by The Writer
This article is about my journey in the field of writing.
THE FREELANCE WRITER
"Remember, people may keep you (or me) from being a published author but no one can stop you from being a writer all you have to do is write and keep writing. While you're working at a career, while you're raising children, while you're Trout fishing - keep writing! No one can stop you but you."
What is a writer? The simple description is that, the writer is a person who writes. If you can write down your ideas, thoughts, emotions, plans, concerns and everything that operates inside your head and heart, you're a writer, as simple as that. However, there are two types of people who write: the one who is appreciated and the one who is not. If you want to be appreciated, respected and compensated you should do more than just write, you must exert effort to make sure that your writing is worth reading. As Samuel Johnson once said, "What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure". Writing is not about "rocket science" in fact you don't need to have a genius mind to be able to write something; what you need is willingness to learn, passion, dedication, determination and creativity in order to succeed. Writing is like breathing the air, it's should be done in a natural way because it's part of our everyday life. The more you practice, the more you get better and the more you get used to it, the more it becomes permanent in you. In the "Old Days" the art of writing was confined to only few people; most of them belongs to the middle-class and to the oligarchs. Nevertheless, as time goes by the art of writing became an integral part of our daily life as it coincided with the progress of literacy. Today, unlike in the old days, writing is no longer an art to be mastered but it's just an ordinary tool that we utilize daily in order to achieve something. Just like in my case, I've been working in the private security industry for more than twenty years now. As supervisor my main job is to write security reports, memorandums and business communication, I've been doing this kind of writing for the past two decades now. Based on my experienced and observation, there are only two types of persons in this world: the one who can write well and the one who can't. Those who can write well often than not gets the advantage (promotion and salary increase) in whatever field he or she is working, while those who can't are left behind. Modesty aside, my colleagues and officers appreciate the quality of my paper works hence I've earned the reputation as the guy in our organization who can write well. However, my journey before I reached this level of success was not an easy one; it was filled with trials and errors. In the process I've done a lot of reading and practice writing. I also studied the writing styles of other people (prominent and even less prominent) - it was not an easy task. Now, I'm writing not for the sake of my office work, I'm writing for a deeper reason.
The great American writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau once said "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away". I've been following this different drummer for some years now and I must admit that what I'm treading is not an easy path. What I have at present is a mixed emotion: pleasure and pain, happiness and sadness. I've written some articles that I've sent to major publications but didn't receive any reply from them; some of my works were left unfinished while others were just hidden in my cabinet. I've also joined various writing clubs at Facebook and online publications where I've submitted my other works; I received many positive and negative comments; some of the criticisms are constructive others are destructive. My poems were appreciated and praised by many and it was criticized by others. Was I hurt by the criticisms? Yes, of course. Yet I always told myself that this is part of the process, so I willingly took the blows. My major accomplishment so far is the compilation of my English poems in book form called 'Free Verse and other Poems'. A copy of that was sent to my friend in Sri Lanka. I can't remember how and when exactly it started but as far as I remember I was already in my late 20's when I entertained the idea of writing. At first, I'm just writing at that time in order to kill time, just to deal with boredom. Scribbling few verses in scratch paper and writing few paragraphs on a pad or notebook concerning whatever topic or idea that enters to my mind. My writing then was purely desultory it has no focus. This time I want to write because this is what my heart is ordering me to do; I have no choice, I've got to step into the music. Every writer has a field of expertise or niche, in my case I want to concentrate in writing articles and poetry. I love prose and poetry.
One of the sacred rules in writing that I've learned is that, you shouldn't write for the sake of fame and money. Write because you've a message that you want to share to other people. I respect and accept this doctrine. Nevertheless, as a normal human being it would be very hypocrite of me if I say that I don't crave for recognition and payment. Every writer whether they're humble or noble at one point in their life has desired to be recognized and appreciated by their readers. Most of the time money is just secondary for the writer, what matters most is the recognition of the editor, publisher and reader. They say that many writers are introverts, probably this is true, yet it doesn't mean that they're also Narcissistic. Behind their solitude and "weirdness" writers are human beings who want their work to be appreciated and respected not only by the publishing company but by their readers as well.
I want my writings to be published, I want the editors and the publishing house to accept and buy my ideas; I want the public in general to read my works in the magazine, newspapers and other periodicals. I want appreciation, recognition and compensation. I want to establish my reputation as a good writer - I want the glory of the byline that every writer craves. And what if I fail? What if they don't accept me? What shall I do if they reject me? Well, if that happens to me, I have no choice but to face the future alone; I'll travel the remaining miles of my journey all by myself. I shall live on the principle laid down by Katherine Neville; I shall continue my writing with or without the approval of other people. My writing won't stop just because no editor and publishing house accepts it; therefore, I shall continue to write even without them. And I'll always have an audience (my family and few friends) promise. If nobody wants to buy my writings, then I'll give it away for free. The satisfaction from my writing shall be my payment. If I'm to be enslaved by my writing, so be it, I shall live with that condition if that's my curse. However, before I yield and accept that possibility, I must do everything first to assert my right to be recognized and appreciated as a legitimate writer; I've to build my portfolio as a writer. They say that the competition in the market is tough, so what?
Of course, my goal is to be a freelance writer; to be independent and self-employed. The main objective of any person who knew how to value his talent is to become the boss of his own. Why waste your whole life working for other people when you can build your own source of income? The idea of becoming a freelance writer is not only comforting but at the same time it's a lucrative ambition. Yet, this kind of ambition is not easy to achieve; it'll take a lot of hard work, patience and determination before you reach the top. I have nothing against the idea of working in a company or government institution. Nevertheless, if you're seeking a convenient way to live your life having your own source of income or business is the ideal one.
I'm not a businessman, I tried once (fish vending) and it was a disaster. But since I'm planning to be a freelance writer, I think I've no choice but to adapt some of the major qualities of a business minded person. Since, having a freelance job (any kind of freelance work for that matter) is like operating a business enterprise. In short, you're the captain of your own ship.
Creating your own product - like a businessman the freelance writer is responsible in creating his own product and maintaining the quality thereof. Whether you're writing poems, novel, short story, lyrics, blog, essays, research, biography whatever is your niche the same rule in business applies: always make your product good. The quality and quantity of your product is always in your hand. Business enterprise either excels or falls down mainly because of the quality of their product.
Marketing your product - as a freelance writer it's also your responsibility to market your products to your customers; it's your obligation to persuade the editor and the publishing company to buy the piece of work that you're selling to them. You're the only person who will sit at the negotiating table. Many promising writers have talent and skill, their work is alright. However, they're either too lazy to offer it (to the publishing house) or they just probably don't know how they will market their product. Hence, their opportunity and talent are wasted. While some of them are afraid to show their works to the public because they fear criticism and rejection.
Handling competition - remember that you're not the only fish in the water therefore expect competition. In the business world many entrepreneurs are crush down by the tough competition in the market and same thing happens to freelance writers. Many neophyte writers succeed while others failed because they can't withstand the heat of the competition. The Darwinian theory of the evolution of species is applicable in situation like this, "survival of the fittest and the elimination of the unfit".
Aggressive calculated risk - read the biographies of successful businessmen (local as well as in abroad) and you will learn that they're all risk takers, daring and imaginative. They've no qualms in venturing into the unchartered territories; "to hell with fear" was their motto. Budding freelance writers (like me) with no portfolio and writing credentials should adapt this kind of mind set if they want to be successful in their chosen career. There's really nothing to fear but fear itself. Fear is a great paralyzer, get rid of it.
Venturing into the unknown - many people fear the idea of going into the terra incognita (unknown region) because it's only natural for "ordinary" people to fear the things that they don't understand. But business minded people are not like the ordinary people; they're always looking at things from a different perspective. For them, opportunity lies in the unknown. The freelance writer must likewise have this kind of thinking in order to see opportunity that's waiting for them beyond that unknown region.
Bankruptcy - behind every successful business organization is a story of bankruptcy. This is an inevitable part of any business ventures, at some point along their way, business people suffered tremendous loss one way or another. The weak perished, the tough survives. Freelance writers have their own version of bankruptcy, it manifests in many forms. It's up to the freelance writer to adjust; either he or she will go along with the current or go against the tide to survive.
The ability to return to action - for me, the most wonderful quality of a businessman that a freelance writer needs to adapt is resiliency; the ability to return to action after experiencing defeat after defeat. In the final analysis this is what matters most. This is really the most important barometer of success. Benjamin Disraeli the British Prime Minister once said, "The secret of success is constancy of purpose".
I've always prided myself as a voracious reader and for that reason I can honestly say that I'm not really a fan of Mrs. Ayn Rand and her philosophy of "Rational Selfishness" but I must give credit where credit is due. I really liked her novel called the "Fountainhead" and while I was reading it, I must admit that I've learned to love the protagonist Howard Roark though the pages of that book. Howard Roark was kicked out from the architectural college where he was studying because of his non-conformist attitude towards the teachings of his professors. Then he applied and worked as an apprentice to an old maverick architect who was living on the brink of bankruptcy at that time since no client in town trusted him because his taste in architecture was very unorthodox. Eventually, Roark went on his own as a freelance architect. However, often than not Howard Roark was unsuccessful in getting the trust and confidence of his prospective clients since he was always arguing with them. Roark was the modern type of architect who believes that the skyscraper is the future design in the world of architecture; he hates the classical (Greek and Roman structural designs) model. Unfortunately, most of his clients want these old architectural styles, Roark refused to yield so he always ends up by not getting the contract. Roark was so adamant in his principle that he's not willing to compromise not even a single portion of his design. Howard Roark was not really much concern about the money or big commission that he will earn from the projects being offered to him; he has only one condition that he constantly ask from his clients. That, they must let him do the design; that, the project must be done according to his vision. Because of Roark's maverick style many of his illustrious and wealthy prospective clients have turned their backs on him; they even regarded him as insane. Howard Roark suffered rejection, ridicule and humiliation yet he didn't give up. He reached the point of bankruptcy that he decided to close his modest office; to earn a meager income he worked in a quarry as a laborer. Eventually, Roark was able to come back in the world of architecture and made success.
If you believe in yourself, if you really believe that you're a writer, never compromise. This is the moral lesson of the story. A freelance writer should emulate Howard Roark who maintained the integrity and sacredness of his art by not yielding to anybody. I believe that there are many freelance writers who are prostituting and bastardizing their own art by kowtowing to the demands of their clients. They do this for the sake of money even though what is being asked from them is against their principle and philosophy. They would willingly sacrifice their creativity and originality just to get the "juicy" contract, pathetic. Rejection is painful, it is frustrating but that is part of the process you won't be able to escape from it. Learn how to handle rejection while maintaining your integrity as a writer; imitate the example of Architect Howard Roark.
The good thing about being a freelance writer is that you can always defy the rules. Nobody can dictate you, unless you allow them. Unlike when you're working in a government or corporation you have a boss who will always tell you what he wants you to write. Of course, you can say no to your boss just like "Bartleby the Scrivener" in Herman Melville story however just makes sure that you're ready to leave the office anytime; because for sure your boss will fire you out from the job. If you haven't read the story of Bartleby I suggest for you to read it, it's a nice story and I'm sure you'll like it.
In my case, I'm a human rights activist, I'm not a member of any militant organization but I've always expressed my opposition against the government, corporation and other entities that violates the human rights and dignity of the people. As a freelance writer I can always write my defiance against all kinds of human rights abuses without reservation since I'm not obliged to please anybody.
In her book "The Author's Toolkit" Mary Embree said, "If you would write, read" furthermore she said, "read works that inspires you, excite you, enlighten you, entertain or surprise you - books that touch your feelings." No writer can write without reading first, in the same manner that a painter cannot paint without his brush. My love for writing came late, my first love was reading. I started reading books voraciously when I was a freshman in college. The first American classic novel that I've read was called "Uncle Tom's Cabin" by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Then it was followed by "The Count of Monte Cristo" by Alexandre Dumas and "Les Miserable" by Victor Hugo. These three books were my launching pad in my journey to the wonderful world of reading. So, before I became a writer, I'm a reader first.
It's alright to write and write without conducting reading and research if you're writing a personal journal (diary) or a memoir. But if you're writing an article you really need to do some research.
The writer must know how to accomplish these two; he should know how to create and how to innovate. His mind should be creative and at the same time innovative. Creating something means you're writing something that hasn't been written or discussed before by other writers. Innovating means you're expounding, analyzing or exploring something that has already been written; you're giving it a new twist, so to speak. Take for example the ancient book in military strategy called the "Art of war" it was created (written) by a Chinese general named Sun Tzu. Nevertheless, many scholars then and up to now are writing about this book. They're analyzing continuously the relevance of this ancient book in today's modern warfare as well as the applicability of Sun Tzu's principles in business management; that's innovation. Whether you're creating or innovating, as a freelance writer you need your imagination to work effectively to make your writing more appealing in the eyes of your reader.
Aside from the undeniable fact that Harland Sanders the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant and Ray Crock the creator of McDonald fast food chain are both successful businessmen, what else do they have in common? They both started operating their respective business empires at old age at the time when they were supposed to retire. Aside from the age factor, their health condition was neither good at that time.
Winston Churchill was more than 70 years old when he became the prime Minister of Great Britain. He led his country in its struggle for survival against the "odious apparatus of the Nazi rule". As long as your brain is normal and as long you can write with your hands there's no excuse for a freelance writer not to write. James A. Michener the American author of more than forty books most of which are fictional started his writing career when he was already forty years old and he continued to write until his eighties.
Well, they're all wonderful people and if they were able to do it, why not me? I'm forty-three (43) years old now, Diabetic and my vision is blurring yet I know that I can still establish myself as a freelance writer. I'm not yet old for this. If I'm lucky to live until eighty (80) years old that means I still have thirty (30) years ahead of me to fulfill my dream of becoming a freelance writer. Indeed, age is just a factor. If you fail a thousand times in your attempt to achieve glory that's not a tragedy; the real tragedy in life is not to try at all. Procrastination is a thief, get rid of it; if you want to do something do it now.
The late British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli said, "Politics is the only profession where there is life after death". Indeed, in politics the loss of a politician in an election is not forever, he can always make a return; the demise is just symbolic. The best example of this is Richard Nixon, he was defeated in the presidential election by John F. Kennedy and when he runs for the position of governor of California he was defeated again. Yet, Nixon staged a spectacular come-back in politics when he was finally elected as President of the United States of America.
In writing there's also life after death, the writer can always resurrect from the grave. He can re-invent himself whenever he wants. Personally speaking, I believe that once a writer is always a writer. Whether you're a published writer or not you're a writer. I've turned my back on writing many times; I told myself that this isn't going to work out, that writing isn't for me. The negative voice inside my head keeps on telling me, 'you're not really a writer, you're just assuming', 'give up the idea it's not going to work'. However, despite all these I always return to writing as if it is my natural haven. I killed myself before but look I'm resurrected and I'm writing again.
I was trying to live an ordinary life, I just want peace and happiness, I'm not even craving for wealth and fame; I just want to be simple. Yet, out of nowhere I heard the beating of this different drummer, at first, I tried to ignore it. But the more I disregard it the more I hear the sound. I didn't plan to become a writer, but I can't resist the calling. Am I romanticizing my experience in an overstated way? What is waiting for me in the future? Will I be successful or not? Honestly, I don't know the answers to all these questions. The only thing that matters to me right now is my writing, I want to write, write and write. I've been rejected before and was harshly criticized and I don't give a damn; I shall continue what I've started. I shall build my portfolio and as soon as I have it I shall send Query Letter to magazines and newspapers to offer my freelance service as a writer.
Honestly speaking, I sometimes envy those people with ordinary mind; people who are contented on what they have in their life. I admire them because they live an ordinary life with their love ones. Accept it or not, the mind of a writer is not normal; it is situated somewhere beyond the level of normalcy. This condition is a gift at the same time it's a curse. It's a gift because you can create or describe your own version of life by using the power of your thoughts and imagination. In effect the writer is like a god because he can create things (good or bad) inside his head. However, his talent in writing is also a curse since it enslaves him all the time and he can't get away from it.
When shall I cease writing? I guess I shall stop writing as soon as the beating of the drum stops. I'll stop when the inspiration is gone, I'll stop when I'm finally free. Perhaps I can continue to live a normal life by that time. However, as long as I hear the drum beat of the different drummer I won't be able to cease from writing; he's my master and I'm the slave.