Books for Freelance Writers
by L. Peat O’Neil
Freelance writers are lucky today. Look at the rows of books on writing, creative process, marketing and publishing. Consider the wealth of material for writers on websites like MatadorNetwork
We have books by Natalie Goldberg, Stephen King, Anne Lamott and Julia Cameron that urge prospective writers to try their wings. Writer’s support magazines and websites supplement the how-to-write books issued every year. I’ve written one myself, on travel writing.
There wasn’t such an array of books for writers when I started freelancing back in the 1980s. You wrote your piece, checked Writer’s Market for a likely periodical, sent a query or the manuscript out and crossed your fingers or chewed your nails. Targeting a magazine and honing style and length for a particular market were evolving concepts for freelancers.
I suppose we still hurl our work and ideas into the unknown, but the process is faster now. And there’s certainly lots more information available to help a freelancer with online options and digital publishing.
Get Out of Your Own Way
I also like Get Out of Your Own Way for guidance on conquering procrastination and perfection obsessions.
During the years I’ve been writing on a freelance basis, I’ve often turned to books for help with the mechanics and for inspiration. Early on, I found a copy of Freelance Forever: Successful Self-Employment, by Marietta Whittlesey, Avon Books, 1982. The title was reassuring; this freelance writing experiment could pan out. Other people did it–forever. Some information is dated (tax and insurance advice) and the internet was just a gleam in the Pentagon’s eye when the books was written. There are useful tips for setting up a workspace, securing contracts or collecting debts. Whittlesey’s common sense advice for nurturing the psyche while working alone resonates with any freelancer.
Another guide for writers that I’ve read and underlined is The Independent Scholar’s Handbook, by Ronald Gross, Addison-Wesley Publishing, 1983. It presents enduring information on how to navigate the fiords of academe.
The issue of a writer’s time is always sensitive. Now that I hold a day job helping diplomats with social media, blogging and writing a wiki, my freelance work gets less time. I still teach writing workshops a few times each year. Allocating private time for writing is my most difficult assignment. Other freelance writers tell similar stories. Friends rarely understand that we’d rather be actively researching a project than going to movie or some other spectator event. A writer’s work hours occasionally defy circadian rhythms, which can annoy housemates.
A Writer’s Time: Making the Time to Write by Kenneth John Atchity, W. W. Norton, 1995 (revised ed.) taught me that a writer can be working anytime, anywhere. When you are thinking about your subject–fiction or non-fiction, you are instructing the subconscious, laying down scenes and phrases that will dart from your fingers to the screen or notepad the next time you have a moment to set down words.
Most writers need assistance with style and grammar. I steer towards handbooks that will entertain me as I improve my spelling and rhetoric. You may open a copy of Usage and Abusage by Eric Partridge, Penguin Books, 1963 with a smirk — the title suggests arcane bondage techniques–but this always amusing reference book proffers clever definitions of linguistics that will gloss your writing with a patina of British diction. Here you can learn that a group of leopards is a leap and “teeming with” is incorrect for “rich in.” Seven entries for “like” suggest to me the prevalence of that word in the unconsidered speech of the young or illiterate is not unique to our times, because the book was first published in 1947.
I regularly revisit the silky prose in William Zinsser’s On Writing Well and William Strunk and E. B. White’s The Elements of Style. Other useful technical no-nonsense texts include a Thesaurus, the OED, several foreign language and specialty dictionaries, the Associated Press Style Book, Chicago Manual of Style and the Prentice Hall Handbook for Writers.
After organizing an office, nailing down a contract, marking off time, and checking your grammar, what’s left but inspiration. I dip into a writer’s diary or a collection of an author’s letters to remind myself that writing has never been easy and creative people must forever nurture themselves and each other.
Self-direction, the essence of the freelancing life, invites constant renewal.
Insightful books for psychological motivation include:
*Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury, Capra Press, 1990
*Letters From the Earth, Mark Twain, Fawcett Crest, 1942
*If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit by Brenda Ueland, Graywolf Press, 1987
*Women & Writing, Virginia Woolf, The Women’s Press, 1979
*Reading and Writing, Robertson Davies, Univ. of Utah Press, 1992
*The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers, by John Gardner, 1983