Writing is a hard business. Finding the right words, and making sure their meaning and their sound and their rhythm all merge properly on the page, has been a head-banger since people were scratching on cave walls. Those of us who write stories we make up have one special set of problems, and those who try to research and write the world’s literal truth have another. This blog will be my attempt to share what I’ve learned, in more than three decades as a reporter and writer, what I’ve learned about gathering and organizing information, and then writing it down as clearly as possible.
I’m going to try to do something else as well: discuss how to make a living as a writer. Because as much as writing is a literary act, it’s a mercenary one as well. If we don’t get paid — if we can’t pay the rent and buy groceries and keep the lights on — it doesn’t matter how brilliant we are as wordsmiths. It’s the dirty little secret of the literary life: Words are to writers what shoes are to cobblers. We have to produce enough of them, and sell them at a high enough price, to stay in business. It isn’t easy.
I wrote this blog in 2009 and am re-posting it upon request. To read them in order, read from the bottom. If you’ve already read them then and feel that you remember them well enough, you can skip the entire exercise and check in about ten weeks from now to see if I’ve added anything new.
My wife, Margaret, and I both started out as newspaper reporters. Then we were full-time freelance writers, with no other income, from 1987 until taking jobs with an NGO, in 2015. We didn’t live large, but we lived entirely on our writing income, and rarely had to resort to writing stuff we didn’t want to write. We were lucky. But we also were careful never to forget that alongside the responsibility that we have to write the truth and inspire with our words is the equally important requirement to make a buck so we can keep writing. We’ve watched a lot of freelancers fail over the past three decades, and usually it has been not because they failed at the former, but because they lifted the eye from the latter.
“No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money,” — Samuel Johnson.