The guy’s writing career stretched for half a century and across multiple media. His words have appeared on radio and television, in newspapers and magazines, and more recently books and online articles.
A young reporter at the banquet asked for career tips. The editor offered some, and gave me permission to reproduce any that I wanted. The trio I chose may not all apply to your genre, but all three are food for thought.
Never turn down any assignment.
This is particularly true for freelancers, who may experience long dry spells until they develop their abilities at pitching stories and getting themselves known.
Hey, recently I took some $80 and $100 writing gigs, both of which are below my normal rate – for two reasons:
- I knew I could turn them around very quickly, and
- I was looking at a temporary work slowdown because I hadn’t been pitching much due to illness, coaching clients, family issues and travel).
While waiting for some pitches to bear fruit, those jobs (while lower-paying than I’d have liked) earned me a quick $340. It was also a good reminder not to get complacent.
Get out of your comfort zone.
“Go places you don’t want to go, in conditions you’d just as soon avoid, talking to people you’d rather not meet about what’s important to them, not you,” the editor advises.
Yes, indeed: If you do this throughout your writing career you’ll get a glimpse of a worldview you might not have sought out but that might be able to teach you something.
You’ll also realize that you’re capable of more than you thought when forced to be too hot or too cold, to walk or climb, to eat something really weird, to get up very early or stay up all night. Bonus: You’ll be able to dine out on some of those stories for years.
Stick with nouns and verbs. Leave modifiers to the poets.
The editor cited a newspaper colleague who observed, “When you’re writing about a murder, adjectives just get in the way.” Ha! True.
Most freelancers aren’t writing about murder, but even so they’d do well to avoid excess verbiage. Adjectives are great, but they should be chosen for maximum impact. What does it mean that something is “good”? Be a little more specific.
And as I note in my Write A Blog People Will Read* course, sometimes less really is more:
“Your job as a writer isn’t to force-feed facts so that readers will be sure to Get Your Point. Yesterday was the hottest day I can ever remember. My clothes were sticking to me and my hair was sweaty and I almost came down with heat stroke.
“Here’s how author Annie Dillard described a rough summer day: It was hot, so hot that the mirror felt warm.
“That is a great detail, and all she had to do was notice it.
“Use too many descriptors and your narrative bogs down. The right details will show rather than slow the story, turning even a run-of-the-mill topic into a memorable piece of writing.”
Don’t expect thanks.
You may meet (or beat) your deadline, turning in clean and lyrically written copy, and hear not a word back from the editor. In a way that can be a good thing; sometimes they write back with nitpicky edits that drive you crazy. But it can be a little ego-deflating to hear not so much as a “hey, nice work.”
Get used to it. Throughout your writing career you will often hear only, “What else have you got for me?” Or, worse, you will hear nothing at all – repeat business is not guaranteed.
Be professional: Keep pitching, give editors what they want and try to ignore the trolls. The good news it that sometimes you do receive thanks, from an editor and/or from readers (my favorite part about what I do). Just don’t get your hopes up.
*Through Dec. 5, 2017 I’m offering a 25 percent discount on the course. Visit the WABPWR payment platform and use the code THANKS25.