Why Living Your Dream Is Awesome

I wanted to delete this immediately after writing it, but then I remembered what it was like to start pursuing a writing career. It’s lonely and confusing and nobody successful seems to care to explain the difference between journalism and marketing (that’s an actual question we come across, believe me.) If that sounds familiar, this post is for you and for the ones coming behind you.

20130512_212444

THE BEST DREAMS START AWKWARDLY

When I was 17, I was a lot of things and none of them that great. But I had an epiphany one day that I promptly announced to everybody around me. It was the first career goal I ever set for myself and I didn’t even know it at the time, but it became vitally important to me as the years went on.

I don’t know why the impulsively blurted words of an awkward teenage kid had that kind of effect. I like discarding memories of my adolescence for reasons, so why that one emerged unblemished from an otherwise tumultuous period in my memory is beyond me.

But emerge it did, glorious, unattainable and utterly unrealistic. What was it?

“I’m going to get published by the time I’m 25,” I announced that day in a tiny high school computer lab that had been purpose built to house twelve computers without any thought to ventilation. I could have (should have) attributed that particular stroke of spontaneity to the sweltering heat, but I didn’t. That one thing stuck itself to the inside of my forehead and gave me tempting looks for years.

Fast forward two and a half years. My novel writing was slow. I couldn’t stick with a story past 10,000 words. I wanted everything and accomplished nothing, but what more could you expect from a nineteen-year-old who never planned beyond a slapdash dream when the mood struck?

Slapdash dreams indeed. I decided then that I was going to write for magazines and newspapers. I didn’t know what that meant, or what it would require, and I had no idea that magazines and newspapers are actually quite different. All I knew was that this was going to happen because it was writing.

It took about two months before that fantasy ended. I had accomplished nothing, my rent was past due and I wasn’t eating enough. So I got a job like a real human being. I kicked dust on my freelance writing dream and sped on with my life a little morosely, but there was a future to be had.

NOTHING HAPPENS OVERNIGHT

Fast forward again. In 2010, found a novel I absolutely had to finish, and by the spring of 2012, I was up to my ears in it. I was 23. Less than two years left to “get published.”

What did that even mean? Why was it so important?

To put it tactfully, I’ve never been that great at punching clocks. I hate monotony. It drains the life out of me. The words of a lazy person, I know. And I worried about exactly that for years. But there, finally, I was about to find an answer.

The family business closed down that spring. For years, the recession hammered a business that was just coming into its own. I watched my dad work around the clock to keep it afloat, but even that wasn’t enough and it crashed and burned just before things got on the upswing. It’s an awful story of bad timing and worse luck.

But that forced me to make some decisions, so I manned up and took a summer construction job, building concrete foundations for grain bins. Because “yarrrr, money,” but also because I wanted to prove that I could work.

I made it through the summer. Or, at least, I emerged on the far end of it. I felt somehow successful despite everything I’d lost to the harshness of those 4-5 months. It’s mostly banished to foggy memory by now, but I came out with two things: money for an engagement ring and a deep, insatiable desire to write and make a living with it.

And that’s where I found the answer to my years-old question. Why was it so important to honour my goal of publication? I had tried to enjoy “regular work” for years. I’d tried jobs I was good at and jobs that threatened to cut me to pieces and bury me in the concrete (quite an elaborate threat, honestly. They deserve some credit.) But in the end, I hated every last one of them and it wasn’t laziness.

I needed to write and be published because it would prove to myself and everybody else that I was talented enough that I could do what I loved and make money doing it. I knew how damnedly slim my chances were, but I needed to do it. More for myself than anyone around me. I’d grown into a certain degree of apathy by that point. If I was going to accomplish my dreams, it was going to start and end with me. I didn’t need anyone to give me the go-ahead.

So I started studying what it meant to write, who to approach and how to write something they liked. That took three months.

HARD WORK PAYS OFF

Near the beginning of December, a trade magazine I had pitched responded with a request for samples. My heart sank then. I had no samples. I wasn’t an accomplished writer. I had nothing to show.

But reality be damned, I buckled down and searched for the most interesting industry news I could find. Then, I wrote three articles in 24 hours and sent them off, fingers crossed, teeth clenched and a profusely sweating brow. (A seasoned freelance writer would tell you that is exactly the wrong way to approach a potential client. Editors can smell the desperation.)

What I got back a week later was a response somewhere along the lines of, “Sure. Here’s an article for you.” I only read the first line before I lost it. I jumped up and down and ran around the house, trying not to yell at the top of my lungs. Somebody liked my writing enough to offer to pay me for something.

I sent the article off two weeks before my 24th birthday and it was published in February of 2013, 11 months ahead of my schedule. Around the same time, I got a tidy cheque in the mail for about $650.

It took almost seven years to validate that one, tiny thing, but it has changed the way I see the world. Encourage your dreams, polish them, cherish them. Frame them above your mantelpiece, put candles around them and hold vigils for them. Pour as much energy into them as you can afford.

Why?

Because, somehow, eventually, one day, you might actually see them become reality. And even if that reality is never as good as you wished it would be (Good Lord, the bills! The bills!), it’s still a way of thumbing your nose at everything that goes wrong and that’s worth something in and of itself.

———————————-

Questions? Post them in the comments and I’ll try to sound all aloof and intelligent at you! But seriously, ask away. I might have an answer or two.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Why You Need to Know the Product You’re Selling

I had a weird thing happen a few years back. My girlfriend (now fiance) and I were walking through a mall, playing dodge-the-annoying-kiosk-salesperson, as you do.

Source: Turningpa.com

Well, we tried to dodge them as well as we could. It didn’t last long.

We got approached by a friendly gentleman who was manning a kiosk on his own that day. My lady friend really liked the hair straighteners he was selling, but there was a problem.

See, our friendly gentleman was bald. Not a hint of hair anywhere on his head. This might be the first time in my life I could be called out for discriminating against the unwigged, but the guy didn’t have any way of demonstrating his product except on potential customers. And a demonstration like that crosses dangerously over the hairdresser intimacy line.

Okay, silliness aside, he didn’t make his sale. As nice as his product was, it was expensive and he didn’t make much of an effort to convince us that it was worth the price. He went straight from, “You look like you need this” to “Guys, my wife left me.”

Straight from intruding to sob story. He didn’t generate any empathy at all. This sale just went downhill so fast. Eventually, we had to forcefully pull ourselves away while he begged us just to let him “open the books today.”

It was terribly uncomfortable, and it all came down to one issue. He didn’t understand his product well enough to convince us to consider it. He probably could have, even though he was exactly the least likely person ever to use it, but he just hadn’t made that step yet.

Business doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, at its simplest level, it’s very simple. It’s not easy, but the math basically does itself.

Me? I’m in the business of selling writing. Why? Because it’s what I do. I’d do this even if I didn’t get paid for it, so it makes perfect sense to start tailoring it specifically toward people who want it.

The only thing that’s left is coming up with reasons why they want it.

Are you a writer? Thinking of becoming one? I’m a member of the Freelance Writers Den*, an online community of aspiring and professional freelance writers. The forums there are full of active discussions on how to improve your writing and marketing and the site has a huge supply of classes and resources to help grow your freelancing business. Check out the link at the top of this paragraph to see more!

*Affiliate link to the Den.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

When It’s Time to Get Off Your Ass

A friend asked me today how my writing was coming along. When I tried to explain that I thought nobody liked it, he blindsided me with this: “Have you not spent the last six months being paid to write?”

Guidoux's profile at stock.xchng

Photo credit:guidoux at stock.xchng

Over the past few months, I’ve let myself slide a little. The magazine I was writing for had a bad habit of giving vague assignments and forgetting to specify deadlines, so we stumbled through a lot of miscommunications. To make it worse, I never heard back about articles I submitted. A cheque would arrive in the mail and that would be all I saw from the article at all. No requests for revision, no pointers on what could maybe be polished next time. I know I can’t possibly be such a good writer that my work doesn’t need some refining every now and then. That should just be par for the course, I thought.

Anyway, that somehow snowballed into me thinking I couldn’t do any writing properly. It was that or conclude that I must be a magical writing fairy who never makes mistakes and I knew that couldn’t be it.

I took it hard. Not all at once, of course. It was a sort of gradual crunching up, going a little more fetal every day as I asked people for work, and eventually started pleading. It was bad.

I knew something had to be done, so I started looking around for some help. I’d signed up for the waiting list at the Freelance Writers Den* a while ago, but had no idea what to expect there, so when they opened a few positions to new members, I paid the membership fee hesitantly. What could I possibly gain from a gated community that I couldn’t find for free elsewhere?

Anyway, I joined despite my reservations and set to asking questions. Most of them were probably very stupid questions, born of almost nonexistent confidence and a desperate need for work. The magazine I mentioned earlier was running way late with some cheques, so I needed to do something for money, but even more importantly, I desperately needed to do something that would get appreciated.

But all of that desperation and hopelessness got smashed by that simple question. It got me thinking. How long am I going to spend trying to get clues from “the successful?” I could waste months learning and never get anywhere because the more I read about these other writers making six figures, the more I thought I’d never be able to do everything they did.

So, this is me getting off my ass. I learned everything I needed to know to sell my writing when I got my first assignment. Letting other people get between me and that knowledge is just another way to give up on my dreams.

 

* That’s my affiliate link to the Freelance Writer’s Den. If you’re a freelance writer or you’re thinking of becoming one, the Den has a ton of resources that have more than paid off for me already. It’s worth checking out if you’re serious about moving up.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Nothing Like a Nice Cup of Morning Coffee

Alright, folks! I’m back, more or less, though I won’t be posting as regularly as I used to.

You might have noticed that the posts on this blog disappeared for about a week. I was doing some work on a new site and needed to get a few things sorted. Nothing to worry about.

And speaking of a new site, I have one! It’s my official freelance writing website, so if that interests you, check it out here. It’s likely that I’ll move this blog over to the same domain eventually, but I’ll give plenty of warning if I decide to do that.

I’m fighting a particularly debilitating cold this week, so putting one word in front of the other feels a little complicated. My brain wants naps, you see, but I know that naps are the embodiment of evil and shouldn’t be had. Not that it stops me. Curse you, brain!

Okay, I’m cutting this post short before I start rambling. Nobody likes a rambler. I have had some neat ideas I wanted to share lately, so I’ll be back in quick order. Just as soon as I remember not to put commas everywhere they don’t belong.

Morning Coffee: Needles and Haystacks

coffeeBanner_1

So yeah, hi. Been awhile.

I took a few days off my regular person job to finish a few articles I have going, so I thought I’d also look for more. You know, so I can stop working the regular person job.

It turns out (and this is not surprising, but it “turns out” anyway, so deal with it) that finding regular work as a freelance writer is a bit like trying to find sand in a pile of dirt. It’s there for the taking, but it’s often impossible to differentiate between the good and the bad.

I recently came across a tech blog that was looking for writers. I won’t name names because that would be silly and it isn’t the point, but their articles were mostly just summaries of press releases. Which is fine. The blog looked like it got a good number of views and comments, so I thought I’d give it a shot. What I got in return was a little surprising.

In short, I got offered $150 to $250 for a minimum of 17 articles per week. The offer promised each article would take one hour to write, but I’ve done this enough times to know that would be a best case scenario. However, if we assume it would take one hour to write an article like that, I’d be working 17 hours per week, which could, yes, be done in two days, for up to $250 per month. That’s around $58 for two full workdays. And that’s the best case scenario.

But it doesn’t stop there. No, after watching those numbers get flung at me, I was told that all of this glorious pay would only take hold after I had proven myself. So now I’m being told that I get to work for free with $29 per day to look forward to.

not sure if stupid

not sure if stupid

For the record, when a job offer ends with, “some of our writers make up to $350 a month,” run. Just run. Your most generously compensated contributors make less than they would flipping burgers, and probably work close to fulltime doing only that? For what? A resume?

If you’re worth hiring, you’re worth paying. Simple as that. It shouldn’t be complicated.

John Scalzi had something to say about this as well.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

A Sick Day is Just a Black Hole to Put Your Time Into

I am the sickest of the sicks today and I blame snow. Go away, snow. Nobody likes you anymore. We were all like, “yaaaay, Christmaaaaas” when you first showed up. Five months ago. Seriously, how can anybody even think that’s a proper amount of time to stick around. GIT.

So, I have the grumpies. For damned good reason. But still. Them grumpies will stick around for the day. Or until the cotton falls out of my brain. Whichever comes first.

Lately, I’ve been busy with work of varying occupation. I write and then I work in a machine shop and then I write again. It’s a little bit like being bipolar, really. I’d like it over with as quickly as possible, but the bills need paying and, frankly, filling time I would not otherwise be receiving a paycheque for with activities that do give me money seems like a great idea. So that’s how that is.

Anyway, taking today off to do nothing but sleep sounds like a nightmare, so I thought I’d at least take a break from napping and tossing and turning on a couch that has an inexplicable penchant for making my back sweat (whose back sweats? Seriously.) and post here, run-ons and all.

Zombieland became a TV show without me noticing. I’m not sure how that came about, but now that I’ve seen the pilot, I’m disappointed I ever knew it existed. The editing was off-time, the acting was childish and the story is as shallow as your average video game shooter list of go-here, go-here, go-here, explosion, done. The best scene was, perhaps for the best, the first one. Which I would recommend because the acting is actually believable and the scene is funny. But it goes so far downhill after that. Tallahassee is the kind of character you want to see die. That’s not a good trait for the character who’s supposed to be a badass.

For the record, I’m not saying you shouldn’t watch it. Who knows? If the show gets enough attention and they decide to give it a season, maybe they’ll actually put some effort in. But you’d do yourself some good to watch it with a grain of salt.

Now I’m going to go stare blankly at my TV for a while. I hope your weekend is full of your favourite things.

Oh, and North Korea is a big baby whiner. Waaaaaaaaaa.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Something To Fill The Blanks In A Little

That writing withdrawal sure hits hard. I’m not sure why I even let myself go so long without it.

I keep making promises about writing more here and it seems that I deliver less and less each time. So, I think I’m through with that. I’m going to write what I want until I can start writing what I should. It’s a different approach at least.

It’s been weird lately. Too full. My head feels stuffy and I don’t have energy for anything except faking it. Which is fine. It happens to everyone. But I don’t like it. And I don’t really have someone to crack the whip anymore, so I just drag my feet through the mud and wonder why they get heavy.

Anyway. Here’s something from right now. It’s a little bit cyclic. Feedback would be great.

* * *

Rain. It’s like salvation for asphalt, except it doesn’t wash away the stink. It just wets the tar and lets it up into our nostrils so that we can carry the city’s sins for a little while.

Umbrellas don’t keep that off. Rooftops try and fail. There’s always some mud to walk through.

I watched the end of a two-month drought streak across foggy windowpanes from where I sat at the bar. I’d gone on for a few drinks already, and I’d have a couple more before I called it a day. There’s no place for a man like me in the rain. Not for the books anyway.

They only pay in cash when you work out of the sun.

Speaking of cash, I had a thick fold of it packing my hip pocket against the bottom of the bar. I was looking to balance the other leg.

A fox settled onto the stool next to me. I could smell it on her, vanilla promise and sweet, sweet lipstick to hide what lay inside. She was all curves and seduction and her red dress threatened to cough her up.

“You could turn that mug into something a little less menacing if you let the drinks cheer you up, you know,” she said coyly.

“If that’s supposed to pass for a compliment, you could use a few more drinks yourself,” I growled and sucked down the last of my beer.

“I’m more of a conversationalist than a drinker,” she replied and fixed me with something between a sly smile and piercing gaze. “What puts a man like you so close against the bar?”

I didn’t meet her eyes. They would be poisonous. “A combination of fortune and none of yours,” I finally muttered and nodded at a fresh drink.

“Good fortune?”

“That depends.” I drank.

“I guess it’d kill you to tell me what it depends on.”

I snorted. “Not me, it wouldn’t.”

“Well why don’t you tell me your name then? We can start fresh.”

“Lady,” I turned to give her a firm look and met her damned eyes. If they were poison, it was mixed with too much honey to see. I wondered what that did to her perception. “If I had a name to give and “start fresh,” we’d have to have a place to start from. And as far as I know, you’re just another fixture in this damned drinking joint. Now if you don’t mind.”

She accepted that with quiet silence for a moment, but I could hear the gears spinning. “I don’t suppose you’d care to buy me a drink then?”

Well, if that was how she wanted it. I bought her a drink.

“I can’t promise to be here long,” I said after a long silence.

“I don’t expect so.”

I liked her style. Questions I could say no to and she kept her assumptions to herself. “What gives you that idea?” I asked.

“You’re here for something you’d rather not do,” she said simply. “You’ve been drinking since afternoon and you’re still sober as a priest. Whatever your next step is, you can’t take it. I’ve seen that look before.”

“You’ve seen it in the eyes of sailors about to leave their clutch. That’s hardly the same thing.”

“Sailors can come back. Guns for hire never do.”

She didn’t have to assume because she knew. My spine went cold, so I took another drink.

“What did you expect?” she asked after watching me work it all out.

“I can’t say I did much expecting at all,” I muttered into the glass. “But you saw that too.”

“I don’t miss much. That’s why we’re both here.”

“I’m not so sure about that.”

“And why not?’

I met her eyes again. They were getting foggy. “Murder is hard. But killing in a fair fight is easy.”

Her rosy lips parted and those poisoned eyes widened. “You knew?”

“I don’t miss much.”

The rain felt good as it washed her scent from my nostrils and replaced it with the smell of tar underfoot. The mud would wash away.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 395 other followers