A light-hearted look at a few aspects of the art and craft of freelance writing.
Kids say the darnest of things! I’m sure you’ve heard this adage before, but when was the last time you were assailed by a quick-witted ‘youngun’ not yet old enough to allow puberty a chance for a safer passage to maturity? Deep within the periphery of my thoughts in a mélange of metaphoric bliss, I’m interrupted by a knock on my office door. Opening it, there stood a petite 3’0 caricature of a woman with questions defining her very existence. Perplexed and wondering what could it ever be that she would intervene amid the evidences of my cluttered mind, I waited patiently but quite annoyed. Knowing that this could be another bout of our usual call and response game of Jeopardy Challenge, I hoped that she would spare me this one time. She wasted no time – and blurted out: “What in the world is a Freelance Writer?” Not only did I have to answer her, but do so in the manner that would elicit some sort of satisfactory delivery that would appease her inquisitive mindset and penchant for asking other questions to justify more answers for finality. Of course I answered all of her questions, but before I continue let me say this…
Aaliyah Pierre is no ordinary 11-year old. The oldest of my grandchildren, she is a peppery seventh grade honors student reading on a 9th grade level, and a voracious reader. At times I forget that she’s at an age where being exposed to knowledge beyond her normal developmental stage is a privilege that may not be afforded others with less aptitude for an expanded intelligence quotient. Aaliyah is a fast learner, which allowed her to get a double promotion among students much older. She garnered my attention at age three when she found it fascinating to mar my books with crayon and pencil markings, and a little later demanding that I read to her anytime and whenever. I guess this is par for the course for one who learned her A-B-C’s and numbers at four. Realizing that her amazing ability to memorize, I took it upon myself to tutor her and not fret when she gravitated toward my personal library. And just maybe if she wants to be a writer, she will have gotten it honestly and without pressure to perform.
I preceded then to tell her that writing is the purest form of arrogance, and that the freedom of speech is something that no one can take away from you because everyone is allowed an opinion. Lest you don’t know notice what a brilliant writer I want to become, let me tell you how I agonize over my work. I, like any other writer want to be taken seriously, and for this youngster to question status quo, well…I must readily admit I wasn’t ready for it. I’m a taskmaster and my own worst critic. I’ve long dismissed those that want me to come down to levels of mediocre intellect, and have instructed Aaliyah to write what comes to mind, but do so with clarity and panache. Everybody would love to write, but writing is something that a lot of people struggle with. They get hammered with the Kings English and grammatically find themselves full of adjectives that describe their anguish…and adverbs that shout out, “write something!” Writing is hard for them, but so would be learning to ride a bicycle. But with time you’re allowed to improve and expand your vocabulary. I see so many aspiring writers rushing to print without learning the basics. So is it with freelance writing.
Writers who write for a living don’t complain about the difficulty of it. We at times complain about the fewer venues to really make a difference with our expressionisms. The truth in my opinion, is that writing is no more difficult than anything else you desire to do where you claim to be as good as you know you can be. With Aaliyah asking me what do freelance writers do, how to write for the market, and have explained to her some of the nuances of the market, I knew I had to come correct. Life is pretty good when you can articulate across boundaries and make a difference with free verse and veracity for volume. You study the market, be creative with your choice of topics to write, and craft your manuscripts to mandate a good audience. What’s not to like about this type of free expression? One day you get blessed and find someone who’s willing to pay you something you do well (and in some cases, fake), and on this you can build a literary existence that allow you a platform. You go to school, take up journalism, persevere enough to get degreed, work and write for the university press system and voila! -- You’re published! Okay, I did this, but what really does a freelance writer does, what exactly is there to know about freelance writing?
I sat her down and this is what I told her:
§ First and foremost, one must find and define their market…create a niche and perfect it. Be creative and intuitive by formulating memorable story ideas culminating from your knowledge base and intellect.
§ Consider the strengths that would allow you to write from a different mode than what is already out there. Decide whether you want to be a Generalist or a Specialist. Find your favorite publications in a stated market and read them front to back.
§ Consider the topics you wish to cover for these publications, by narrowing down the list to a few you really like, and then querying for protocol. You want to make sure you understand how an editor expects to have ideas pitched to them to fit the character of the publication.
§ Know your niche, but allow diversity to be the fulcrum of your creativity. This is easier said than done, but once you learn how to effectively research topics, the ability to give work with substance will be most noticeable.
§ Establish objectives – This is an important detail. Why? Freelance writers should consider themselves business-minded where the amount of time spent on the craft would be part-time or full-time. Always have a plan in mind so that your story idea coincides with current events or any viable mode of expression for audience appeal.
§ Surround yourself with a few reference and style guides to keep your writing crisp and within journalistic boundaries for correctness. Although writing can't always be perfect, with the help of a few guides you can improve the quality of your work and learn proper journalistic ambiance.
The next question floored me, and sobered me up a bit because it hit closer to home. She nonchalantly, but with no less veracity asked – “How will your peers know that you are indeed a writer among them…and how do you know you are accepted?” WOW! I now then had to be astute in my answer because this chick is not one to give perfunctory answers to for appeasement. I told her that I was serious about my writing, and that I’d spent a great deal of time learning HOW to write. I told her that I could only do my best and hope that I can reach someone who’d believe that there is talent. She folded her arms expecting more…and I opined that not everyone is going to like what you write. Some will think that you are pedantic and will demand that you use terms and words to fit their limited intellect. But there will be more that will truly understand and embrace you for what you are worth in their individual estimable value. Then I explained to her I felt an overwhelming need to answer the call to Blog in this space.
I tried to impress upon her that I had to do this… like a junkie looking for his next fix and much like my coffee in the morning; it’s a preferred drug of choice, a natural high this need to write! Freedom of expression being what it is and acquiescing to protocol, I intimated that Blogging in Black not only is a good idea, but very much needed in our AA literary Diaspora. With this said, she said she understood why I chose to call my column simply, VERBATIM! She implored why that title, and I again opened dialogue. I wanted to be able to give it to my audiences straight with no chaser, to be able to shoot from the hip, and take no prisoners. I saw a small glimmer of acceptance and smiled inwardly hoping that intrinsic fortitude would be enough to come away believable not only to her, but to myself. This type of journalistic endeavor could be appreciated where well-written verbiage is much more than hyperbole laced with style and substance.
I told her too, that I will bring them my thoughts on all things literary, a bit of wit, a dash of dramatic verve, and a dose of Romerian Proverbs that are par for my course in essay writing. I endeavor to put into place occasional pieces of a mosaic that are prevalent in our colorful world of literature. Finally, they will experience a few other things that I have in store to make my blogging experience such a different journey through subjective journaling. I’m Blogging in Black because I have to get some of this stuff cooped inside of me out and in the open…and I noticed that Aaliyah left the room with a smug face, satisfied that I answered her questions satisfactorily. (whew!) Alas, the long and short of it, I surmise that freelance writing is not painful, nor does it require any more latitude than longitude. I’m hoping that a guiding light will illuminate my best intent for a search for tomorrow’s next great essay. No doubt there will be more questions, but for now, I’m safe from the young and restless. Stay with me awhile, and let’s ride together!