Archive for January, 2008

By the way, one piece of advise about getting testimonials:  When you have a happy client, ask immediately for him to write a blurb you can use.

While this post is about fiction writing, I think it contains much truth about commercial writing and how a real professional will go about doing his job for a client. Go read John Scalzi’s blog entry where novelist Marcus Sakey confesses, “I don’t have big ideas.” What he says is quite insightful for anyone who makes a living or who wants to make a living writing:

What I have instead is a string of little ideas. Observations about a situation, bits of dialogue, a flash of character. Incomplete notions rather than perfectly formed a-ha! moments.

Obviously, by the time, you have completed a project, you have to have articulated notions that are no longer incomplete. But you have plenty of time for that in the four stages of production.

(Oh, I haven’t mentioned the four stages yet? I like to use the acronym ASAP because deadlines are, well, deadlines. ASAP stands for:

  • Amass data.
  • Shape your research.
  • Author your content.
  • Perfect your content.

See, you get to wait until “P” before everything must be, duh, perfect.)

The problem happens when you lack confidence to start. If you are paid on a contractual basis, almost certainly your client isn’t counting on you billing him for time spent looking out the window. You have to start producing ideas right away.

So be satisfied with small ones. As you amass data by research and shape it into an outline, you will surely find your better ideas growing while shedding the ones that were never that promising. By the time you are done you will find that you gained inspiration through the process.

On the other hand, if you expect to find the magic bullet before you begin, it is likely you may never get started.

The Mad Russian knows my work and decides to pay me a compliment. For the record, not only did I not pay him, I didn’t even ask him to write those nice things.

Hourly rates

Here’s an interesting post on figuring out your hourly rate for writing.  It’s ancient history in blog years but it is new to me.

I’ve received a great opportunity.  Read about it here.

I don’t read this blog for GTD stuff, but I thought this entry was well worth pointing out. Make sure the items on your t0-do list are doable. Learn from her meltdown.

I mentioned here that simply offering educated literacy means you can save people time–people whose time is worth a great deal and will pay you for saving it. I wrote this to especially encourage beginners to be willing to start out without lacking confidence. Even beginners have something valuable to offer.

But that’s not the only thing.

Let me introduce this idea by repeating something I read from mystery-writer Lawrence Block many years ago. He wrote (somewhere!) that writing a novel is easier than writing a short story. A longer work gives you room to make everything in the story fit together. Short stories require a great deal more thought and work to make all the elements fit together.

Nonfiction isn’t quite the same deal. Sometimes it is easier to write a short piece because the topic can be covered in a short amount of space.

But it does hold true that sometimes people who are passionate about a large topic are sometimes not, for that reason, the most qualified to produce a short piece. Their passion may help them write a book but, if they need to put out shorter writings, their passion may just get in the way. Many an editor learns this when forced to tell an expert author that the article he or she just submitted is twice as long as it should be.

Whether you are writing a voters guide for a political group or a sales brochure for widgets, the person hiring you may need you the most precisely because you are not as involved in the topic. Your distance allows you to think about what matters: how to get the reader to act in the desired way. The client may be too focused on on all the information he possesses. He is too close to the subject to make the quick decisions necessary to get the writing project completed by deadline.

That’s how I would summarize, “Want to Boost Your Writing Productivity? Have a Baby!” by Michael Stelzner.  Definitely worth thinking about.  I you know you have a limited time to work in, you will tend to be lest wasteful with it.

Thinking about my post on the problem of trying to make money writing articles and my follow up on how much to expect from how-to books, I want to say something more (or more specific) about why writing can pay and why a pastor needing side income might want to consider this line of work.

It is easy to think that writing should pay almost nothing. Look at blogs! Lots of people like to write. Why should you get paid to do it?

And that is why my instinct is to advise you to avoid articles. When you are competing in a field of writing where writers typically think it is desirable to write, then you will not get paid well. There are too many out there who think writing is fun. They bid down the price you can expect to get for your services.

But as soon as you offer to do writing that no one wants to do, you are in a completely different economy.

On the other hand, when you start writing for hire pieces that have no real attraction to “the artist,” you have a chance to make some real money. The basis for this is that there are people out there who need to produce writing, but whose time constraints make it hard for them to do so. Sure, they could, in theory, write a sales piece or construct direct marketing copy. But they have other things to do with their time.

And that’s where you can step in. Sure, in one sense, “anyone” could do it. But really, that is not true. It requires someone who you can trust to be literate and intelligent and educated. It simply won’t work as a low-paying wage job.

To put it another way, if you are saving a guy time who makes a high hourly rate, you can expect a high hourly rate yourself.

A final word: my biggest regret right now is that I did not try to do this as a side-business back in Oklahoma. Instead I waited until I was out of work and was forced to “hit the ground running.” Yet, while I have a long way to go, it has actually started to work for me. Still, I might be in a much better business position if I had begun earlier developing contacts for part-time work. Don’t make my mistake. Start now.