Catching A Break

Catching a BreakOften, when writers are portrayed in film, they are already successful. If not, then they are the stereotypical “starving artist”, working a day job that they hate while waiting to catch their big break. Which they usually do.

I started out freelancing, and still do some of it on the side, but it was not at all an easy career. Trying to find clients in my area was my biggest problem, and I received a plethora of suggestions, such as: “You just need to get out there and network!”, or “It’ll happen, you just need to be patient!”. While this advice was well-meant, it was, unfortunately, useless.

“Networking”: seemingly a term that encompasses everything from having ridiculous amounts of success from cold calling and free ads to paying to attend conferences and making “valuable connections” that generally end up as empty promises. It’s not as simple, as easy, or as useful as it seems. The thing is, in order to make connections, you usually have to have an in. For a connection to turn into a client, they have to actually be serious about requiring your services. Making those come together is not always easy.

Then there’s “having patience”. Well, let me tell you right now that just waiting for something to happen does absolutely nothing for you. It isn’t even about taking action and then waiting for an outcome. To succeed at writing, you should never just be waiting. To catch a break you always have to be doing.

A break isn’t going to come to you randomly, at least not in my experience. It will only come if you are out there hunting it down. If you really want to be a writer, you should be trying to:

  • find clients on the side
  • look for one time contracts
  • volunteer
  • submit stories
  • write
  • think about writing
  • edit
  • frequent job websites
  • cold call
  • apply for internships
  • and, a million other things

You will never catch a break just because you write well. You will never catch a break by waiting for someone to find you. Breaks don’t happen like they do in the movies, they happen because you work your buns off to find them. You accept rejection and then let it go, you take criticism and suggestions and own them, you take any opportunity you can to improve your skill and to get experience.

That’s the difference between writing being a hobby and writing being a career. I have no real need to look for more work, but I do anyway. Why? Because I want to make sure that I continue to write about different things, in different ways. I want to make sure that I write the things that I want to, or about the things that I enjoy. I do it because I am always trying to move forward and because writing is my best and most prominent skill.

Though I am, by now, a fairly experienced writer, I still apply for internships with publishers, magazines, and so on. I still write stories and submit them when I can. I still do my best to write a blog every week even when I have to do it over two days in ten minute intervals. I do this because any success that I have had, or may have in the future, is success that I want to own. I want to know that it’s mine because I worked for it and I kept going even when the going was tough.

To catch a break, and I mean to have something good happen to your writing career, you cannot sit idly by and assume that because you have some talent, you will eventually be found and become famous. That’s not really how it works with writing.

The best way to think of it is that you will get what you give. The more effort that you put into becoming the writer that you want to be, the closer you will get. Think of any new offers or opportunities as rewards for your efforts instead of blind luck. You didn’t catch that break because of a fluke, you caught it because you fought for it. You got it because you wanted it. And if you didn’t get it, at least you can say that you tried, and that’s one step closer to getting the next one.

What do you do to better your career as a writer? Is it more of a hobby or career for you? 

Should you wish to hear from me more often, you can give me a Like on Facebook.

The Unpleasant Parts of Writing

The Unpleasant Parts of WritingI often talk about the good parts of writing on here. The things that make it worth it, and the things that bring us writers together. But writing is not just one big wonderful ball of enjoyment and pleasure. There are aspects of it that I would liken to psychological torture, or perhaps, for the less dramatic, the sound of nails on a chalkboard.

Some of the things that I most abhor about being a professional writer include:

Editing my own work. Seriously, it’s the worst. Once I write something, I want to publish it and be done. I don’t want to look it over, and I really don’t want to read it more than once. As a writer, though, I can’t do it. To pass it off to another editor or writer without even giving it a once over would be quite rude.

Of course, editing the work of someone else is a different beast that I actually enjoy. I would describe it as being like an Easter egg hunt, in that I know there are errors somewhere, I just have to find them.

Writing short copy. Oh, the agony! I find it so boring to sit and think of five different ways to say the same sentence or phrase. I’m good at it, and when it’s done I feel satisfied for having said something in the best way that it could be said, but I really can’t say that I enjoy the process itself. It’s like fishing in a way, waiting for the perfect wording to come to you, baiting it with lesser words and combinations. Hoping something bigger bites so that you don’t end up leaving the office knowing you could have done better.

Finding clients. I haven’t done much of this in a long time, but when this was a focus of my every day life, I found it to be so daunting. I guess I am just better suited to having employment contracts as opposed to relying completely on what business I can drum up.

Writing poorly because that’s what someone else wants. Sometimes clients and employers want what they want. Sometimes, that means writing content that you don’t want to, or writing content in a way that you don’t want to. Sometimes clients may want something that isn’t grammatically correct because it looks or sounds better. Sometimes they want you to mask some tricky marketing message with a bunch of fluff. A sad reality is that your writing may not always be something that you are proud of.

Writer’s block. Thankfully this doesn’t happen to me too often, but when it does I feel like a useless lump. It happened to me today, but I forced myself to write because that what we have to do. The fairy tale notion that movies portray of writers doing what they want to most of the time, and then sitting down one evening, apparently inspired, to write a bestseller is ridiculous. Many of us don’t have the luxury of choosing when we write, but do it either because it’s the only time we have, or because we are paid to do things by deadlines.

Running out of books. Lastly, and this is one that I am suffering from at this very moment, having nothing to read. I have reread everything on my shelf at least once, I have no book orders on the way, and anything that I actually do want to read is packed away in another province out of my reach. I haven’t seen anything I want to pick up lately, and I haven’t received any recommendations that I really wanted to pursue for some time. I’m really just craving a long series or the release of paperback versions of new books that I want to read. It makes me feel like I am in purgatory and it’s quite unpleasant.

I am certain that not all of you will have the same list of negatives as I do. If you did, the writing profession would certainly be a dull and boring thing.

So, what do you dislike the most about writing? Does it change based on how your writing is going?

Please feel free to join me on Facebook if you have a moment.

The Flavor of Writing

The Flavor of WritingWriters know very well that the style in which they write may not be sweet to every reader. Every piece of writing is defined by a genre, sub-genre, category, sub-category… and the list goes on. Some readers enjoy broad genres, such as fiction or non-fiction, while others prefer more specific categorization, like historical fiction or sci-fi.

Unfortunately, whether we will it or not, whatever we write inevitably falls into a class that defines it. This offers both positive and negative side-effects. The positives being that we can reach our readers more readily, and skip those who wouldn’t be interested in the first place. The negatives being that others who have written within our genre may have helped to create stereotypes that automatically cause readers to avoid our predetermined classification.

Of course, every genre can have romance, or humor, or history. However, the small details are not taken into account when vendors and publishers choose which heading to set above a book. To me, this is, in many ways, tragic. Separating books so clearly gives readers the ability to be as picky about books as they are about food. It’s just as easy to say, “I don’t read fantasy” as it is to say “I despise onions”. But onions always have the same flavor. Books do not.

One fantasy story could be found to be long and dull, while another could be enthralling and captivating. Not every fantasy has dragons, just as not every romance is about some young girl falling in love for the first time. It’s simple to say that you do not like one food or another, but the flavors of writing are more intricate and less defined. You could easily class one book in the sci-fi genre as an onion (or other despised food of your choice), and another as a slice of the most delectable cheesecake (or other delicious dish of your choosing).

The spark behind this post was an article that I saw about how GRRM has seemingly “revolutionised how people think about the fantasy genre“.  And, although I love his books, and will be watching the season premiere devotedly this evening, I have to disagree.

The reason why his books have become popular is because they got picked up by the right place at the right time. They have been thrust into the public eye, and, I suppose, in that way, they have made people think about fantasy differently.

But, there have been countless authors who have written quality fantasy over the years that have received much praise, and likely even more that have remained under the radar for whatever reason. I have no doubt that there are hundreds of high-quality fantasies out there that I have never even heard of. And part of that is because of the stereotype surrounding the genre as a whole.

GRRM was lucky. But even his books were a near miss. He started the series a long time ago, and it has only reached popularity in recent years. I have a plethora of books on my shelf that I would define as equal in quality to A Song of Ice and Fire, both in terms of writing ability and strength of story. Are all of them as wildly popular as GOT? No. Not even close. Should they be? Probably. If they had been given a chance.

So, next time you avoid a genre simply because it hasn’t suited your tastes in the past, remember that books are not as easily classified as onions (I just assume everyone else abhors them, because I believe they are the absolute worst). Remember that just because a book is classed within a genre that you don’t often sample, that doesn’t mean that it is anything like the last one that you tasted.

Books within the same genre are as vast in flavor and texture as a hundred course meal served at a banquet. Some are light, some are sweet, others are heavy and thick. Some are bitter and some are as smooth as cream. Some will leave you asking for seconds, while others will congeal on the side of your plate after an unpleasant sample.

Let your palate for books be much more tested and open than that of your tongue.

Have you ever been surprised by a book in a certain genre? Is there a genre that you avoid altogether? Do you think that GRRM had a direct impact on fantasy because of the quality or because of the timing of his books? 

Should you wish to hear from me more often, you can find me on Facebook, where I cordially invite you to join me.

Why Fiction is Essential to Writing Well

GargoyleThere are all kinds of writers out there. From fiction authors, to journalists, to pop culture piece writers, to non-fiction publishers. There are casual writers, serious writers, and some who are in between. We all have our own voices, and we all have our own areas of expertise.

As I have discussed many times, reading is a key part of writing. But I think that those who read only non-fiction miss out on essential writing lessons. You see, fiction is about the words, while non-fiction is about the story. You don’t really need a lot of description in a biography, while in fiction you have to create a world, characters, and every other aspect of your story inside of someone else’s mind.

Fiction is filled with beautiful words and new ideas. Biographies and marketing books teach you about things that already exist (or did in the past). I bet that those who read fiction may even have larger vocabularies than their non-fiction counterparts. I have learned so many new words from Shakespeare and Poe and Tolkien, while I have learned hard facts and statistics and tactics from non-fiction.

Fiction teaches us to write a story, and I believe that that is a fundamental part of any written work. Every small piece of copy, every call-to-action, every product description, or news story, or scientific article should have a story to it. It needs more than just the introduction, climax, and conclusion that we were taught throughout our years in English classes.

The purpose of any piece is to be read. The way to pique a reader’s interest is to write a piece that engages them in some way. Simply knowing how to spell isn’t enough. Fantasy and horror and even romance teach us how to pull a reader in. We need to explore different tones and styles so that we can fit our writing to the audience who matches it. An experienced writer should be able to move up and down on the Flesch-Kincaid readability scale without flinching, to tend to the needs of various readers.

A good writer should be able to make just about anything interesting. And without fiction, I just don’t see how that’s possible. Non-fiction binds us to certain types of writing, and makes it uncomfortable to flit between different topics and styles. Fiction pushes us to be creative, and to understand the varying levels of writing without giving us strict boundaries.

True, I write non-fiction all day, four days of the week. Do I enjoy it? Sometimes. But I like to think that the content that I provide is engaging, suits the audience, and sits in a perfect balance of readability for the people I have targeted to read it, regardless if I am writing about office culture or a legal process. I wholeheartedly believe that because I have consumed so much fiction, I could write about almost anything without much difficulty.

Topics, content type, and audience do not daunt me, because I can relate a piece of work that I have read to whatever I need to write. I have so many resources to pull ideas and examples from, that I never feel like I am facing a foreign or unexplored task.

Limiting ourselves to genres or types of books keeps us from expanding as writers. Though I prefer fiction, I also enjoy articles, books, and posts about science, history, culture, gaming, and news. Often, if I come across something that I don’t enjoy, I will read it anyway so that I can understand what I don’t like about it. It usually has nothing to do with the subject, and everything to do with the writing.

If you only read long, boring articles, why would you expect your writing to be any different? In order to really be a writer and to provide content above and beyond what is required, you have to not only taste every dish at the table, but have a hearty helping of each. How else could you discern your own preferences?

I do think that you can still be a good writer even if you only read one type of book. I just think that there is so much more potential for those who experiment and test the waters of different styles. It’s much more difficult to become adaptable in your reading if you refuse to adapt in your reading.

Do you stick to one genre? Do you think that fiction has anything to offer to writers of all kinds? Do you experiment with your own writing in terms of genres and styles?

Join me on Facebook if you wish. I promise you won’t be disappointed.