Category Archives: Writing

The Pitfalls Of Freelancing: Spec Articles, Radio Silence And The “Free” In Freelancing

A wise writer once said the following:

Easy reading is dam hard writing.

Whether it is a novel, an article or another document, writing, despite appearances, is hard work. It requires, time, skill, effort and talent. I’ve been a freelancer for nearly three years. While I still have my full-time job, I make time for on my writing. That doesn’t mean that it is easy. Below, are three pitfalls that don’t help freelancers.

  1. Spec Writing: A spec is a sample article. It is typically written when either the writer or the publisher is unsure if the potential article would be a good fit for the publication. As a sample article, it’s fine because if it the editor does not feel like it would be a good fit, it’s no big deal. The problem starts when the article is accepted, but the editor thinks that the writer will work for free.  If it is understood (and preferably written down) that there is no payment and the writer will only be getting a byline and another article to add to their portfolio, that’s fine. But when the writer is looking for payment and the editor is looking for a free article, that is another story.
  2. Radio Silence: I get it that publications receive a large number of submissions. Not every publication has the time to respond to every writer who submitted. Some publications may even send a form letter via email. I’ve gotten a fair amount of those. The problem is what I call “radio silence”. It’s when a writer submits an article and hears nothing back. It’s disheartening, to be honest. I would rather hear a hard no rather than radio silence.
  3. The “Free” In Freelance: There is no such thing as “free” in freelance writing. Payment is often on a sliding scale, depending on the publication and the article. Some publications, as I have stated above, can only afford to pay via a byline. I have no problem with that, as long as it is stated beforehand. The problem is when some publications pay next to nothing for a long form piece or a piece that maybe more detail oriented because of research. I’ve stopped counting the number of freelance jobs that want a thousand word article, but the payment is pitiful. Respect me as a writer, respect my work and understand that I deserve to be paid a fair wage for my work, even as a freelancer.

Despite all of this, I still love writing and I still love freelancing. It’s just that some publications and editors make freelancing more difficult than it needs to be.

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Character Review: Hareton Earnshaw

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about Emily Bronte’s classic novel, Wuthering Heights. Read at your own risk if you are unfamiliar with the either book or the various adaptations.

There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

In this series of weekly blog posts, I will examine character using the characters from Wuthering Heights to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.

When we are children, the only environment we know is our family and our small world. The problem is that sometimes, when we grow up, we don’t grow out of the scars that we receive either consciously or unconsciously from our families and the world of our childhoods.

Hareton Earnshaw is the only child and heir to the Earnshaw name and estate. The problem is his father, Hindley Earnshaw drank and gambled away the family fortune after the death of his wife. After his father passes, Hareton is taken in (if you want to call it that) by Heathcliff to be used as a means of revenge.

As an adult, Hareton is treated as a servant in his ancestral home and treated poorly by Heathcliff. His only solace is his cousin, Catherine Linton, who is as imprisoned by Heathcliff as Hareton is.

To sum it up: The thing that always strikes me about Hareton is that despite the fact that is being degraded day after day by Heathcliff, he has a sense of pride. He takes pride in being an Earnshaw, and is not willing to completely bow to his captor. He is also sees an opportunity when Catherine also imprisoned in Wuthering Heights. She teaches him to read and they eventually get together, healing the wounds of the previous generation. When a character has enough pride and enough sense of self, despite a crappy childhood, to find peace within themselves, readers remember that. If a reader can finish a book, feel satisfied and feel like they have learned something about themselves because of a particular character’s journey, then the writer has done his or her job.

 

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Character Review: Isabella Linton

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about Emily Bronte’s classic novel, Wuthering Heights. Read at your own risk if you are unfamiliar with the either book or the various adaptations.

There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

In this series of weekly blog posts, I will examine character using the characters from Wuthering Heights to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.

Not everyone can have their happy ending. Some of us, no matter how much we try, will never be able to walk into the proverbial sunset. In Wuthering Heights, Isabella Healthcliff (nee Linton) is Catherine Linton’s (nee Earnshaw) sister-in-law. When Heathcliff comes back into Catherine’s life a couple of years after she has married Edgar, Isabella develops a crush on Heathcliff. Why shouldn’t she? He is handsome, wealthy and in every sense of the word, eligible. Isabella is single, of age to marry and ready to marry.

The problem is that neither Catherine or Heathcliff have gotten over each other. Isabella becomes a pawn in their relationship. Running away with Heathcliff, they elope and Isabella is cut off from her brother. She will soon learn about the darker side of her husband. When she can no longer live with Heathcliff, she leaves hims and takes their young son, Linton to London.  She dies young,  hoping to leave her son in her brother’s care. But her husband wants his son back.

To sum it up: While we all wish for a happy ending, both on page with our characters and in our lives as human beings, we  may not get that happy ending. Isabella is unfortunately a character whose happy ending is not what she envisioned. But she does one thing that makes her ending stand out: instead of staying with her abusive husband, she leaves him and takes their son with him.

In 19th century Victorian England, this was a brave choice that is a small, but pivotal change in the way happy endings are portrayed. So in a way, Isabella got her happy ending, but it was on her own terms. In that sense, Bronte flipped the standard happy ending narrative on its ear, creating a new happy ending. If a writer is looking to clear up the loose ends of their story with a happy ending, why not change that ending? Flip that happy ending on it’s ear, make the story even more memorable and leave the reader wanting more.

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Happy Birthday Roald Dahl

An unforgettable children’s book lasts generations. With every new generation, new readers discover the joy of the same book that their forebears read as children.

The late Roald Dahl’s birthday was last week. He is among one of the giants of children’s literature. From his pen and his imagination came Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, Matilda, Boy, James And The Giant Peach, etc.

I remember reading Boy more than twenty years ago. Dahl has such a unique perspective on childhood that it feels like through his characters, he is speaking directly to his young readers. When a writer is able to speak directly to his or her readers, they have a gift that many wish they had.

Wherever you are Mr. Dahl, thank you for inspiring multiple generations of children. Your name and work will never be forgotten.

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Jane Austen at Home: A Biography Book Review

The womb to tomb narrative is the standard format for a biography. While it’s fine for a standard format, it can, depending on the person writing the biography, be as dull as a college text-book or as alive as if the reader was watching a film of the biography’s subject.

Earlier this year, historian Lucy Worsley released Jane Austen at Home: A Biography. While Ms. Worsley goes over the basic facts of Austen’s life that any Janeite would be familiar with, she focuses on the places that the Ms. Austen lived throughout her 41 years and the possessions in those houses colored her world.

I’ve been fan of the author for a short time, and I really enjoyed this book. I enjoyed it because there is life, color and vibrancy to what could be a very dull narrative. There are also Easter eggs, connections between Austen’s life and her novels that a newbie Janeite might miss, but a Janeite who is well steeped in Austen lore would understand.

I recommend it.

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Character Review: Edgar Linton

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about Emily Bronte’s classic novel, Wuthering Heights. Read at your own risk if you are unfamiliar with the either book or the various adaptations.

There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

In this series of weekly blog posts, I will examine character using the characters from Wuthering Heights to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.

One of the more common narratives in the romance genre is the love triangle and the question of whom the hero or heroine will choose as their partner.  In Wuthering Heights, the love triangle consists of Catherine Earnshaw at the top of the triangle with Heathcliff and Edgar Linton on the bottom of the triangle.

Edgar Linton is everything Heathcliff is not. He is the son and heir of a respectable landowning family who acts as a gentleman of his class and time is expected to act. His lineage is defined and traceable. His status, income and property mark him as a catch. In modern terms, he is the boy next door that many parents would be thrilled to see their child dating.

Even for all of that, he is not Heathcliff. Even after Catherine has accepted Edgar’s marriage proposal, she admits that the man she loves is not Edgar. While the reader knows that Catherine is marrying Edgar for what could appear to be less than honorable reasons, Edgar will only discover this fact later in the novel.

“My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Healthcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.”

To sum it up: For all of his good qualities, Edgar Linton is the loser in the love triangle that is part of the Wuthering Heights narrative. He is the nice guy who may have been in love with the heroine, but she in turn was in love with the bad boy and ultimately chose the bad boy over the nice guy. As a writer, Emily Bronte could have used this very predictable narrative and chose the safe route. Instead she forged her own narrative path and told the story of the conflict between light and dark and how that affects the choices that characters make.

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Character Review: Hindley Earnshaw

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about Emily Bronte’s classic novel, Wuthering Heights. Read at your own risk if you are unfamiliar with the either book or the various adaptations.

There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

In this series of weekly blog posts, I will examine character using the characters from Wuthering Heights to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.

Every protagonist needs an antagonist. Whether that antagonist is an internal or external antagonist, he or she is crucial to the development of the protagonist.  In Wuthering Heights, that antagonist is Hindley Earnshaw. Hindley is Catherine’s older brother, his jealousy and anger over Heathcliff creates a lifetime of rage and abuse on his adopted brother. After Mr. Earnshaw dies and Hindley becomes master of Wuthering Heights, he takes pleasure in reminding Heathcliff of his low status. Hindley also absolves himself of any parental responsibility if his only son, Hareton, after the death of his wife, leaving his child in the path of the vengeful Heathcliff.

To sum it up: Not every character has to be likable or have redeeming qualities. Some characters are just  nasty, rude, don’t give a sh*t, etc. But that’s fine. In creating an irredeemable character like Hindley, Bronte was able perfectly contrast her hero, Heathcliff. While Heathcliff has some goodness in him,  Hindley has none. He is an arrogant angry man who fully takes advantage of his status in society, loses everything in the process and in the end pays for his wicked ways. When it comes to villains, that is how we like it.

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Backwards and Forwards: A Technical Manual for Reading Plays Book Review

On the surface, writing is a very simple process. It is turning the computer and opening the word processing program or taking out the pad and pen and beginning to write.

But the reality is that writing is both an art and a skill. Especially if the writer is playwright. Writing a play is very different from writing prose. Beyond the standard issues of character and narrative development, there is also the very specific format and the idea that the play is not just in the hands of the writer. It is in the hands of the director, the actors, etc. All have a part in creating the final product which will hopefully be seen by an audience.

Backwards and Forwards: A Technical Manual for Reading Plays, written by David Ball and with a foreword by Michael Langham, is about the craft of writing plays. The book touches on everything a playwright would need to know about including character and narrative development to imagery, conflict, theme, etc. Using William Shakespeare’s Hamlet as an example, this book should be required reading for every playwright, especially if they are just starting out.

This book was recommended to me by a writer friend. It was an educational and eye-opening read. It was also a reminder that writing plays and writing prose are two different animals and requires writers to think differently when writing a play vs. writing a novel.

I recommend it.

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Character Review: Nelly Dean

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about Emily Bronte’s classic novel, Wuthering Heights. Read at your own risk if you are unfamiliar with the either book or the various adaptations.

There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

In this series of weekly blog posts, I will examine character using the characters from Wuthering Heights to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.

In every madhouse, there is usually one sane person. This person is usually the eyes and ears of audience member or the reader and is the only person who can tell the story without prejudice. In Wuthering Heights, that sane person is Nelly Dean. Nelly is the housekeeper/mother figure who tries to keep the peace in the family. Tries is the key word here.

She introduced early in the story when Mr. Lockwood, the tenant at Thrushcross Grange visits Wuthering Heights to introduce himself to Heathcliff, his landlord. Unable to return to Thrushcross Grange because of the weather, Nelly takes pity on Mr. Lockwood and tells him the story of the house and its former occupants.

As much as Nelly tries to keep the peace and the sanity in Wuthering Heights, she can’t. Not for lack of trying, but because the ones who she gives advice to decide to do what they think is best, regardless of her advice. It is Nelly who Cathy goes to after agreeing to marry Edgar, but not sure that marrying him is a good idea. A generation later, Nelly tries to stop Heathcliff from imprisoning Catherine Linton (Cathy’s daughter) and forcing Catherine to marry Linton.

To sum it up: Emily Bronte was one of the greatest writers of the past 200 years for a reason. In creating Nelly Dean, she understood that Nelly not only needed to be the eyes and ears of the audience, but she also needed to be the eye of the storm that is Wuthering Heights. When a writer creates a world and narrative that is out there, he or she needs to have at least one character who is clear and level headed. It is that character who the audience relies on as the steady, reliable voice of sanity. Without that character, the reader of the audience may not be able to latch onto the story and may walk away.

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Throwback Thursday-Teacher’s Pet (1958)

In education, there are two ways of learning: there is the education of life and there is the education we receive in the classroom.

In the 1958 movie, Teacher’s Pet, James Gannon (Clark Gable) is a newspaper editor who believes that the only way to learn to become a good journalist is to get your hands dirty and get out on the streets. There is no value in taking any classes in journalism. Then he is ordered by his bosses to help Erica Stone (Doris Day), a journalism college professor to provide professional assistance.

Instead of following his bosses’ order, he pretends to be a student. The problem is that Erica openly dislikes him with a passion, but James is attracted to her and over time, Erica is attracted to him. They also begin to understand each other’s perspective on journalism. The question is, when will James reveal his secret and how will Erica respond?

This movie is interesting to me. One on hand, it is the traditional romantic comedy. But on the other hand the movie asks an interesting question about writing. Does one learn to write by just doing and learning from your mistakes or do we go the traditional route and learn in a classroom?

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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