Tag Archives: advice for writers

The Day Job

boatIn late 2011, Abraham Verghese, author of “Cutting for Stone” described his writing life for the Washington Post.

For dedicated writers and those in the publishing business who freelance “part time,” simply because no one will pay us to write full time, there is the need for the dreaded…. “Day Job.”

This quote may help you lose some of the resentment of the day job, as you read how it benefits Verghese’s writing.

“Indeed, when I am asked for writing advice, which is rare, I offer this: Get a good day job, one that you love, preferably one that consumes you and that puts your boat out in the river of life. Then be passionate about it, give it your all, get good at what you do.”

Even though his work and family life left insufficient time to devote to writing, he persisted writing in the time he had available. Perhaps it is his lack of resentment over work as the thief of his writing hours that let him settle down and make the most of his limited time to write.

“Joyce Carol Oates produced two books while I was working on a long chapter. But I am not in a hurry to get the book out, just to get it right — my day job allows that luxury.”

Full Verghese essay here.

BIO: Helen Gallagher joined Freelance-Zone.com to share her thoughts on small business and technology. Her blogs and books are accessible through www.releaseyourwriting.com. She is a member of ASJA, Small Publishers Artists & Writers Network, and several great Chicago-area writing groups.

A Writer’s Booklist

Today’s blog post comes courtesy of John Rember, author of MFA in a Box and a long-time professor of creative writing

Over my years of teaching writing, I’ve consistently recommended that MFA students read books that, to me, live at the heart of writing. Not all of my students have liked my recommendations at the time, but I’ve gotten a number of letters from former students saying, in effect, “You know that book I told you I hated?  I read it again, and it’s a great book.”

I have always written back, saying that some books are an acquired taste, being gracious and kind in victory, and asking them if they might now consider reading some other stuff I’ve written.

Here’s a brief annotated booklist that includes none of my books, not even MFA in a Box although you might as well order it as a companion volume to the others. That’s what it was designed to be.

  1. Denial of DeathDenial of Death, by Ernest Becker.  Written with “man” meaning “human,” and using masculine pronouns throughout, this book might appear unreservedly patriarchal and oppressive even if it wasn’t a discussion of the inevitability of death.  But for writers, it’s a useful exploration of the existential dilemma and it offers an essential justification for going through life as an artist.  It’s not easy reading, and it shouldn’t be read all at once, especially in seasons when the days are getting shorter.  Still, I read through it every three years or so, just to see how much I’ve changed, and to see if I can find yet one more passage that will help me be a better and happier writer.  Hint: the happy chapters are at the end.
  2. Borderliners, by Peter Hoeg.  This scary autobiographical novel exposes the truth that much of what we call education is violence by adults against children.  It also contains a profound discussion on the nature of time that will help you when you decide that you’re going to kick your addictions to backstory and flashbacks.
  3. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig.  A book that looks at the troubled relationship between psyche of the individual and the consensus reality of culture. Given the weight of the ideas it discusses, it’s a surprisingly easy read. It’s also a clear demonstration of how ideas that are deadly dull on the pages of philosophy books can be deeply exciting and liberating in a novel.
  4. Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood.  Like her predecessor, H.G. Wells, Atwood disguises the present as science fiction.  She gives us a picture of our world as a place where the pharmaceutical-industrial complex has changed things forever, and not for the better.  Read this book as an antidote, if your writing seems to be stuck back in the 1990s, when all we really had to worry about was pulling equity out of our appreciating houses and whether or not Hilary knew about Monica and whether or not she cared.
  5. Breakfast of ChampionsBreakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut.  Don’t discount the simplicity of Vonnegut’s prose.  It’s far from simple-minded.  Together with Slaughterhouse Five, BOC shows humanity to be a great and tragic phenomenon, one capable of the sublime, even as it acts on its own worst impulses.  Tragedy doesn’t have to be sad, Vonnegut demonstrates, at least not when it’s this funny.

These five books might not seem like a lot, but if you were to pack them in your bag and read them with a writer’s eyes during a two week beach vacation, you’d bring some serious writing skills back with your sunburn.  You might be staggering a bit under the weight of the ideas they contain, but the blank screen will never look the same to you.

Finding Meaning and Fulfillment — as a Writer, and as a Human Being

commencement_bannerby Mike O’Mary

This week, I want to share a commencement address. This is one of those things that should be passed around on the Internet until EVERYBODY has read it. Or at least until every writer has read it. It’s intended as advice for young people who are just graduating from school, but it’s full of wisdom for people of all ages. And it contains especially good advice for writers. Here’s a sample:

“It’s not the privilege of anyone, writer or not, to peak out or burn out or drop out before he or she has given back to this world.  So I’ll say right now that you will not fulfill your life until you find out what it is you have to give to the people around you, and have given it, and they’ve accepted it in some way. It may take years to find out what you have to give, and more years to turn it into something acceptable, but if you’re making the lives of the people around you better and happier, you’re going in the right direction.  If you’re making their lives worse and more miserable, stop and turn around.”

That’s a quote from a graduation speech that my friend, John Rember, delivered last year — and it’s just a sampling of the wisdom you’ll find in his commencement address. It’s one of the best pieces of writing I’ve read in recent years.

To read the whole speech, click HERE. After you read it, pass it on to a young person. Or to an old person. Or to anybody who is striving to live a meaningful life. They’ll thank you for it.

Mike O’Mary is founder of Dream of Things, a book publisher and online book store, and of the Note Project, a campaign to make the world a million times better by inspiring 1 million people to write notes of appreciation. (Photo courtesy of Knox College)

$140,000 Per Year on Elance.com?

by Mike O’Mary

Will work for food iStock_000004304868LargeI’m curious…do any members of the Freelance-Zone.com community have experience using Elance.com to get jobs? If so, how did it go for you as a freelancer?

I ask because I’ve used Elance.com as a client, and I have mixed feelings about it. A while back, I mentioned to someone that I needed help from a graphic designer and a proofreader, but that I was on a tight budget. My friend suggested Elance.com. So I gave it a try and posted a couple of jobs.

As a client, I was pleased with the results. I got bids from graphic designers and proofreaders from all over the world. And the prices reflected the global nature of the competition. In fact, some prices were so low I couldn’t believe it.

In the end, I didn’t go with the lowest bidder. Nor did I go with an overseas bidder, although there were many. I went with U.S. providers, partly because of my comfort level, but also because I found that I could hire a U.S. freelancer and still spend way less than I had anticipated. In fact, at the end of the graphic design job, I gave the designer a bonus because I couldn’t believe how much work she did for the price she had quoted me. And that’s where my mixed feelings come in… Continue reading $140,000 Per Year on Elance.com?

Speechwriting Skills

by Mike O’Mary

“I got skills… You know, like nunchuck skills, bowhunting skills, computer hacking skills…” — Napoleon Dynamite

ninjaI feel like a hypocrite. I am looking to hire a speechwriter. One of the requirements is that the speechwriter also have PowerPoint skills.

I feel like a hypocrite because if you have a good speech, you don’t need a PowerPoint presentation to go with it. But the requirement for PowerPoint skills stands nonetheless.

Let me get the self-serving part of this post out of the way: if you are a good speechwriter in the Chicago area with good PowerPoint skills, or if you know a good speechwriter in the Chicago area with good PowerPoint skills, please contact me via my personal e-mail address, which is mike at michaelomary dot com. Thanks.

Back to the requirement for PowerPoint skills…

Why does a speechwriter need to know PowerPoint? Because people expect it. My day job is writing executive communications for a Fortune 300 company. A recent audit showed that we produce about 120 “executive communications” a year for the company’s top two executives. Sometimes the “communication” is a relatively simple e-mail announcement to employees. But other times (about 40 times a year, in fact), the communication is a speech or a presentation.

More and more, we’ve been moving toward speeches rather than presentations. But most keynote addresses still come with the expectation that they will include a PowerPoint presentation. I think that’s just a fact of life for the foreseeable future. Still, I’m looking for a good speechwriter because my hope is that some day, if the speeches are consistently good enough, our speakers will get to the point where they feel so good about their speeches that they won’t want a PowerPoint presentation — because it will detract from their marvelous speech.

But until that day comes, best to keep up-t0-date on your skills…you know, like nunchuck skills, bowhunting skills, computer hacking skills…and PowerPoint skills.

Mike O’Mary is founder of Dream of Things and of the Note Project. He is also responsible for executive communications at Discover Financial Services.

Strange Advice For The Writer

Catherineby Catherine L. Tully

Today I’m going to give advice in a different way. Over time, I’ve found out some things about being a writer that are…well…a little odd. Some of these you may already know about, while others may come as a surprise. Once you’ve read through them, feel free to add your own in the comments section…

Here goes:

1. Writing outside.

While this seems very romantic and “writer-ish”, it can be a real challenge. If you sit in the sun with your computer, it’s awfully hard to see the screen clearly. (I lose my mouse pointer and can’t navigate for anything.) If you set up camp at a park or in a cafe, chances are good you will have to use the bathroom in about 15 minutes or so. It always seems like a great idea, but the truth of the matter is, I get more writing done at home unless I really plan well ahead of time.

Advice: Drink sparingly before going out to write and use the facilities prior to leaving the house. Wear a baseball cap in case you find a sunny spot, and bring sunglasses. (Oh–and sunscreen too. My upper chest is currently fried from spending a whole 20 minutes outdoors in the yard with my laptop. I know I’m Irish and all, but…)

2. The Almighty Calorie.

If you’ve been writing for any length of time, this one is not a shocker. Calories seem to take on a whole new meaning when you sit for most of the day. My addiction to Mike & Ike candy must be balanced by frequent walks, trips to the gym and bursts of lifting weights at home–otherwise I will truly begin to look like the middle-aged woman that I want to keep at bay as long as possible.

Advice: Find a non-caloric beverage you like and stick to it. (Suggestions include LaCroix, coffee, iced tea and plain old water.) Break every hour and do something–anything physical. And keep celery sticks in the fridge to take the edge off. Seriously.

3. Wardrobe Issues.

Just because you can stay in your pajamas all day doesn’t mean you should do it. Writers typically have some wardrobe issues. As in, they don’t dress nice much. If you find yourself showering past noon or wearing ratty old sweats on a regular basis, you may be suffering from this problem.

Advice: Run at least one errand a day that forces you to leave the house. Shower, and get dressed for it. I’ve resolved to break out the heels here and there and dress up for lunch once a week or so, just to insure I don’t start slipping into the danger zone. You can have a day where you lounge around in your skivvies, but don’t make it a habit.

I know I haven’t covered all the odd things that pop up as you live the freelance lifestyle, so if you can add to this list, by all means, do so.

Then go for a brisk walk outside in some nice clothes. And leave the laptop at home. : )