Is a Friend or Colleague Sabotaging Your Writing Career? – by Chris Saunders

Is a Friend or Colleague Sabotaging Your Writing Career? – by Chris Saunders

Something I hear a lot in writing circles is so-called advice to the effect of, “Don’t force it. Take your time. The words will come eventually.”

This might be perfectly sound advice if you don’t take writing seriously, and only ever want to do it as a hobby. If, on the other hand, you hope to make some extra money, or perhaps one day make the leap and turn professional, you have to start acting like a professional. Now. This means developing and sustaining a good work ethic, managing your time effectively, and setting achievable targets. This is especially important because, if you can’t be true to yourself, and hold yourself accountable for hitting your own self-imposed goals, how are you going to react when the pressure is on? You’ll crumble like a birthday cake.

Don’t listen to the would-be know-it-all’s who facilitate failure, and tell you it’s okay to NOT hit those targets. All they want to do is instill a defeatist attitude in you, and rob you of your ambition. They’re probably on a road to nowhere, and want to take you with them.

If in doubt, try taking a closer look at their accomplishments. They might have the odd published credit to their name. They may even have written a book or two back in the day. But, I can guarantee they aren’t very productive if they’re handing out advice like that. If they were, they wouldn’t be advocating slacking off.

They might claim to have your best interests at heart, but really they want to hold you back because seeing you succeed would highlight their own inadequacies. It’s an unfortunate truth that some people masquerading as ‘writers’ are far happier telling other people how to write than they are doing it themselves.

Setting targets for yourself, and hitting them, not only makes you more efficient and productive, but it does wonders for your confidence and self-esteem. Above all, its good business practice. Every time you hit a deadline, and receive the resulting payment, it’s both a boost and an adrenaline rush. But, you have to turn that into a habit.

Anyone who has worked in journalism will tell you how important deadlines are. There is a pre-conception amongst a lot of writers that they are at the top of the food chain. Nothing can be further from the truth. In any newsroom, or on any editorial team, the writer is just a small cog in a very large machine. They fit in, and take their place among the editors, sub-editors, designers, picture researchers, and various other individuals who all rely on everyone else being efficient at their jobs. One small delay, like a missed deadline, can upset the delicate balance, and affect the entire production schedule. Make no mistake, if this happens regularly, your editor will feel he or she can’t trust you and your job will be on the line. They don’t want excuses. They want the assignment finished.

Hitting your deadlines can be more complex than you might think. It’s not simply a case of finishing an assignment by a given time. There’s a science to it. The first priority is to know your capabilities and limitations, and to have a full understanding of what everything on your ‘to do’ list entails. For example, you might be given two tasks. The first is writing a 2000-word article about baking brownies while the second article is a 700-word profile on a mystery writer doing a reading at your local library. You have five days to submit both articles. Given the word counts, you could be forgiven for thinking that the first would take longer. But, what if baking brownies is something you do every week? You even have a whole folder full of recipes, pictures, and notes on your computer. That makes the task easy.

Now what about the second article? If you are unfamiliar with the author in question, it would mean a hefty amount of time-consuming preparation and fact-finding. You might want to contact the publisher, or the author directly, to request an interview. Depending on their schedule, this might take weeks to come to fruition. You’ll also need some background information and publicity images, plus details about his or her new book, the venue, and the event. You might also want to talk to some readers or industry insiders to get their opinions or some quotes.

So, even though the second assignment has a lower word count than the first, it is far more complex, and will involve a lot more work. Therefore, you need to start it first. This is where prioritization and time management comes into play. It often helps if you break up the project into smaller, more reasonable chunks, taking care of the more time-sensitive aspects first.

As for the actual writing process, in practice many professionals use the ‘sign post’ method, which amounts to first listing the main points you want to cover in your article, and then addressing each when you are able, inserting quotes and researched data as you go. Having all the areas you want to cover in front of you in a logical order helps maintain focus, and prevents you going off on tangents.

Another way of looking at this would be to imagine starting with a skeleton, and then putting meat on the bones. It’s always easier to write when you have a plan, and, if for some reason one section grinds to a halt, you can simply move on to the next, and knit it all together later.

Being a successful journalist or freelance writer is a constant juggling act. Think of deadlines as finishing posts. It doesn’t really matter how you get there…just that you do.


Chris Saunders, who writes fiction as C.M. Saunders, is a freelance journalist and editor from south Wales. His work has appeared in almost 100 magazines, ezines and anthologies worldwide, and he has held staff positions at several leading UK magazines ranging from Staff Writer to Associate Editor. His books have been both traditionally and independently published, the latest release being a collection of short fiction called X4.

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