden bits of wisdom for the dedicated scribe. Raise your hand if you’ve been told you must follow these or die in a sewer clutching your unpublished manuscript?!
1. Write every day, even if it’s not for publication. Oh Christ, like I need to practise just for the sheer sake of practising. While I’m at it, why don’t I get some of those multi-lined sheets and revisit my cursive technique? I always liked doing j’s and q’s …
2. Write for free, in order to get “exposure” (see previous rant here).
3. Enter writing contests. Totally counter productive in a head-spinning number of ways. Not only are you now writing for the privilege of submitting an entry fee, you’re never going to get paid, your material (whether it’s any good or not) will instantly become someone else’s property, and you’re just going to become totally demoralized when it disappears into a black hole and is never heard from again. Trust me, hardly anyone in the history of time and space has ever launched a writing career based on a contest. (And please don’t bother sending me the story of the sister-in-law of your second cousin who won a writing contest and is now J.K. Rowling. I don’t want to know.)
4. Create a business plan and calculate how much you’re worth per hour. Sure, a great idea on paper. Think you’re consistently going to get anything remotely near what you’re worth in this business? If so, you have a way better publicist than I do.
5. Try using ‘bid sites’ or writing for content mills. A great way to break in, if your plan is to establish that you will work for crumbs and never expect to be treated any better. Seriously, 1500 words for $5? Thank you, sir, may I have another? Plus, honestly, the content on the content mills is such shite that you’re not exactly enhancing your resume in such company. The bid sites are even more humiliating: just how much more can you debase yourself than the next guy?
6. Write what you know. Ugh. Just shoot me. Okay, I did begin by focusing on a niche in which I already had good contacts. B ut a journo’s job is not to dispense her own wisdom… it’s to dispense the wisdom of others. I didn’t know anything about shopping for a mid-sized tractor, but I was able to a) locate a few experts and b) ask questions, like, say, “So what’s the deal with mid-sized tractors, then?”, then c) write down their answers. Voila. Article. Write what you DON’T know, and chances are you’ll ask much better questions.
7. Everyone wants to read your autobiography or journal of Deep Thoughts. Hey, it’s even more fun if you write it in the third person, as if you were interviewing yourself. It will simply fly off the shelves because you are just so gosh-darn interesting.
8. Use correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Oh. My. Fucking. Gawd. You need to be told this?
9. Get lots of sleep. Sure, as long as deadlines aren’t an issue for you … I’m sure your editor will understand the vital importance of being well-rested.
10. Designate a space for your writing where you can work undisturbed. I can’t even manage this, living alone with two cats. They are all over me like hairy white on rice, and that’s to say nothing of my keyboard. Good luck achieving it if you have a spouse and/or ankle-biters. Unless you build your very own dungeon, and don’t mind emerging to heaven knows what kind of chaos which has occurred in your bleary-eyed absence. The thing about working from home is, you’re not really doing anything important, are you, so you are the first victim people call when they need a couch moved or a horse subdued for the vet …
11. Eat healthy snacks. By all means, make sure your beta-carotene, your psyllium fibre, your spirulina, and your omega-3 intakes are appropriate for the writing life. Pretend you have unlimited leisure time and no bills to pay.
12. Go for long walks, commune with nature, find your bliss etc. Because that’s how articles get written. Certainly not by doing research, interviewing sources, or, um, sitting down and writing.
13. Read lots of stuff. I am absolutely convinced that the bilingual text on my morning box of Cap’n Crunch has made me a better writer. Seriously, there are people with writing ambitions who never read anything? Plus, plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery.
14. You are a “real writer” if you believe you are. I believe I’m the heiress to the Thomson media empire, too, but my bank balance, tragically, disagrees. I’m sorry, but if you’ve never had anything published, you are a hobbyist scribbler. Maybe an ambitious one, maybe just a delusional one, but your writing needs to be able to stand up to professional scrutiny before you can use the appellation. Just sayin’.
15. Do creative cross-training to stimulate the ‘writing juices’. Oh, yes. Make greeting cards out of coloured construction paper and compose a delightful handwritten verse for the innards. Create bombs from pipecleaners, an old deadbolt, and some glitter glue. And while you’re at it, sell your crafty creations on Etsy — you might at least make some money that way.
16. If you’re writing for children, use simple words. Distressingly conspicuous, wouldn’t you say?
17. Don’t fear what you write. Huh? Well, I guess if what you write exposes your secret, festering desire to become a pedophilic serial killer, you might want to be a little afraid. Or at least surrender yourself to the authorities before things get messy. Trust me, it’s better this way.
18. Come up with catchy titles. a.k.a., You Can Never Have Too Much Alliteration.
19. I confess, I love, love, love this one: ”If you’re writing fiction, it’s a great idea to have a plot. It will coordinate your thoughts and add consistency to the text.” (This was actually taken from one of those writing-tips blogs.) Good Christ on a donkey, why didn’t I think of that?
20. A writer is someone who needs to write, has to write, is consumed by the passion to write. Two words: sheer bollocks.