Friday, October 25, 2013

Breaking the Bubble

Have you dreamed of quitting your 9-5 job and becoming a freelance writer? Sure, you have—and so have a lot of others, but only a few ever act on it. Have you ever wondered why?

Linda Formichelli, author of Write Your Way Out of the Rat Race, recently posted a blog for Writer’s Digest in which she extolls the virtues of quitting your day job to take up writing as a career. And while she touches briefly on a few of the negative points, she mostly presents a rosy picture of this transition. And why shouldn’t she? After all, she’s promoting her book, published by Writer’s Digest Books, on this very subject.

But there are a lot of pins, needles, and knives out there that will try to break your dream bubble before you even get started.

To break into freelance writing, you have two choices—literally jump right in by quitting your day job one day and beginning your writing career the next (definitely NOT recommended), or you can plan ahead for a smoother transition.

There’s more to making dreams come true than just wishing them so. Formichelli mentions feeding your family several times in her blog. But she doesn’t clarify what that means. First, how many people are in your family? Feeding them is only the tip of the iceberg. What about clothing, and medical and dental care?

Let’s face it, you have a better chance of succeeding in freelancing if you’re single. No, you shouldn’t divorce your spouse. But buying for one, you’ll eat less food, use less fuel in both your car and home, and need fewer clothes. Unfortunately, you’ll have to pay for your own healthcare now that you’re not working for someone else.

You may counter this by saying that if you’re married, you can add in your spouse’s income. That’s fine if you’re both working 9-5 jobs with a definite income, but as a freelancer, you income will be spotty, especially for the first few years. Will your spouse be willing to provide all the income for your family?

Few people are truly passionate about their jobs. Those who are find real satisfaction in working every day. If you’re planning to write full-time, you better well be passionate about writing. Otherwise, it will end up as just another job—albeit a job with LOTS of headaches.

Can you visualize your life in 25 years? Will you still be as passionate about writing then as you are now? There will be ups and downs. Writers experience burnout just like everyone else. Are you going to be able to deal with it? While your current boss may be demanding some or all of the time, he or she is the one ultimately responsible for keeping their business afloat. When you work for yourself, you shoulder all the responsibility.

But shouldering all the responsibility isn’t all bad. As a freelancer, you’ll have to power to control what you do. You’ll be able to choose your markets. However, there may be times when all your markets collapse at the same time. You lose all your income overnight. While you may think of giving up, what about feeding your family? If you have others that are dependent on you, you may have to think twice about giving it all up and returning to the rat race.

And while your income as a freelancer can be unlimited, the reality is that a writer can only work so many hours in a day or week. You can’t work 24 hours a day, no matter how much money you think you can make. Only a few freelancers ever see the big bucks. Luck has a lot to do with it. Most earn less than they ever could working for someone else, expect possibly working for a fast food chain on minimum wage. There will be times when you’ll be earning less than minimum wage. And don't forget the benefits like paid healthcare and contribution to a retirement account.

So while freelance writing may seem glamorous from the outside, once you’re on the inside, it’s a whole different story. Think carefully before you take the leap.

Friday, October 4, 2013

It All Begins With a Title

Do you have trouble coming up with good titles for your articles, short stories, and books? Don’t worry, it’s a common problem. For many writers, professional and otherwise, creating a good title is often a challenge. Perhaps it’s the thought that the title is the first thing a reader sees and in many cases determines if he or she decides to read on.

Some writers feel that a title has to be gimmicky to catch the reader’s attention. In fact, it’s just the opposite. A simple straight-forward title is your best bet.

To begin, it helps to remember the functions of a title.  A good title accomplishes several things.
First, it predicts content. The title of your piece should give the reader a clue to what it’s about—look at some of the titles of previous posts of this blog. Second, it catches the reader's interest. If a title is interesting in its own right, it will catch the reader’s eye. Third, it reflects the tone or slant of the piece of writing. While this may not be as important in fiction, it definitely applies to non-fiction. Fourth, it contains keywords that will make it easy to access by a computer search. You probably haven’t given much thought to this last item, but it’s increasingly important to make it easier to find your work online.

Creating a good title is process all its own. Don’t wait until you’ve finished your piece to title it. Start by thinking up a good working title. This could be taken from a simple sentence, often called a topic statement, describing what your article or story is about. You may also phrase it as a question beginning with what, who, when, where, how or why—“How Often Should You Get Your Oil Changed?” And keep it as short as possible.

Pick out of your article or story a concrete image, something the reader can hear, see, taste, smell, or feel. Or try to come up with a one-word title.

Another way to come up with a good title is to think of a familiar saying, or the title of a book, song, or movie and adjust it to fit your needs—“Gone With the Weight.”

Newspapers like the New York Post constantly use puns as titles----“Astrology—Hit or Myth?” You can even use an alliteration, such as “Beautiful Bermuda.”

Use arresting superlatives to establish that your subject is unique. Both editors and readers find them hard to resist—“Meet the Person With the Highest IQ” or “The World’s Most Successful Business.” Another possibility is to use numbers—“Ten Best Foods to Eat.” Supermarket tabloids depend on titles like these to sell their magazines.

Try using captions and the active voice, such as “Listen! Mark Twain Speaking.”

All of the above suggestions work. Brainstorm some titles just for practice. Once you get in the habit of creating good titles—and the more you write—the faster you’ll be able to come up with them.