Friday, September 9, 2011

What Does It Mean to Have Cave Smarts?

Neanderthal man survived for a very long time because he had “cave smarts.” To survive as a freelance writer, you also have to develop cave smarts but of a different kind. While the Neanderthals learned to hunt by trial and error, you must know your strengths and weaknesses and use them accordingly.

Most writers are industrious, sometimes intuitive,  at times a bit impulsive and perhaps compulsive, and observant. What drives most writers is inspiration. The difference between writers and wannabee writers is how they handle it.  A wannabee writer believes that he or she has to be inspired to write anything while a professional writer uses inspiration to get ideas that he or she further develops into articles, stories, and books—all the while keeping an eye on their target market.

If you don’t have a reader in mind when inspiration strikes, you might as well not write anything. Writing for yourself won’t get you anywhere professionally. You have to write for a specific audience. This audience may change from publication to publication or from book to book, but it’s there, nevertheless. Knowing who that audience is ahead of time will enable you to use those inspired ideas to their best advantage. And that’s where being industrious comes in. It takes a lot of hard work to develop an idea to its full potential—perhaps hours of research, followed by an equal amount of time actually writing.

And men, don’t let the women convince you that only they have “intuition.” If an idea seems right, then it probably is. Follow your intuition once in a while. You may have a “gut” feeling about a topic. Follow it through. It may turn out to be the best piece you ever wrote or a runaway bestseller.

While it isn’t in your best interest to act impulsively, once in a while you may have to decide then and there—providing the light bulb goes on in your head—that you’re going to start working on an idea. This often will give you a jump on the competition. And in today’s super fast media world, that may not be such a bad thing.

Avoid acting compulsively. Don’t worry about sharpening your pencils or making sure your desk is compulsively neat. Sure, you’ll have to put on your janitorial hat occasionally, but don’t make it come before getting your writing done. Don’t use cleaning, filing, or sorting as an excuse not to write. As a professional writer, you should be able to write any where at any time.

Many believe that successful writers don’t clip, file, retrieve information. Only a handful of writers work at an empty desk with only a computer and a monitor. If you don’t accumulate lots of files on the work your doing, then you probably aren’t doing enough research. You may use clips of articles to help develop a current project, or you may let them age to help trigger ideas in the future. More important than talent or luck, is the knack for using clips and files to research and develop topics to write about. Contrary to popular opinion, professional writers don’t write off the top of their heads. Even writing a blog takes some thought and preparation.

Writers overdevelop their sense of observation the way a blind person overdevelop their sense of smell or hearing. You need to be alert at all times, even when you’re not actually working. Ideas are everywhere and if you’re not keenly observant, you’ll miss them and perhaps some great opportunities.

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