Sunday, September 18, 2005

Sunday, September 18, 2005
Last Day of the Full Moon
Chiron Retrograde
Neptune Retrograde
Uranus Retrograde
Sunny and cool

Although a good part of my freelance business consists of manuscript critique and coaching, I also answer plenty of questions in passing from people for free. What I’m getting sick and tired of are the dabblers and those who don’t do any of their own homework, but expect me to do it.


This is the age of information, and not to bother about finding out things like basic manuscript format and learning basic grammar skills is unconscionable. Also, the dabblers, who think freelancing is a fun and easy way to sock up the big bucks, seem to take glee in insulting writers who do this for a living, and then are surprised when they’re actually expected to do work. Because writing’s not work, it it?

And we wonder why writers have to fight so hard for the little we have?

Far too many people who hire “writers” think it’s not work, too. Therefore, if an incompetent writer offers to turn in work for $10, that means the company will hire said person, even if the result is crap, rather than find someone actually qualified for the job.

Writing is a combination of talent, skill, and determination. It’s art and craft combined, and a development of creativity and common sense that each individual has to build up over time.

And no one can build it up for you.

If you want to be a writer:

1. Do the homework. Research formats, queries, markets, etc. It’s one thing to ask where to find the information; it’s insulting and unacceptable to expect other professionals to hand over their own hard-earned answers to you. Plus, their leads may not fit what you do. There are dozens of websites and books out there that have basic information. Go out and find them. Or ask people where to find them. Don’t expect them to do the work for you.

2. Learn grammar and spelling. No, spell-and-grammar check programs don’t cut it. Most of them make hideous mistakes. Take the time to learn proper grammar and punctuation. Re-read Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style EVERY TIME you revise your novel. You’ll be surprised how many errors you catch.

3. Don’t expect help from a writer you’ve just insulted. It’s damn hard work, and unless you’re willing to put the work in to your own career YOURSELF, it won’t happen for you. Just because you’re a legend in your own mind without credentials doesn’t mean anyone has to cut you any slack. And no, you are not doing a writer “a favor” by offering that person your “great idea”. Chances are it’s not so great. You want me to write it? This is what it costs, and this is how much you have to cough out up front.

4. Writers write because they HAVE to. And then they have to layer business sense on top of it. There’s nothing wrong with writing “on the side” – if you have a genuine commitment to the work. Some people love the careers they’re in, and the lives they have. They also love to write, and structure a balance between the two – whether it’s working weekend afternoons or taking a two-week retreat vacation once a year. That’s still a genuine commitment. It is not an easy and effortless way to make money. And, frankly, if you think it’s so easy and effortless, why haven’t you hit the bestseller list yet?

5. There’s no such thing as “no time to write.” If you say you have “no time to write”, what you mean is that you don’t want it enough. A major family illness or losing everything in something like Hurricane Katrina – that constitutes “no time to write”. Pretty much everything else means it’s not a priority. And if it’s not a priority, you won’t have a career.

For writers tired of stupid questions by ignorant people, especially those who “have a great idea” and want you to “write it for them”:

Smile sweetly and offer to send them a contact and your fee schedule, and say that you can start your discussions from there. Then walk away. If they try to argue, smile even more sweetly and say, “Sorry. Company policy.” That’s a phrase they should understand, because most of them probably utter it a couple of dozen times themselves every day to get out of doing things they don’t feel like doing.

And yes, you are your own company. Until you respect yourself in this business, no one has any reason to respect you.

Yesterday was a good writing day. Thirty-four pages on Never Too Late in longhand. Basically, I wrote until the muscles and tendons in my hands gave out.

Working on the two manuscript critiques. Both pieces have potential – and both were written by people who aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and do the work.

Great Op-Ed piece in the NYTimes by Frank Rich about the aftermath of Katrina and the empty promises from the government. I often took issue with his theatre reviews, but am a big admirer of his feature writing and opinion pieces. He’s thorough and thoughtful and digs up nuggets of information that are often overlooked.

Tested out two of the new season shows, briefly:

Supernatural -- turned it off after ten minutes. It’s sexist, badly written, badly acted, and insulting to everyone, including the dead.

Threshold – interesting premise. Some good work in there, but I kept feeling I was getting ahead of the story. The direction could be a bit crisper. They’re trying to contrast action sequences with “human” sequences, but simply drawing out the latter does not make them good. Not sure if I’d watch it again.

Lost starts up on Wednesday – and I’m working, so I’ll have to tape it. I’m both interested and wary as to how they’ll handle the upcoming season.

Back to writing and manuscript critiques. I have to do some more research on curry tomorrow, for the article due at the end of the week.



At 2:31 PM, Blogger Sue said...

It's of biggest dreams in life is to write professionally but I am so intimidated by it that I don't know where to start. I hold no illusions that those who do become true writers do not have an easy ride and that it's a difficult job.

I like your suggestions though...and as I try to figure out how to get the stories out of my head and onto paper, I will remember them.

At 8:37 PM, Blogger Michelle Miles said...

Regarding #3 - This just happened to me at the office. He didn't like my answer that he write it himself.

Great advice here. I'll have to remember your "company policy" for future refence! :)


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