If your browser supports Refresh, you'll be transported to our new home in 5 seconds, otherwise, select the link manually. Thank you

Friday, April 28, 2006

Is Writing Art?

I suppose I'm still steamed up about that writing workshop I attended. I went because it was a two-day workshop (there are two half days to follow in a couple of weeks) and it was free. I also went because you always have to be open to learning new things. I suppose I did. What I learned is that the people in that room who painted, sculpted and created didn't consider writing art. For them writing was something that served their art.

I don't tend to get all misty-eyed about writing. I do it and I enjoy it. Writing is also a craft. By that I mean that those who write have a skill in using words to create a picture or an atmosphere. It also takes skill to take a particular phrase and build an article or a blog post around it. (I'm sure many of my fellow bloggers will agree.)

But writing is also art, in my view. This is because it involves the 'creation of beautiful or significant things', as Wordnet puts it. Words tend to live with us even when the authors are long gone. This is true whether you're talking about the Declaration of Independence or Macbeth. And it's also true here on WritingUp. Every day we read blog posts that touch us in some way; or posts that astound us with their beauty and thought.

So yes, darn it! Writing is art as well as craft, at least for me.

What do you think?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

In Defense Of Blogging

Today I attended a writing workshop. The people who were there were mostly artists who wanted to write about their creative practice, though there were a few writers like myself. Some of the writers wrote for academic publications; others for newspapers and magazines. A question that came out of the presentations had to do with blogging. The question was: what is a blog and how can we use it? To my surprise, most people were not sure.

Those few who had heard of blogging (here in the UK, we're a bit behind our friends in North America) believed it was some sort of online diary. And although that's one possibility, I believe a blog is so much more than that. Yes, some people create diaries and travelogues, but other people create so much more. I don't know what those people would make of joetheartist's blog, the Liverpool blog, the networking blog, and our resident philosopher's blog - to name just a few. These blogs don't fit into the online diary stereotype perpetrated by the unknowing.

A Blank Piece Of Paper

For me, people were getting hung up about the form over the content. As one person puts it, when an artist sits down with a blank piece of paper, anything can be created. It can be a work of art, a doodle, the beginning of a novel, a mind map for another creative idea. So for me a blog is an online version of that blank piece of paper. It is exciting precisely because the blogger can create anything s/he wants to.

Liberating Creativity

When I started blogging here, I didn't know what I was going to do. My blog has evolved as I have interacted with people here and seen what they like, what they appreciate and, most importantly, what they ignore. This, for me, is another key part of the blog puzzle - the possibility of interacting with your audience. Some people might find this frightening; I find it liberating. Just think, I can write what I like, try out ideas, get feedback, improve my creative output - all before I try to sell a piece of writing to a potential client.

In the past, this creative process took place offline, sometimes alone, sometimes with like-minded people. But the fact that creativity is taking place in full view of the world does not negate the viability of blogging as a creative form. In a sense, it gives everyone the possibility of being an artist but allows them to choose the form that their art takes.

Answering The Question

In the end, my answer to the question was this: a blog is what individuals make of it. And a blog is also a conversation with your audience. That seems to me to be a good thing for all artists, including writers.

So that's my view on blogging; what's yours? I'm seeing these people again in a couple of weeks and I'd love to give them some insight into what committed bloggers think on this issue.

More posts on blogging:

Blogging and Creativity
Blogging As Portfolio
How WritingUp Helped Me Get A Writing Job

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Five Questions To Help Writers Get Paid

As a freelance writer, it's your job to keep editors and publishers happy. Aside from the issue of professional integrity, it's a good way to make sure you're asked to write for a publication again. One of the best ways of doing this is to be clear on exactly what a commission entails. To do this there are five questions that writers should get the answers to before starting work.

1. What Should I Write?

It is important to get a brief from an editor about the piece of writing you are being commissioned to write. At the very least, the brief should cover how long the article should be and what the article needs to cover. If the commission has resulted from a query, then you may already know these things. However, it is always best to make sure both you and the editor are on the same page. Writers should also find out whether editors will require additional material (such as photos and sidebars) to illustrate the article.

2. When Do You Want It?

Establishing a deadline is essential for keeping the professional relationship running smoothly. Having a deadline means that writers can plan their writing time well. Meeting a deadline will make an editor love you and is likely to result in repeat commissions.

3. What Credit Will I Get?

Writers usually get a byline for their writing and some publications even allow a brief bio. If you find out which the editor prefers, you can include this when submitting you article instead of having to write a bio in a panic at the last minute. Make sure you ask for a copy of the magazine, too. This will help to build your portfolio.

4. What Rights Am I Selling?

When an article is commissioned, the magazine is buying the right to use it. However, you still own the copyright. It is important to decide what rights are being offered. It is normal to offer the right to be the first to publish a piece of writing in a magazine in a particular country. This is known as 'first serial rights'. Online rights are often requested, but writers should make sure that any exclusive period is for a limited time so they can republish the article elsewhere after the rights have expired.

5. What About Payment?

Payment for writing varies widely from country to country and publication to publication. There are several organizations that give price guides, such as the National Writers' Union in the US (members only) and the National Union of Journalists in the UK. Other resources for setting prices include writers.ca and Writers's Market. However, small or startup magazines may not be able to pay even the minimum price. The best thing to do is to negotiate a price you're happy with.

Once you've established the details of the commission, deadline, rights and payment, it's time to get to work and get paid to write. Happy writing!

More information and examples here.

Friday, April 21, 2006

When Do You Write?

I was having a conversation with a friend about writing and editing (you know writers; if we're not writing, we're talking about writing). Specifically, we were talking about the times that we do particular writing related tasks. I realised that my approach is this:

  • I write best in the morning
  • edit best in the afternoon
  • and have my best ideas in the middle of the night

Why is this? Well, I've always been a morning person, so whatever job I've done, mornings have always been my most productive time. It's the time of day when I have most energy and my brain is freshest. When I lived in the Caribbean, days started early. Sunrise was anytime from 5.30am and most people were at their office desks by 8am. So it's sort of in the blood. Even though I live in the UK where it's often still dark at 8am, my brain still works the same way. Even when mornings are cold and grey, I'm still more of a morning person. That's why I tend to do most of my writing then. Anything I write in the morning will be better, crisper and will need less editing than writing done in the afternoon or at night. Other morning tasks include replying to urgent emails or emails that require a well-thought-out response.

After about 2pm, the writing is not as good, though I do it if I have to. (Heck, I've written at midnight if I have a deadline to meet!) So I tend to keep the afternoons for editing work that I've previously written. Somehow, my pernickety streak works well in the afternoon - and this is useful for editing tasks. Maybe it's because I'm tired after a morning of writing. Other tasks that I do in the afternoon are replying to non-urgent email, uploading articles to InspiredAuthor, some blogging and responding to comments (though that sometimes creeps into the morning as well), making appointments and phone calls.

The best and the worst bit, however, is getting ideas. I love having ideas for new pieces of writing, but I don't like the fact that they usually come at 2 or 3am. Inspiration is great, but with a toddler who's up at the crack of dawn, I really need my sleep. I suppose I shouldn't complain, though. I've written poems, children's stories, short stories and blog posts in my head in the middle of the night. Sometimes I've even woken up so I can write them down, because the only thing worse than lying awake all night with an idea is not being able to remember it in the morning. That's happened to me a few times when I've been too tired to get up. Now I keep a pen and paper in a drawer next to the bed so I can scribble some illegible notes. That way there's at least a chance I'll be able to have something to write the next day.

When do you write?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Vote For The Best Writing School

Here's a bit of fun for a rainy day (at least, it's raining here). There's a new vote in town. Novel Writer magazine is running a poll on which is the best online writer's school. This got me to thinking about the value of writing courses.

I'm probably old fashioned. I learned to write by having a job which forced me to write, so I have not had any formal training. However, for 13 or so years, I wrote every day. I wrote news stories, feature articles, reviews and much more. When I started teaching, I wrote courses and exercises for students and spent a lot of time critiquing writing. At the same time, I did a spot of freelancing to keep my hand in.

Now, I'm a reader, so when I want to know something, I turn to the books. I have about 20 books on different aspects of writing, because I want to make sure I've got the info on any kind of writing I want to do. Almost all the books on writing recommend that you attend a writing course to improve your writing. I have also attended a couple of one day workshops on different aspects of writing, all within the last year. In fact, there's a new one in town next week that I'm thinking of going to.

And now I have the option of studying online. There are so many online writing schools that it's difficult to decide which is best. Does anyone have an opinion on this? If you do, why don't you head over to the poll, cast your vote and leave me a comment about whether writing schools are useful and which one you think is best. I really want to know.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

How To Pay Yourself Fairly For Writing

New freelance writers often wonder how to charge for their writing. Writers want to make sure that they get paid fairly for the effort they have put in. In the short term, writers may work for very little while they are getting established. But in the long term, writers who don't earn a fair wage will not be able to freelance for long. There are three questions that writers should ask themselves when deciding what hourly rate they should set.

What Do I Want To Earn?

Some writers write in their spare time and have full time jobs elsewhere. These writers may not need to earn as much as those who rely on writing for their income. Whatever their situation, writers should consider how much money they need to earn to eat, pay the bills and maybe have a little fun from time to time. It's nice to think that you can catch a movie or go to a gig once in a while.

Writers also need to think about the taxman. Depending on where writers live, any where from 22% to 35% or more (if you're really successful) will be gobbled up by the government. For example, in the UK, tax and National Insurance takes over 30% of your income (after allowances). So writers need to add this figure to the amount they want to earn.

How Much Writing Will I Do?

Full-time writers will spend the equivalent of a working week on writing. That's more than 2,000 hours a year. However, take out all the time you spend making cups of coffee, filing, blogging as well as sick days and holidays and there will probably be about 1800 hours left.

Writers also need to think about the cost of consumables. Pens, paper and print cartridges all cost money and this should be added to what writers want to earn.

So What's My Hourly Rate?

Once writers have calculated the number of hours they will work and the full amount they need to earn, working out an hourly rate is simple. Just divide the amount you need to earn by the number of hours you plan to work, and you've got a your hourly rate. Once writers have worked out what they need to earn, they have a figure to aim for.

I have to admit that although I have a target hourly rate, I don't let that get in the way of bidding for jobs at a lower rate. I do have to eat, after all. Writers always have to decide whether it is worth some short term swallowing of pride for the long term gain of having a better portfolio. I don't work for nothing and I try not to work for peanuts. Brazil nuts - now that's a different matter. :-)

To see examples of working out an hourly rate, see Freelance Writing: What's The Job Worth?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

How I Get Paid To Blog

I love writing and I love getting paid to write. So when JohnSunshine wrote about a new service that would allow me to do that, I went straight to the site and signed up. The service is called Blogitive and this is not a scam. I have actually earned money from this site.

Signup is simple. Fill out a form, add your blogs and then wait for them to place appropriate phrases in the 'open offers' section of your account. There are three ways you can earn money.

The first is to be paid for a post. The blogger is given a phrase, such as Mother's Day Flowers, and a link to a website. New info: There is also a web release related to the phrase. The blogger has to create a post around that phrase and include information from the web release. This is actually fun as I have to write about subjects I wouldn't choose and make them sound interesting. It's a good exercise for a writer. It also solves the problem I have on some days of deciding what to post about. Inspiration can come in some unexpected forms. So far, I've been paid $5 a time for these posts. Not bad for 10 minutes' work.

The second is ghost blogging. Like ghost writing, this involves posting fresh content to a company's blog. I haven't had any offers on this yet. The third is comment moderation. Again, I haven't tested this bit yet, either.

There are two important things to remember when posting. The first is to use the link only once. The second - and more important - is to use the phrase exactly as given, even if it contains typos.

Which Blogs Qualify?

I'm not sure about this. I have three blogs and only two of them made the grade (not my WritingUp blog, alas). I don't think this has anything to do with WritingUp itself, as I've spotted a few other bloggers making posts that I'm sure come from Blogitive. However, my WritingUp blog is quite specific and my two others are general - that's probably why Blogitive were interested in them.

How Much Have I Made?

I'm sure that's what everyone's dying to know. I don't think there are any restrictions on discussing my earnings, but just in case, I'll put it this way. I've made enough so far to treat six to eight people to Starbucks and cake (provided they're not greedy).

What About Referrals?

Bloggers can also make money by referring people to Blogitive, though this is not easy as there is no automated system. Bloggers who sign up need to leave a comment giving the name and paypal email address of the person who referred them. I've signed up under my real name so if people want to let me have the referral money they can use that and PM me for the Paypal email address. This does not take anything away from those bloggers' income.

Join the CrispAds Blog Advertising Network!

British Blog Directory

Sunday, April 9, 2006

How To Get Published

Every now and then you find a real gem of a book - and I've found one that is invaluable for writers. It's called the Insider's Guide To Getting Your Book Published. Written by industry veteran Rachael Stock, this is a quick guide to the publishing world. In addition to her own experience, Stock has interviewed other pubishers, agents and editors to get a cross-section of industry perspectives.

It's intended for first time authors and asks and answers writers' questions on:

  • the commissioning process
  • choosing a publisher
  • making money
  • whether writers need agents
  • writing a proposal
  • contract negotiations
  • working with publishers
  • dealing with rejection

This book is clearly written and full of useful case studies. It is probably the best book on publishing I've read all year.

Read a more detailed review here or see it on Amazon.

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Free Is Good: More Free Resources For Writers

When it comes to tools that help me do my job better, free is always good in my book. When writing web articles, writers often need to know how many times they have used particular keywords and keyword phrases. Some employers specify a particular keyword density, while others ask for some keywords to be used a certain number of times in a written article. There are hundreds of keyword density analyzers online, some of them free, some not. These are great if you want to analyze an existing web page but no use at all if you want to check keyword density before you've uploaded a piece of writing. But a bit of searching uncovered a couple of tools that allow writers to do just that.

Enter The Textalyser

Textalyser is an online text analysis tool. Near the top of the page is a box where writers can paste their text. They can then set a minimum number of characters per word, ask it to analyze a particular number of words, and apply a stoplist (words to be ignored such as 'and' and 'but'). Then just press 'analyze the text' and wait for the results, which arrive quickly. The results include a word count, lexical density percentage and readability assessment as well as a frequency count and listing for words and two, three, four and five word phrases.

I have found this incredibly useful and there are features I haven't even used. I could, for example, ask for a particular word or phrase to be analyzed.

Textalyser also analyzes French text, for those who need it, though I haven't tested that function myself.

Marking Time

Although I prefer Textalyser, there's also an alternative that I've used from time to time. Mark Horrell's Keyword Density Analyser does exactly what it says and it works almost the same way as Textalyser. Paste the text into a window and you get a simple table which shows the word, frequency and density. However, it does not show phrases, so this limits its usefulness in my view. That said, there are a number of other free tools on Mark's site, including another spell checker. I haven't used any of the other tools, but some of them seem worth a look.

So those are my recommendations for keyword analysis. And if you really want to analyze an existing web page, both these tools will do that too.

My other posts on free tools and resources

Free Ezine For Your Site
Resources for Freelance Writers - What's The Job Worth?
Writing Tools Online: Resources For Freelance Writers
Keeping Track Of Your Writing
Freelance writing - how much to charge?
Doing The Maths
Without Word: Free Online Tools For Writers

Free resources outside my blog

Freelance writing articles
Writing skills articles
Free writers' forum

PS. Thanks to Haven for the title, which came from this comment.