Tag Archives: Joe Wallace

Freelance Follies: The Books of Toby Young

toby-youngI always compile a holiday reading list, and this year I’ve gotten through two volumes of writer Toby Young’s misadventures as a freelance journalist. How To Lose Friends and Alientate People is absolutely full of great freelance writing advice. No, scratch that. It’s an operator’s manual on how to screw yourself out of a magazine gig and become a total social pariah in your field.

I love this book. Young goes from assignment to assignment, making every possible bad move and ill-advised burst of activity. Want to learn how to do it wrong? This book is tops on every leve. How Toby Young could allow himself to be so…naked in these pages is mind-boggling. Even as you read the book, you admire him for being able to capture every ounce of shame he endured as he pinballs from one youthful cock-up to the next.

Now I’m nearly finished with Young’s follow-up, The Sound of No Hands Clapping, which is every bit as cringe-making as the first. I applaud Toby Young for having the courage to be THAT GUY for all the rest of us journos, freelance scribblers and wanna-be script writers. These books have filled my holiday with some much needed schadenfruede, without the guilt. If you are even remotely interested in what it’s like to write for a New York magazine (Young’s list of gigs included Vanity Fair) or doing a screenplay for Hollywood, these two books are required reading. Just don’t try these pages anywhere you have to read QUIETLY.

I Told You So: Chicago Tribune Files Chapter 11

The L.A. Times reports the Chicago Tribune has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. This is the start of what I predicted back in June with my screed Why the Chicago Tribune is Going to Fold.  When the top names at major papers like the Trib admit they are not computer savvy, you can practically see the vultures gathering above Chicago’s famous Tribune Tower.

Bye, bye, print newspapers…it was fun while it lasted. Even the New York Times is gasping for air, and it won’t be long before people will refer to print papers in the past tense. As I stated back in June, the Internet is NOT killing newspapers–they are doing a wonderful job of euthanizing themselves.

The Most Interesting Thing at Wired.com Today

Wired.com’s article on Henry Blodget begins, “Henry Blodget has never gotten used to the chorus of hate that follows his every move.” Believe it or not, that is NOT the most interesting thing about this article, at least not when it comes to writing. No, the most interesting thing about this villified former finance industry scapegoat (Wired’s words, not mine) is what is reported about Blodget’s approach to his new blog.

“Blodget tells his team to think of the site as talk radio.” Unquote.

Now THAT, friends, is a fascinating idea. One that bears thinking about. You might just see that mentality starting to evolve here. Dispensing with the “article” format in favor of the more stream-of-consiousness talk radio approach has definite appeal, no? Even blog style itself–which itself is decidedly loose and informal–could get an overhaul with that kind of thinking.

Talk radio, eh? Nice one, Blodgett.

Top Five Ways to Get More Clicks with Hot Headlines & Subheads

You might not consider an investment website like The Motley Fool to be a place to learn how to blog effectively, but think again. Learn by example by taking a good, long look at their great article This Week’s 5 Dumbest Stock Moves. Let’s break it down–why is this piece so excellent? How can you learn from this post? It’s simple, really:

1. An eye-grabbing headline makes you want to read more. Why are these stock moves so dumb? What makes the writer think these companies are wrongheaded and silly? You’ve already got a million questions and you’ve only just read the headline. Brilliant.

2. The use of “Top Ten” and other numbered lists ala David Letterman is a proven winner when it comes to getting your attention quickly.

3. Each entry in the top five gets its own goofy, but still clever subhead. Corny as they often are, you get an idea of what’s to come without duplicating the content in the first paragraph. Well done, Motley Fool!

4. The meat of  the writing under each subhead is easy to understand–OR is explained in layman’s terms to help the uninitiated. ThisFool.com blog post is a very good example of writing clear, concise material for an audience of varying levels of understanding of a complicated topic. The subhead teases you, but the paragraphs themselves give you plenty to chew on without choking on the finer points of investing.

5. The article is chock full of relevant outbound links to help you further understand the piece. Note that some of the most relevant outbound links are very close to those clever subheads. Coincidence? Perhaps not.

Take a lesson from Fool.com and watch interest in your next blog post rise.

Freelance Tax Hell? Take Some Sage Advice

It’s not tax hell time…YET. But do you know what your tax issues or problems might be when filing for 2008? Do you know what’s good and what’s bad when it comes to deductions? Are you scared of the big, bad tax man? Here is a list of random links I found while doing research into freelance tax issues.

Top Ten Words Never Used in Print Anymore

I have a weird fetish for archaic words. Anachronistic slang is especially amusing. Who uses “daddy-o” anymore? Nobody, that’s who. “Squares” is a word that now refers to packs of cigarettes traded in prison as opposed to straightlaced, non-adventurous people. What’s a Yippie? You used to be able to point to 60s rabble-rouser Abbie Hoffman as an example, but there aren’t any more Yippies, period.

So much has fallen out of the vernacular, but I am constantly amused reading dialog in fiction written in the 60s and 70s (especially John D. MacDonald, Donald Westlake, Gregory McDonald, Stephen King’s early work, etc. You’ll also hear plenty in movies of the period…they don’t write ’em like that anymore!)

10. Jive. A pejorative, as in “jive turkey”. A hilariously dated 60s/70s colloquialism.  Can be used as a verb. “Don’t jive me.” Should be brought back with haste, especially in technical writing and documentary filmmaking.

9. Tutti Frutti. A flavor popular in the 40s. Does anyone actually know what Tutti Frutti tasted like? A genuine mystery, at least to me. OK, so technically this is a proper name and not a “word” per se, but it’s still evocative of a particular era and has long since fallen out of fashion. Please note that I make no claims to be 100% accurate or encyclopedic in these references, they’re just as I understand their useages.

8. Hobo. A vagrant, sometimes an occasional itinerant laborer. As opposed to a tramp who was basically a traveling homeless person who does not work. Not to be confused with a stewbum–a drunkard who often resorts to drinking any liquid containing alcohol.

7. Hi-Fi. As in, “high fidelity”. Used to refer to expensive stereo gear. Outdated technology. Equally amusing are references to a “crystal set” which used to mean a radio build using a crystal as a semiconductor. These radios required no electricity to operate, drawing power from the radio signal itself picked up by the antenna.

6. Leet. Commonly used in underground press in the mid to late 90s; short for “elite”. Often rendered in a very annoying alphanumeric modification of english called “leet-speak” as L33t.

5. Warez. See #6. Referred to illegally distributed copies of retail software made available for free download.

4. Flivver, usually in reference to an automobile.

3. Typist. Old school writing technology job requiring the use of a typewriter–a primitive manual word processor which pressed words onto paper without the use of a printer.

2. Shorthand–a form of secretarial code used to write large volumes of words quickly. Once a required, seemingly arcane skill now lost to the ages unless you like poring over ancient library books.

1. Y2K–shorthand for a computer glitch expected to disable or shut down all computers one minute after midnight on New Year’s Eve 2000. This phrase was all the rage for two years before the big moment, which came and went without so much as a whisper of a problem. The digital version of another anachronistic phrase no longer in use: “World War Three”.