Punters Punt, Divers Dive, & Writers Write

If you’re going to call yourself a writer, there’s just a single prerequisite – one thing, and one thing only, that you must do.

Write.

Seems pretty basic, doesn’t it? If you’re a punter on an NFL team, you’ll be lacing up your shoes following every possession and punting the ball. Your job description is right there in your title. If you’re a diver, you aren’t going to sit around reading books about coral reefs – you’re going to slip into a wetsuit and literally take the plunge. The same is true of butchers and bakers and candlestick makers.

Yet, for some reason, in recent weeks I had strayed from my self-anointed path.

I found myself reading a lot of books on freelance writing. And completing profiles on freelance sites like oDesk. Planning story ideas in my head. I was busy doing everything but the one thing I should have been doing all along: writing.

I’m not even sure how I fell into this trap of suddenly and persistently not writing. For a couple of months, my days were spent hunched over the computer, knocking out articles for my clients. And then I grew bored with the SEO assignments and broke up with a client, and the Groupon gig fell through. I sort of completely lost the will to write after that. Why should I bother? I thought. Either way, I’m getting paid the same amount every week. It’s easy to justify your laziness that way, because it’s true. I get paid $xxx.xx amount every week from the state of Washington. If I’ve earned income from self-employment that week, it’s deducted from my unemployment earnings, so it’s not like I gain anything from busting my butt on a daily basis.

I’ve realized, though, that while I may not have been gaining anything financially, I had definitely lost something: my passion. And that is inexcusable.

Why am I a writer? Because it’s what I love to do, plain and simple. It’s not the idea or the dream that I love, either – it’s the very process of creating. It doesn’t matter that I’m not a published novelist yet or earning $50K a year. I still rely on unemployment to get by…so what? The truth is, not writing is like stepping into a void. It leaves me feeling empty and without purpose. I don’t like that feeling.

Star Wars
Write, you should. (Courtesy of starwars.wikia.com).

You’ve probably heard of “the writer’s high.” I can tell you that isn’t just a nifty-sounding phrase, but a very real phenomenon. When I am writing, I feel a sense of euphoria wash over me. I am connected to the words on the screen, and can practically feel the creativity pumping in my blood and pulsing through my veins. It feels good, and like any junkie I crave more. More, more, more. I imagine it’s exactly how a punter feels when he’s squaring off against the ball in a packed stadium full of cheering and jeering fans, and how a diver feels while descending through the depths of Davy Jones’ locker. Alive. In their element. Full of purpose.

It’s very easy to be lazy. All you’ve got to do is nothing. And, I’ve learned, that’s contagious. If you’ve done nothing yesterday, you’ll feel like doing nothing today, and when tomorrow rolls around guess what you’ll be doing?

Doing something is a lot harder. That actually takes effort. But if it’s something you’re passionate about, not so much.

Sheesh, I feel like Yoda. Next I’ll be spouting off lines like, “Do or do not. There is no try.” Or designing motivational posters for office walls. The important thing is, I had an epiphany this week. I remembered that I’m a writer. And I began to write again.

If you’re a writer, I’ve come up with a few tips that will hopefully lead to success. These are things I’m tryi…err, doing (sorry, Yoda!) now.

  • Don’t bother with freelance outsource bidding sites. There are plenty of them out there – oDesk and elance.com are a couple of the better-known ones – but they are not worth your time. If you don’t believe me, read this. Basically you’ll find yourself competing against others for slave wages. Personally, I felt like I was part of a herd of cattle at an auction where each animal goes to the lowest bidder. Hey, I fired my first client because they were “only” paying me $12 per article – and then found myself competing for jobs promising $4 an article. Yes, I was temporarily insane.
  • “Content mills” aren’t necessarily evil. Though they often get a bad rap, so-called content mills – websites that pay freelancers to churn out articles that help the site rank highly on search engines – can be a good source of income, and provide steady work. Take Demand Studios, for instance (best known for eHow.com). I have been writing for them since January, and my experience has been nothing but positive. Here’s why: I choose which topics to write about from a continuously evolving queue (this morning there were 66,230 articles to choose from); each article pays a minimum of $15, and the format and structure enable a good writer to easily pen two or three an hour. I don’t know about you, but I’d call $45/hour pretty decent! Even doing one article an hour isn’t bad. Payments are made directly to your PayPal account twice a week, and you get your own byline. Plus, they don’t hire anybody off the street – you have to apply and write several sample articles that pass muster with their copy editors. I know people who have been rejected. It may not be the most glamorous writing you’ll ever do, but it’s a great way to hone your skills, build your portfolio, and leverage yourself to take it to the next level.
  • Aim for the stars. While it’s important to have a reliable source of income, $15 an article is still $15 article. If you’re going to be successful, you have to set your sights high and take a few risks. Last week I pitched a story idea to Portland Monthly, a regional magazine with a loyal subscriber base. If they accept the assignment, I’ll write about an unemployed single Oregon mother following her dream and starting her own business in the midst of a down economy. This person just happens to be my friend and sometime-client Chris from Portland Book Review. This would be great publicity for her, and freelance assignments with magazines are where the money – and glory – are. I plan to query some national publications next. A few clips in magazines can open a lot of doors that would be otherwise closed.
  • Don’t forget your blog! Blogging is the perfect creative outlet – you can write about tortilla chips that look like states or why you should avoid eating at Mexican restaurants with sombreros on the wall or whatever your heart desires. Sometimes you can even write about writing – how existential is that? Plus, it keeps your skills fresh and your brain from turning to mush. A few blogs even become ultra-popular and lead to fame and riches. Or so I’ve heard. Plus, it’s free publicity, and if done well can be an excellent showcase for your writing. Just don’t denigrate corporate America and scare off any potential employers!

There you have it – a few writing tips from a guy who isn’t yet a huge success, but has at least remembered who he is and what he does and is once again doing it.

Write on!

 

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32 thoughts on “Punters Punt, Divers Dive, & Writers Write

  1. One thing I like most about you Mark, is your God-given talent to write. I have always admired and respected that about you. You easily pull me into your world and keep me transfixed until the final period or exclamation point. So yeah brother, write on…write on! You have ‘it’ while others don’t.

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    1. Tracy – that’s a huge compliment. Thank you so much. This post was more “serious” than what I usually do and I was worried it wouldn’t be as entertaining. I have to change that mindset and just write whatever I want to! I appreciate your loyalty and support – you’ve been reading me a long time!

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      1. I agree that you must change that mindset Mark. Even though I don’t write often, okay, hardly at all, I do understand how you can get to the point where you are writing for your audience more than you are for yourself. I get that. I wish I could pinpoint why I enjoy reading you…all I know is that I just do. Whatever you write about is entertaining to me….you have such a gift of words and I feel good after reading you. You make sense. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything and I don’t feel confused. I just hope this makes sense to you!

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  2. The blog is just not an outlet. Two way exposure. I will buy a novel from two bloggers I like and just 10 days after my blog went up I was contacted by an editor to publish a cartoon. It is a quarterly and he now has enough on file for the next several years. The blog also helps us connect with someone that he knows with someone that she knows that has a friend in Connecticut that knows a publisher who is going back into production after he recovers from his heart, kidney, lung and liver transplants and when the divorce is finalized and after his kid graduates from college(he’s in the 9th grade now). So you see how profitable networking can be just from your blog!

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    1. Agreed, Carl. I actually thought of you and your recent success when I got to the section about blogging. You never know who is going to stumble across your words or where that will end up taking you, but I do believe the sky’s the limit.

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  3. Great post, Mark! I wrote this morning about the same issue on my blog–why I don’t write–why I find excuses not to–why I have to stop talking about it and start doing it! Thanks for thsee tips, as well. The article thing sounds interesting!
    Kathy

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    1. Kathryn – thank you! Can’t wait to check out your tips, as well. We writers have to band together and help each other out. I’ve read some great tips on WordPress already and thought it was time to share my own. Off to read yours!

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  4. Excellent post. It’s important to hold onto that writer’s high, because slumps will happen, no matter how long you keep writing or how many bylines you get. Keep up the great work!

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    1. Thanks, Barb. I came across your post yesterday and thought it was perfect to link to – you have many of the same ideas and thoughts as I do. I’ll be sure to check out more!

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  5. Faaaaaaaaabulous post, Mark!

    And I couldn’t agree with your more…….

    “If you’re going to call yourself a writer, there’s just a single prerequisite – one thing, and one thing only, that you must do.

    Write.”

    This is why I to stick to a blog posting schedule. It forces me each week to come up with something. Sure, some posts may not be faaaabulous, but at least I produced something. I would rather write something than nothing. I also do this, because it’s good practice for the day when may have to write for a living and MUST come up with something.

    Great tips you shared here today! Thanks, buddy!

    Write on!

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    1. Oh, come on, Ron. Every one of your posts is faaaaaabulous!

      Glad the schedule is working for you. I have to say, you definitely stick to it and have never missed a day that I can recall. Great job!

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  6. Mark–Nicely done!
    I enjoyed this post, and am cheering you on from up North.

    here’s a question for you…
    are bloggers writers?

    Do writers blog?

    I have been wrestling with this one over the past few days…

    blessings
    jane

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    1. I thought Mikalee’s comment made my head throb…and then I read yours! LOL. ;)

      Bloggers are writers but writers aren’t necessarily bloggers…right? But then, according to Mikalee, bloggers aren’t necessarily writers, either.

      Can we debate something simpler? Like the prospect of life after death maybe, or the meaning of the universe?

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      1. well, Mark–I think it’s an interesting question, and here’s why:
        I started my blog in January 2010 because I wanted to write. My heart/soul/being cried to get the words out, and it was the best way I could think to do it…

        then…

        over time…

        relationships form and audiences are built and readership soars and the stats are interesting and like a drug…

        and suddenly, for me anyway, it was all about keeping the stats high, the readership up–I was finding I was more focused on production, vs. creation/writing.

        trying to back away, and regain the hold on my Self so that I can write…and not just…produce/blog.

        ??

        life after death is a no-brainer, compared to this conundrum.

        blessings
        jane

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      2. I get that, Jane! It would make an interesting blog topic itself.

        I wrote for years in another forum – built an audience up, several of them became personal friends (and a lover, even). But over time I found myself writing for them instead of writing for myself, so I quit over there and started this blog. I think you definitely end up walking a line, and this post of mine is excellent proof. I wasn’t sure I even wanted to write it because I thought it might not be entertaining enough for the people who read me…but then I remembered that was the trap I fell into over at the other place, and I didn’t want to do that here. I’ll also admit this was a concerted attempt at getting Freshly Pressed. I changed “busting your ass” to “busting your butt” and everything, and posted at 5 AM my time – ha! So much for that. But then I had another epiphany: is this the type of post I’d want Freshly Pressed, or would it be one about my kids nearly getting eaten by a shark? Definitely the latter. I mean, I like what I said here and am glad to do a more serious post every so often, don’t get me wrong. But if somebody new read this and expected a blog full of writing tips, they’d be in for a surprise.

        And now I’m way off topic. But I say, figure out a balance – write for yourself sometimes, and don’t be afraid of writing to entertain your readers at other times. Ironically, I think you do an excellent job of that in your blog, Jane – better than most. You have your funny stories interspersed with poems and spiritual pieces. I feel like you “own” your blog in a way that many don’t!

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      3. Since I can’t respond to planejaner’s comment (I’m not allowed!), I’ll post a quick thought here.

        Let’s compare writing and playing music, both an artform. When you play music — let’s say, a piano — you practice daily. But you only go to the concert hall once in a long while to show others your amazing skills, an event for which others gladly pay.

        As writers, we should be writing daily. But the blog is akin to the concert hall to me, as it should be a writing event that acknowledges the value of your audience. They are “paying” by investing time perusing your humble little blog. I would not publish a post, even on something as informal as a blog, that I did not deem “valuable” to my readers.

        This is why I have a HUGE problem with challenges like Postaday and/or Postaweek. It is imposing a false expectation. We should only publish a post when we feel we have something valuable to contribute — not because we “hafta.”

        Practice daily: Write early and write often. But show off your skills to the audience in the concert hall when you’re all polished in your tux with tails. In other words: Honor your audience by only publishing when there is something of value to contribute.

        Just my .02…

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  7. May I respectfully disagree with something you wrote? Pretty please? I promise it won’t hurt much.

    K. Here goes:

    “If you’re going to call yourself a writer, there’s just a single prerequisite – one thing, and one thing only, that you must do.

    Write.”

    Now, I completely agree that as writers, we must write. But I also know that much of what you’re referencing that you were “doing” that wasn’t inherently “writing” was the foundation of this post.

    Therefore, without the “not writing,” you wouldn’t have written this great post about writing. So the background, research, daily life, etc. contribute to the bottom line, the end result.

    I’m frustrated by people who write — and therefore call themselves writers. Thus my rant, I think.

    Because, here’s the deal: I’d argue you’re a writer because of your combination of unique perspective, way with words, background, skillset, etc.

    The typing of words to the computer screen: I’d argue that’s the least important part of the process. It takes more than the act of writing to be a writer.

    Fortunately, you’re a writer in that you can write (literal translation) and you can write (nebulous combination of worldview, ability and style).

    So please, write. Following the second definition more than the first…

    ;)

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    1. Interesting perspective, Mikalee. Not all people who write are writers. But all writers write (as well as gather the skill sets and background necessary, as you mention). The fact that by not writing I was able to write is true (and hurts my head to think about, but that’s why they invented Tylenol).

      I respect you as a writer and have actually been meaning to contact you directly for advice on getting articles published in magazines. I have checked out your website and know you have some success in that department.

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      1. Didn’t mean to make you hit the bottle (of Tylenol) with my response…but yes, it is perplexing.

        Please feel free to send me a message — not sure how I can help, but I’m happy to chat with you about how it all happned for me. And thanks for the kind words, my friend. Who is a writer. And a blogger.

        ;)

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      2. Mikalee – What you said about posting because we “hafta”? Couldn’t agree more. If I ever get to that point, I’m pulling the plug on the ol’ blog!

        And I’ll drop you a line. I do have a few professional questions. And one hell of a personal one!

        (Kidding about the personal one).

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  8. Mark–
    I would hope that the day you are FP, it will be with one of your delightfully snarky pieces. They’re just too good not to put up.

    I appreciate your kind words, and attribute most of my “success” to…
    hormones.
    YOU try being a 43-year old woman.

    seriously, though, thanks. That means a lot.

    blessings
    jane

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  9. Home run hit! I’ve been feeling the same way, especially since I’m having technical difficulties and can’t link or tag anything right now. It’s making me feel a little bit like what’s the point? But I HAVE to keep writing. I’m in Madison this weekend for the writing conference so I’m hoping to get some fresh ideas and meet some more great people.

    Looking for a pick me up? Yoda says “Facebook, you must check.” I sent you an homage to Portland. :D

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    1. Loved the pics – you definitely did your Pacific Northwest trip up right! And enjoy the conference…that’s one thing I’ve always wanted to try but haven’t gotten around to doing yet. Can’t wait to read about your experience!

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  10. Thank you for this, Mark: for the potential resources (I’m really new at this freelance game, and all my work has come through folks I knew), but more just for the reminder that writers write. I’ve been so busy and stressed, I have not been doing as much lately as I should or as, in some part of myself, I wanted to.

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  11. Interesting that I read this after having a conversation last night with someone that also writes. He teaches with the English Dept. at UNR and said much of the same thing. That writing is something he has to work at and it can be a “use it or lose it” kind of thing. He also talked about that writer’s high and the sense of accomplishment he gets when he finishes a piece.

    Regardless of all that, you are obviously very talented and I don’t doubt that one day you are going to make it big. And when that happens, I hope you don’t forget about us little people ;-)

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    1. Whew. For a minute there, I thought I was the only one getting high while writing! Err…you know what I mean…

      I don’t believe in “little people.” Everybody you encounter plays a role in your life, to one extent to another. And friends will always be friends.

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  12. Mark, I found this post a few days late, but I’m glad I did. Your writing reads with ease. When I hear the popular phrase that “writers write”, I think, “Sure, writers write, but it doesn’t have to be every day” Unless of course, if that’s your job. Margaret Mitchell took seven years to write her classic. It may have been her one and only book, but by golly, it was a classic. I like to think of writing as a legacy. What are we leaving behind for others to read?

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    1. Hi Renee – thanks for the kind words. You’re right, everything we write contributes to our legacy. Even the littlest blog posts. And hey, if I could come up with just one book, I’d love if it were as big as Margaret Mitchell’s!

      Like

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