Why did I waste so many precious years penning newsletters, brand promo articles and stuff for publications when I should have been writing novels. Hell, if I had, I would today have nothing less than 6-7 titles to my name.
This is a question I’ve often asked myself. Not so much today but when I started writing my debut novel in Jan 2014, I often cursed myself for having wasted so many years.
Somewhere along the way I realized, my stint as a freelance writer didn’t go waste. It has equipped me with valuable skills. Skills that come in handy as a fiction writer.
Working on a schedule:
Anyone who has been a freelancer will tell you about deadlines and schedule. Clients will delay payment indefinitely but you have to submit on the date agreed. So every time I negotiated the time frame for a project; I’d always factor in last minute hiccups, school holidays, a school project, weekend plan etc. Never agree to an unrealistic deadline. Decide on a time frame that allows some wriggle room. Always finish before the penultimate time so that you have time for revisions.
This held me in good stead while writing the novel. It still does. I set a timeline for the first draft and I finish it at least 7 days prior. I have been wired to work on a timeline and I can stick to it.
This comes naturally to any freelancer. Simply come up with ideas out of nothing at all. You have to churn out article ideas galore and pitch them to editors or brand managers. There was a time when I was contributing to at least 10 publications across the country and you can’t send the same article to more than one.
When I decided that I didn’t want the crumbs the publications paid and switched to being a corporate writer, it was no different. As a corporate writer it was second nature to hunt down companies and convince them to have a company newsletter if they didn’t have one and if they did, I had the creative pitch ready to make them see how I could embellish what they had.
When I began writing my first book, I told myself, Woman, if you could do that for face creams, security vaults and deos; you certainly can spin yarns for novels. Today I have one novel on book shelves across the country, second one written, two more totally fleshed out.
I’m an ideas factory. Give me anything and I can spin a story around it. I once wrote five articles on just a brief that some spots are good and for others there’s an anti blemish cream.
Discipline of writing
Freelancing taught me to never ever wait for the divine spark of creativity. One just doesn’t have that luxury. Clients are known to give you the brief on Friday evening and demand for final write up by Monday morning. What do you do? Either you write and submit or just get the hell of the way for ten others who will jump in before you blink. Writers’ block, I can’t think of what to write, I don’t feel like writing…a freelancer never ever allows herself this. Frankly, when I hear some people say such things, I don’t get it. You gotta write, that’s it. Simple. So you write every day. It’s just something you do. You just train yourself to do it.
As a freelance writer you get used to having the best bits of your article chopped off because an ad came in last minute. And anyone who’s written for a publication knows that the ads are the boss. People buy to read the articles, which are dispensable and disposable when pitted against ads. Stupid, loopy logic. It sucks. Such is life. Like it or lump it! So you get hardened and stop taking it personally. And when you graduate to writing for companies you learn another lesson. You have to write in the tone of the company’s ethos. That means, you can take your creativity and shove it up or down whichever hole you find, as a writer you have to write the way the manager demands; who of course knows jack-shit about writing which is why you have been hired. But please shut your gob and re-write the beautiful piece to suit the company’s tone. Comprende?!
I used to simmer and boil when I couldn’t make the manager see my pov and then meekly did as was told; but now I realize how beneficial that was!
When I edit my first draft, I ruthlessly cut, chop and delete. I don’t bleed or weep. This ain’t workin, it gotta go. Where’s the question of getting emotional about it? What’s the fuss! For novel 1, I deleted 40,000 words. I went after it with hammer & tongs. I reworked tracks, added characters, deleted massive chunks and breathed new life. I got accepted by two leading publishing houses, I decided to go with Harper Collins.
My novel 2 is written. 80k words. I’m mercilessly chopping and re-writing coz I’m not happy with the way it reads.
So I don’t get it when people say they are emotional about editing. Be emotional about your kid, husband, dog or the LV bag if you must but be ruthless with your MS, coz the publisher isn’t your lover. They will throw your precious MS if it doesn’t dazzle.
Two decades of freelance writing endowed me with skills and tools that came in very handy when I began my journey as a fiction writer and it still does. It didn’t go waste. Nothing really does. Don’t rue about where you are. You could be learning valuable lessons without even realizing. You are where you for a reason. There’s a plan, there’s always one. We often don’t see or realize it. But there is.