I do not believe credit is as important as some writers seem to consider it. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t receive credit for what we produce; we should value ourselves and our skills enough to know when to fight for the credit we deserve. But that does not mean we should be solely focused on recognition when there are many other benefits to collaboration.
Recently, I’ve joined an interesting partnership in the adventures of book writing. The genre is one that I’m not very familiar with (these days- but more on that later) so I was hesitant to dive in and relieved when my job was clearly stated as “editor.” Sure, I’m creative, but when it comes to this particular type of story, I’d know I’d fall short. On the other hand, I know I can edit and revise any kind of writing with confidence.
But this was not to be. I am not just expected to edit and revise the draft- I am also someone with whom to brainstorm ideas. After we established this relationship, I could not help but feel inadequate. He has tons of great, original ideas and all I can usually say is, “Yup, that sounds good to me,” or “Makes sense, yes.” Finally, he asked if I was still interested in the project.
“Of course I am!” I insist. “But my brain is uncharacteristically blank.”
“Don’t worry,” he assured me. “It’s helpful just to have someone to bounce ideas off of.”
So now, I feel like a wall or worse, like the janitor in the show, House. Then I start to think about it. Without the janitor, House could never come up with a diagnosis. So in a way, I am a muse. A wall-like muse that can return bouncy ideas.
Somewhere in the middle of this rollercoaster ride of self-worth and deprecation, I realize that I can, in fact, come up with the occasional “good idea.” And so now I’ve tackled the challenge of the whole project- not just the revision process which, unfortunately, won’t start for at least a few weeks. And I’ve learned the uselessness of labels when it comes to collaborative efforts. In the end, the story is born from the collective consciousness of two or more people. If you insist on taking credit for a specific part of the final product, be prepared to step back and give credit to everyone else for their individual ideas (after a while, as you can imagine, it gets difficult to keep track anyway.)
In for a penny, in for a pound: I’ve realized that both of us just want to create this story. We are not limiting ourselves to specific responsibilities and instead are using all of our resources to make something great happen. In the end, it should be about:
* What we learned about the creative process
* What we learned about the writing process
* What we learned from each other
* What we were able to create
The journey to get to the final product matters just about as much as the story itself. There are a lot of opportunities out there for collaborative writing, but I think some people shy away from them in an effort to focus only on making a name for themselves. There is so much to learn from others- ignoring such opportunities would be a grave mistake for the open-minded student of writing.
The appeal of freelancing is often lost in the first act. How do I get my name out there? How do I let people know what I do? This is especially challenging for those of us who have little or no experience in the field (but would absolutely love the chance to gain some.) And then there’s that other question: how do I convince potential clients that I’m qualified?
The art of the query letter is not an untouched subject in the writing community. Linda Formichelli of The Renegade Writer blog has posted 26 (to date) articles that referred specifically to queries “that rocked.” You can also receive her packet of 10 query examples that landed successful gigs by signing up for her newsletter. And while you’re at it, you might as well check out her latest post, entitled “8 Ways to Land New Writing Assignments (Not Just Queries!).
Admittedly, you can find information and advice on query letter writing just about anywhere, but I appreciate The Renegade Writer’s approach because, as an aspiring freelancer, I can research the “Do’s” and “Don’ts” pretty easily, but I don’t often get the opportunity to read what has really worked for other people. Examples are always helpful.
Another practical source on getting gigs is I.J. Schecter’s book, 102 Ways to Earn Money Writing 1,500 Words or Less. Normally, I don’t pick up books that seem solely focused on making money because I’m more interested in instruction on developing my craft. I always figure that honing my writing skills will eventually lead to making money one way or another (which is certainly not always true.) However, Schecter’s book was given to me as a gift, and a great one at that. He takes a pragmatic approach to the freelancing lifestyle and divulges information on how to write successfully for magazines, newspapers, and other publications (including corporate outlets.)
Most of the advice I’ve read on this subject includes some emphasis on listing credentials. Which makes complete sense. But I’m faced with the familiar dilemma of figuring out a way to promote myself without having much experience. A query letter that reads, “I’ve written for such publications as…” sounds a lot better than one that might list a local magazine or a content-mill site like Examiner.com. I’m educated, but I lack the experience. And experience seems like the most difficult thing to come by these days… in any field.
When I browse for copy-editing or proofreading jobs, I’m equally turned off by ads that read “Required: A minimum of 3 years experience in a related position.” What about the classes I’ve taken and the academic assignments I’ve completed over the years? Do these count? And the answer is usually… “Nope!”
However, I still think that those of us with an educational background can use it to our advantage. Like any marketing technique, we must learn to emphasize our attributes and our accomplishments, regardless of their nature. That will be my biggest challenge this year as I attempt to break into the freelancing world with very little experience to support me.
If you’re like me, and you haven’t yet established a stable income from freelancing, then there’s another piece of advice that you might find helpful: start small. Don’t go after major publications first. I think smaller, local publications are a great way to get in the door and gain experience. I also recommend sending out a query or two to the publications you already read. If you can make it known in your letter that you’re familiar with the publication’s content, you stand to make a good impression.
Of course, this is all recycled advice from successful freelancers. You have no reason to listen to me… yet. But if there is one thing I’ve been committed to lately, it’s learning as much as I can from the writing community. And because I am a firm believer in the importance of balance (and being part of said community), I tend to enjoy sharing what I learn.
And why not? I’ve had experiences in many other fields where the main focus is competition and not encouragement. People aren’t always willing to help others, especially within the same profession. I feel very fortunate to have chosen a field as supportive and connected as this one, and so it’d be hypocritical not to contribute to the same efforts that I commend.
What do you think are some of the biggest challenges that inexperienced freelancers face? What do you think are some ways to tackle those challenges and stay motivated?
© Alexis Jenny, 2011.
- The Basics of Writing a Good Article Submission Query to a Magazine (brighthub.com)
- Want More Copywriting Clients? Here’s a Surprising Way to Find Them (copyblogger.com)