May 10

Killer Deadlines

An inexpensive trenchcoat of waterproof khaki ...
An inexpensive trenchcoat of waterproof khaki with a snap-out lining by VEB Leipziger Bekleidungswerks. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Deadlines happen, and they’re good at causing stress and crushing creativity. Deadlines are important, but your work is always more important. If you’re working towards a writing deadline, start early and finish early. I don’t recommend handing your work in early because it gives time for editors to ask for rewrites and other things that make you feel you’re being touched in your “no no places” by a creepy stranger in a trench coat.

The tricky part is that you need to meet your deadlines, but you never need to agree to tight deadlines in the first place. If someone asks you to deliver a project by May 31, but they don’t give you materials and a brief until May 30, you can say no, even if you previously agreed to do the project. If all of your time gets eaten up by someone else not getting their job done, it’s not your problem. The stress and pressure should not be downloaded to you. Do, always make it clear ahead of time how much time you need to do your work. If you said one week and someone gives you that project on May 30, you tell them that they’ll get it back on June 6, regardless of their deadlines.

Lots of people allow money to be the motivator, and money can mean a lot, especially if you’re having trouble paying the bills. I don’t recommend ever taking a project that doesn’t have enough time because it can negatively affect the quality of your work; however, if you absolutely need the money and fear that you’ll lose the job by not meeting an unreasonable deadline, you must charge extra for it. Although you might feel that you should help out a client in need, remember that they didn’t do anything to help you out when they stuck you with a ridiculous timeline in the first place. Your daytime hours are worth a different price than your nighttime and weekend hours. Many people have trouble seeing that, but it’s true. Your daytime hours are intentional work hours. Your nights and weekends are family, social, and general relaxation and wellness hours, and they’re worth more money, so if you absolutely must take the project with the tighter deadlines, let the client know ahead of time that if they can’t get you what you need on time, there will be additional costs. This will create a financial barrier to the client taking away your weekends, and if it doesn’t then at least you’ll be getting paid appropriately.

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April 15

Writing Topics

Boston Marathon Finish Line.1910. Author: Unknown.
Boston Marathon Finish Line.1910. Author: Unknown. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some people say to write something everyday. Let us imagine a world where all the writers have plenty of time, will, and talent to write anything they want. Now, you just have to find a topic to write about.

As far as writing topics go, it’s great to find something unique, wonderful, amazing, and identifiable that nobody else has ever written about. Until you write the best thing ever written, I suggest getting past the topic stumbling block by picking something that’s news bound. I suggest timing your writing to something that will be in the news.

For instance, I’m publishing this piece of writing today, April 15, 2013.

Possible writing topics could be:

    1. Boston Marathon or running events
    2. Justin Trudeau or Canadian leaders
    3. MTV Movie Awards or other awards shows
    4. Chi Cheng or the death of a musician
    5. Jason Day or golf wins and losses

The real topics lend themselves to news stories or comment pieces, while the alternate topics would be suited for fiction pieces. For instance, you could write a comment piece about Justin Trudeau, or you could write a short story about an up and coming Canadian leader. Choose a topic that is relevant to where this will be published. If you live in Australia and you want your work to be published, talking about Justin Trudeau isn’t a good idea because nobody will care about him.

Topics that are timed to coincide with news events are more likely to get published as they are already in the public’s mind. They are being talked about and searched for. Giving people the text that they already want to read is an easy way to get your work in front of people and engage them immediately.

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April 9

Ghostwriters

It's a ghost!
It’s a ghost! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ghostwriting is evil. Now that I’ve shared my obvious bias, let me try my best to give you my impartial views on ghostwriting.

Ghostwriter Defined by Son of Sappho

A writer who writes anything for remuneration (usually money) without receiving the official credit for it. This means that you do the work, sell it to someone else, and they get all the credit for it.

Three Reasons to be a Ghostwriter

  1. You should get paid a lot more money;
  2. You can do it as a second job without anyone knowing about it;
  3. You could get the opportunity to be paid for creative work that you might not otherwise get.

Three Reasons not to be a Ghostwriter

  1. You usually can’t use any of the work in your portfolio;
  2. It’s next to impossible to get ahead based on your name, since you are always promoting other people;
  3. You’re less likely to ever create the type of work that you envision, since you are always creating another person’s ideas.

I’ll certainly grant that there might be times a writer doesn’t care about having their name on something. Perhaps you wrote a boring manual that you don’t want in your portfolio, and maybe you got paid really well to write it. For me, if I write anything that is at all worth mentioning, I put that in my portfolio, and I’ve never had to hide any of the work I’ve done.

Imagine for a moment that I go to an artist and ask him to paint a beautiful sunset for me, but I tell him that I’m going to own 100% of the rights to that painting. I pay the artist accordingly, and I get to put my name in the bottom right hand corner and tell everyone I painted it. I’m not suggesting this has never happened in history, but the idea of it is preposterous, and I feel the same way about ghostwriting.

I can’t even begin to understand why anyone would want to let someone else take credit for their work.

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April 8

Writing Online

English: Jack Dorsey and Barack Obama at Twitt...
English: Jack Dorsey and Barack Obama at Twitter Town Hall in July 2011 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I often hear people saying how writing online is so drastically different from other kinds of writing. I’ll admit that online writing isn’t the same as academic writing, but despite the innovation of Twitter, the ideal article length online is around 300 to 400 words, about what you would want a newspaper article to be.

Also, like a newspaper article, you want a reasonably short, effective, and catchy headline that will get the reader interested. In the age of social media, the important thing is to get your article shared by as many people as possible. Making your article concise, interesting, and easy to read will do this. These are all very similar guidelines to what a newspaper editor might ask for.

The big difference between writing online and writing for print are keywords. You don’t want to overuse your keyword terms like “writing online” because your readers will feel an awkwardness in the writing. You do want to occasionally pepper your article with your specific keyword terms, like “writing online.” This will allow search engines to easily get the idea of what you are trying to communicate without readers getting frustrated and moving on to something else.

A smaller difference that people run into with online writing is the issue of editing. As soon as I’m done writing this article, I can press the publish button, and there isn’t an editor on the other end of it. The beauty of online writing, is that it isn’t set in stone. If you make a mistake, you can always fix it. The issue here is taking responsibility for your own work. Glaring errors happen to the best of us, but with online writing, it’s important to read and read again. After I hit the publish button, I go back the next day and read it one more time to make sure that I haven’t made any obvious errors that I missed the day before.

Keep up the good work, always edit, and try to stay within the 300 to 400 word range.

 

April 4

Ottawa Writing

English: Confederation Square, with National W...
English: Confederation Square, with National War Memorial in its centre, in Ottawa, Canada. The view towards downtown from the Corktown Pedestrian Bridge in Ottawa, Canada. The Laurier bridge and Château Laurier are visible. Français : Vue vers le centre-ville depuis la passerelle de Corktown à Ottawa (Canada). On peut voir le Pont Laurier et le Château Laurier. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Writing can be difficult for any particular market. Today, I’ll use Ottawa as an example. There are a few newspapers, but with today’s world of syndication, it can be difficult to get on staff anywhere. There are a ton of technical writing jobs, although many of them require field experience. There are also the less than fulfilling large corporation and government jobs where you spend a ton of time crafting the perfect prose, only to have it butchered by a committee.

I know everyone and their dog tells you that you can make a whole huge pile of money blogging and that anyone who doesn’t blog to make money is a stupid idiot with a nine to five job, but that’s just not true. If everyone could make money blogging, everyone would be doing it. It’s very difficult to make a living doing nothing at all but blogging.

Starting a writing career in Ottawa is possible. You’re not going to get a lot of book deals or script writing roles being in Ottawa, but you can pick up a great deal of web content writing jobs that pay reasonably well and don’t make you want to slit your wrists. If you are going to go the way of the freelance writer, you’ll need a web site, a rate, and you’ll need to start to get some jobs.

Do

  1. Take low-cost or free jobs if it’s to build a portfolio.
  2. Post on freelance boards offering your services.
  3. Partner with web or technology companies to get more work.

Don’t

  1. Work on anything that you can’t put in your portfolio.
  2. Accept unpaid internships (unless they are with a large credible company or organization)
  3. Work on anything where you are promised a percentage without actual up front payment.

That’s what I think about the Ottawa writing scene.

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March 17

Write Something Everyday

The greatest bit of wisdom I could share is to simply write everyday. This is advice that I need to follow too, but if you can write something everyday, anything at all, you are a writer.

Write a poem, a story, a diary entry, or a tip in a writing blog about writing something everyday. Write whatever you want, but write something. This will make the difference between launching the career that you want and spending your existence in a job that you don’t really care for.

If you write and it’s terrible, write more. It will get better. People argue that you’re either a writer or not a writer, but you have 365 days a year to practise. You’ll get better in no time. If grammar is an issue for you, take classes. That doesn’t clear up on its own. If the writing is too concise, not concise enough, or just no good, read other work, get inspired.

You will get there if you write everyday.

November 8

Great, you found your muse. Now, before you go and write 10,000 more incoherent and in-cohesive sentences, stop, #edit, and #read.

Image of a modern fountain pen writing in curs...
Image of a modern fountain pen writing in cursive script. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I spoke about getting your muse on in an early post, but what happens if the writing ideas are flowing like a faucet? Is it cool to take up your days and nights with unlimited, unleashed writing.

My thought on this is no. There are a few times when I will have, what seems like, an infinite resource of writing ideas to source from. If I get carried away and just write and write and write, sometimes the work starts to suffer a lot. The one good thing about writer’s block is it gives me a chance to reread my work, edit it, and think about what I don’t like and do like about my style. It makes me think about where I should try to go with my style. It even makes me wonder if I should change my style often.

Having a fountain pen full of ideas that just spill out all over the place is great, but it’s messy. Right now, I’ve found my muse, and I’m starting to write, write, write, but I’ve set a limit for myself. There’s a maximum daily quantity that I allow myself to write. That amount of time is different for everyone, but I need time to sit down and reflect on the work I’ve written. As much as I think I’m great at writing when the words are coming out, reading something two or three days later can really make me wonder what I was thinking.

My advise is to write everyday, but take time to read and edit everyday also. It makes my work better and easier to follow, and I hope it will do the same for you.

November 1

Where’s the Muse at?

Hesiod and the Muse
Hesiod and the Muse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes when I’m writing anything, a story, a poem, or maybe even a clever email, I run into a touch of writer’s block. I even ran into writer’s block while writing this writing tip. Here are five ways that I battle writer’s block.

  1. Write down ideas through out the day when you have them.
    Writing is often a very “mood based” type of activity, but you can’t always write when you have inspiration. If you jot down the basic ideas you have while you are in the mood to write, you have already got yourself passed most of the writer’s block (the idea stage).
  2. Read and get inspired.
    Reading and even watching TV can help you with style and stories. If you have free time while you aren’t writing, fitting in a small amount of reading can give you that inspiration you need for writing time.
  3. Set aside time everyday to write.
    If you can legitimately argue that you can’t make the time to write because you are too busy, the harsh truth is that you probably aren’t a writer. Most of us already set aside time for eating, sleeping, using the washroom, and working. If you set aside time to write when you aren’t doing anything else – truly nothing else at all, you will find your muse. Sometimes I can only find half an hour to write, and even if I only come up with one good idea or one good sentence, I’ve started to push the idea snow ball down the giant mountain of literary snow.
  4. Get your mind right.
    This is my way of saying that you need to clear your head of all the bad juju. If you feel stressed, go for a run. If you’re mad at a friend, talk to him/her about the issue. If you can write better when your mind is in angst, go for it. For those of us who can’t do anything when we feel that way, clear it up, fix it – do whatever you can to get past the feeling and just write.
  5. Write what you want.
    If you’re writing the greatest novel that ever was and you’re stuck on Chapter 2, try taking the time to write a short story or a poem. Get your mind off of Chapter 2, but keep writing. I know this doesn’t mesh well with deadlines, but if you’re at risk of blowing a deadline because of writer’s block, the best thing you can do is write about something completely different. It will sometimes cure your writer’s block and allow you to get back on target with Chapter 2.