Archive for March, 2011

Top Tips for Writers from Famous Authors

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

I just discovered, thanks to Melody Godfred’s delightful Write in Color blog, an equally delightful series in The Guardian called Rules for Writers. The series features famous authors like Jonathon Franzen, Margaret Atwood, and Zadie Smith, who offer their shirt, pithy tips on writing.

Their advice reflect a certain practicality and sense of humour that must only come after “making it” in the big time. Some of my favourites:

Margaret Atwood:

You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you’re on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.

Will Self:

You know that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure you feel when you look upon your own empurpled prose? Relax into the awareness that this ghastly sensation will never, ever leave you, no matter how successful and publicly lauded you become. It is intrinsic to the real business of writing and should be cherished.

Elmore Leonard:

Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But “said” is far less intrusive than “grumbled”, “gasped”, “cautioned”, “lied”. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated” and had to stop reading and go to the dictionary.

Roddy Doyle

Do, occasionally, give in to temptation. Wash the kitchen floor, hang out the washing. It’s research.

Read more: Rules for Writers [The Guardian]

How to Survive as a Writer in the Real World

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

When I became a full-time freelance writer in 2008, I dreamed big dreams of lucrative commissions for national magazines, free meals at fancy restaurants, overnight stays at flash hotels and the thrilling rush of impossibly tight deadlines.

Luckily I reserved most of my dreams for sleep-time, and spent my waking hours facing the stark reality of what it’s like to get into freelance writing with zero experience in the freelance marketplace:

  • I had no magazine or newspaper clips
  • Most editors, especially for big publications, won’t take a chance on a newbie writer with no credentials
  • I have bills to pay, and it was hard enough getting one paid commission; to get enough work to make a full-time living felt impossible
  • There were already loads of people out there established as professional writers; how could I compete with them?

Almost two years later, I’m still a full-time freelancer, still making ends meet, but still nagged by these same concerns from time to time. Which is why I really liked yesterday’s article on Freelance Folder by Laura Spencer about how to survive in the crowded freelance writing marketplace. There she listed some very good reasons why it’s still possible to compete and suggests a few ways to strengthen your freelance writing brand.

One of her points rang especially true to my experience:

Consider the more lucrative writing fields of copywriting or business writing. While it’s nice to have a byline, it’s even nicer to get paid. Businesses have the money to pay and the need for writers.

It’s not exactly press passes and celebrity interviews, but business writing is a great way to stay afloat while you establish yourself in more journalistic roles.

I currently work part-time writing marketing reports and copywriting. This takes up about 75% of my working week; the rest I spend on my own projects and writing endeavors. Sure, I might establish myself more quickly as a writer if I devoted myself to pitching full time; but I’ve gotta make a living, and the business writing makes it possible.

It’s all about doing whatever it takes to enable the next step. Right now I’m about 75% business writing / 25% my own stuff. Next year that might be 65% / 45%, who knows.

For me, one of the most important points is that I’ve stayed freelance this whole time. So even if I go into a business environment, I’m still calling the shots, still keeping my head high as an independent contractor. It may not sound like much, but the confidence boost of going freelance is huge, and it just keeps pushing you harder and harder to stay freelance, and to make the next job that much more awesome.

So while you’re figuring how to be awesome yourself, go check out Laura’s piece for some great advice:

How to Survive in the Crowded Freelance Writing Marketplace

How to Increase Traffic to Your Website

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

Traffic: it’s one of the most sought after commodities on the web, both for our Writer’s Residence users, and for anyone with a website or blog. So how do you increase traffic to your web site? This was the subject of a recent thread on the Absolute Write forums. Amongst the ideas:

  • Participate in forums
  • Post enticing links on Twitter
  • Leave comments on other people’s blogs
  • Publish interviews with people in your niche

It all boils down to two pretty basic things: post high quality content and develop relationships with people in your niche. Although some may argue that you can do some fancy stuff with search engines and key words, there really is no magical, automated way to get your website out to the masses.

The best way is to be consistent, and genuine.

I like how writer Lisa Spangenberg puts it:

You increase traffic to your blog by writing well…by participating in the conversation…by saying interesting things expressed well… Ultimately, it’s all about the quality of the conversation and the quality of the writing.

I love that the web has transformed marketing from a PR-driven chore to something fun, creative and social. It’s truly a great time to be a writer!