PAY THE WRITERS

Have you heard Huffington Post’s attitude towards paying for content? If not, you’re in for a treat: it seems that the editor of Huff Post UK is “proud” that the company doesn’t pay writers, otherwise it wouldn’t be “real”.

That’s right. The UK editor of a multi-million dollar (or so I’m guessing) company doesn’t think it’s appropriate to pay writers. You know, the people who are writing the content for the site that earns him the money to live on. Which of course writers don’t need.

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In an interview with BBC Radio 4, Stephen Hall explained why he doesn’t pay the 13,000 or so contributors to Huff Post UK. 13,000 of them. All unpaid. And he’s proud of it.

Here’s what he said: “If I was paying someone to write something because I wanted it to get advertising pay, that’s not a real authentic way of presenting copy. So when somebody writes something for us, we know it’s real. We know they want to write it. It’s not been forced or paid for. I think that’s something to be proud of.”

I’ll just let you bang your head against the desk for a minute.

Done? Ok.

I’m almost speechless. It’s such an appalling statement. It’s as if any revenue from advertising that may magically appear is a happy coincidence, not something that’s been meticulously planned and budgeted for.

But it’s so blatant, too. How is it even possible? It’s as if someone’s saying, “You create the work that gets us paid, but we won’t pay you. HAHAHA!” Who, in any other profession, would be happy with that arrangement?

Essentially, it’s fuelling the belief that we, as writers, aren’t worth paying for. That our words are nothing more than mindless fodder for those with time on their hands to read them. That it’s easy to bash out words on the page – a monkey can write Shakespeare, after all.

It perpetuates the idea that we should be doing it for the love of our craft, that the prospect of “exposure” and respect should be enough to keep food on the table and our houses paid for, and that the warm glow of knowing we’re being truly “authentic” in our vision is all we need to sustain ourselves.

Except it isn’t. It doesn’t even come close. Respect doesn’t pay the rent.
Now, there are of course cases where writers write because they want to, with no prospect of remuneration at the end of it. Be it the creative need to write (someone who simply has to); to build a personal platform, brand or authority (perhaps on a blog); to practice technique and form by simply getting words on the page; or maybe to enter competitions. These kinds of things are acceptable forms of freebie writing and are arguably a vital part of the writer’s craft, being a way to hone their skills, get their voices heard, and ultimately carve a path to success.

But that’s it.

It shouldn’t be the case when it comes to writing for commercial purposes. If you’re writing for a publication, individual, or company that’s making money from your writing, you should be making money from it, too. Huff Post is entirely based on content providers. It depends on them. It’s all words. Your writing sells and it’s what earns them the big bucks.  So why shouldn’t you be suitably compensated for it?

“But you should be happy to write for nothing! It shows you’re real! It shows you’re authentic! It shows you’re a true artist!”

Oh really? Would you work for nothing simply to prove yourself as a good chef/accountant/lawyer? Should we not pay builders, doctors, solicitors, engineers or the Huff Post editor, for fear that the treatment we’d get, the service we’d receive, would be inauthentic if we paid for it?

So why treat writers any differently?

It simply doesn’t happen in any other industry, bar the creative one. And it’s ridiculous. If you’re working, if you’re providing a service in any way shape or form, you should be paid for it. Writers included.

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The Lester Dent Master Fiction Plot challenge


Have you ever heard of Lester Dent? Or more specifically, his formula for writing a great story? If not, allow me to paraphrase slightly.

It’s a formula – or master plot – for writing a 6,000 word pulp story. It lists everything you need to include and when, from the murder method (if that’s the kind of story you’re going for) and the all-important location to the overarching menace that stands in the way of the hero.

It even breaks it down into handy 1,500-word chunks to help you stay on course, outlining the action that needs to take place in each section (and crucially, when that action needs to occur), when to introduce your characters, and how to build atmosphere – everything you need to craft a suspense-filled pulp tale.

Of course, there’s more to it than that, and you can find the formula in full here: http://www.writerightnow.co.uk/lester-dents-formula-writing-adventure-pulp-fiction/ (There are plenty of other blogs that cover it, but this is the post that I keep referring back to. Thanks Writerightnow.co.uk!)

It’s an intriguing concept, and one that seemed hugely successful for Mr Dent. The creator of Doc Savage, this is a guy who wrote hundreds of books in his time, all of them (as far as I can gather) of the pulp variety, so the formula must have worked. Of course, it still requires a huge amount of imagination and plenty of ideas to enjoy that kind of success, but it can’t be denied, it sounds like a great starting point.

As far as I can tell, there’s no reason that this kind of formula can’t be expanded to suit the requirements of a novella or even a complete novel, either, and it could probably work with more modern iterations of the mystery/thriller genre as well. But it doesn’t hurt to start with the basics, so I’m setting myself the challenge of writing a 6,000 word pulp story according to the rules of Mr Dent (the more I say Mr Dent, the more I’m getting Batman flashbacks. But I digress…).

Essentially, it’s a template, and as a fledgling fiction writer, a template is something I can most definitely work with. I like the idea of having guidelines I can refer back to that can help me build a narrative, rather than diving in with no real idea of what to put where – and it could probably help with the whole fear of the blank page thing, too.

As an added bonus, I love the pulp style as well, particularly stories with a noir feel. The Postman Always Rings Twice was one of the first books I read in the genre and The Big Sleep quickly followed, while Patricia Highsmith is by far my favourite of the more modern noir-ists. I’m looking to order a title by Christa Faust (The Money Shot) to get my teeth into a modern-day pulp story, too.

Maybe it’s just me, but I get a distinctive Sin City-style image whenever I picture that genre – all inky tones and sombre mood, with the odd flash of red thrown in for good measure – and I’d love to write something in that style. My first love may be writing with a psychological edge, but there’s no reason why I can’t deviate from time to time. Or even combine the two. Now there’s a thought…

So, the stage is set and I’m ready to go. I’ve got the formula and a few ideas buzzing around, and now all I’ve got to do is get them onto paper. Challenge accepted. Wish me luck!

The fear of the blank page

I’ve been thinking about the kind of stories I could write for a while now. Ideas have definitely been brewing, be they in the form of concepts, characters or even images, but so far, that’s all they’ve been. Ideas.

I’ve scribbled them down and have been carefully mulling over the basics, getting flashes of inspiration every now and then, all of them written in my brand new notebook (which I just had to get before I could start taking this writing lark seriously again), but they’ve yet to take any real shape.

Essentially, I’ve yet to properly put pen to paper (or the digital equivalent). I haven’t written anything that could be even marginally construed as a narrative; nothing fiction-related in the slightest. Basically, I’m scared, and it’s this fear that’s holding me back.

It’s the fear of not being good enough – of writing rubbish, of not being creative enough to qualify as a true writer, of not even knowing what to write, how to write or where to start. The fear of the blank page.

It can be a crippling, debilitating fear, I’ve found. It can completely immobilise a writer and prevent them from putting even a single word on the page, so every idea remains locked away. It can prevent a writer from becoming a writer.

And it’s starting to annoy me. Considering the fact that I face the blank page several times a day in my role as a financial journalist, it’s something that I really should have grown out of by now. If I was completely paralysed with fear every single time I had to write a new piece, I’d never get any work done whatsoever and would quickly find that I become a *former* financial journalist.

But this isn’t journalism. It isn’t work and it isn’t something I’m getting paid for. It’s an entirely different way of writing, and it has an entirely different set of motivations.

It’s writing from my own ideas, my own thoughts; not from a press release or research findings. I don’t have anything solid or tangible to build my narrative around. And I don’t have any real need to write – from an external point of view at least – other than that I need to write.

I think that it’s precisely because it’s so different that it’s so terrifying. As it stands, everything about this new phase of writing is entirely theoretical. All I have is a basic idea (or two) about what I want to create. There are no well-rounded characters and there’s no clear, defining story arc for me to build on.

But the fear can’t paralyse me forever. I may not have anything to work with yet, but if I don’t start, that’ll never change, and I’ll forever be a writer of fiction in theory rather than one in practice. So, I’ve come up with a few key things that I’m going to put in motion to try and face my fear:

  1. Write anything. Even if it’s terrible. At least then there’ll be something that I can work with and improve on – everyone’s got to start somewhere.
  2. Don’t be afraid of writing rubbish. An addendum to the above, but important nonetheless.
  3. Start with a title. Even writing a few words on a page can make it seem less daunting – it isn’t blank anymore, after all. Case in point: I had no idea what I was going to write in this blog post, and almost didn’t start it at all, until I wrote the title on a fresh document. It’s amazing how writing a few words can spur you on to write more – it’s made me realise that it’s possible to build something from nothing.
  4. Have a different mindset. Rather than thinking of it as a blank page (which, as we’ve established, is a terrifying concept), why not think of it as a clean slate? A fresh start? A chance to create something new and exciting? It shall no longer be a blank page – instead, it shall be a new, exciting opportunity that’s waiting to be explored.

So, that’s the plan at least. Feel the fear and write anyway. Let’s see how this pans out.

Going back to my roots

I’ve wanted to write for as long as I can remember.

I wrote poetry from a young age (my Mum still has several of my earliest creations tucked away) and careers projects always involved books of some kind. I loved writing in English lessons and would create meticulously crafted stories; in fact, any lesson offered creative potential. A project on the Spanish Armada became an in-depth narrative that filled an entire exercise book, while a simple one-page essay could be eked out into reams of carefully-honed words. I was never one for brevity.

But, somewhere along way – I can’t remember when or why – I must have decided that writing wasn’t a suitable career choice. Perhaps I couldn’t see a way of actually earning a living from it, that dreams of multi-million pound book contracts were just that, and that a far better idea would be to focus on something else. (I changed my mind later, hence my launch into the freelance world and beyond, but that’s another story.)

I don’t think it was a particularly conscious choice, but what I focused on next was psychology, and that was the start of my second passion in life.

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There’s something about the human mind that fascinates me. That we all have essentially the same physical components, but that something about us – be it genetic predispositions, differences in the way those genes are expressed, a slightly different mix of chemicals, or simply our environment – makes us entirely different from the person sitting next to us. No-one, not even supposedly-genetically identical twins, has exactly the same personality, or precisely the same reactions to external stimuli.

Certain aspects of the mind can’t even be explained, over a century after the father of psychiatry first began his analysis of the human psyche. Things like sociopathy – how does one become a sociopath? What is it about their genetics, their upbringing, their chemical composition that makes their emotional reactions, and their mind as a whole, so different to those of so-called “normal” people? (I could talk for hours about whether anyone actually is “normal” and what defines it as such, but not right now.)

It’s these questions in particular that excite me, and perhaps explain why I centred on psychology at A-Level, and again in my degree. It could also explain why I’ve gone back to my roots, as it were, in my writing.

My writing has always had a psychological edge. In fact, I recently opened a notebook that had remained firmly shut for some four years, only to find that the ideas I’ve been mulling over in recent weeks – all sociopathy-based, incidentally – were the exact same ones I first wrote down all those years ago. Almost to the word (in some sentences, the exact same words). And I had no recollection of them whatsoever until I went back to that notebook.

Coincidence, no? Perhaps those ideas were always there, just out of conscious reach, bubbling away under the surface and silently pushing me to get back to that creative space. But I’m taking it as a sign. Having recently returned to my first love, I’m going to combine it with my second, and see what kind of melting pot I can create. Let’s get cooking.

What am I doing here?

Writer, proofreader, sub-eA photo of an old type writer with focus on the textditor, copywriter, freelancer and financial journalist… I’ve been a lot of things in my years as a writer, but I really want to add another string to my writerly bow – author.

It was a desire that went off the boil for a while, but now it’s slowly starting to return, bubbling away under the surface, waiting to explode in a geyser of epic proportions (clearly, metaphors and overdramatisation are things I really need to work on).

So, who am I, why am I here, and why have I decided that now’s the time to go back to basics and follow my dreams?

Well, two years ago I sacrificed the freedom and flexibility of the freelance world for the lure of a steady pay cheque and the relative security of a 9-5, and in doing so my focus on creative writing – or writing purely for myself – went straight to the bottom of my list of priorities. So much so, that I wasn’t even aware it was there, and would even question whether I had it in me to write in such a way.

For a while, that was fine. I was excited to be in the world of finance and I loved writing about it. I was motivated to succeed and every day felt like a new challenge. And I was good at my job. Still am. From the moment I became the key writer for my company’s consumer website, visitor numbers took off. I relished the chance to get into my consumer finance stride, and I loved switching between that and my B2B voice on a daily basis. I honed my skills and my ability to write for different audiences, and was compelled to do better.

But now, two years on, the novlety of a new industry and the excitement of a career opportunity has categorically worn off, and the knoweldge that I’m doing the sensible, secure thing isn’t enough to keep me inspired. I find that I’m writing the same thing day after day, with the same lack of acknowledgement, and nothing about the work I do, or the topics I write about, excites me (there are a few exceptions, but not many).

Quite simply, I’m bored, uninspired, demotivated, and lacking any challenge – and as it stands, there’s no prospect of that changing in the near future.

But I’m a great believer that there’s a silver lining to everything, and in this case, it’s this: that level of boredom has compelled me to do something more, and it’s led me back to my first love – and my reason for getting into the field in the first place – my love of writing, pure and simple.

So I’ve started writing. And reading. And getting excited about the possibility of doing something more with it.

And it’s so refreshing. It’s a massive cliché, but the thought of doing something purely for myself has given me a huge lease of life. I no longer want to collapse on the sofa as soon as I get home from work and veg out in an exhausted state of semi-consciousness for the evening, because I’ve got something more meaningful to occupy my time. Work isn’t quite as demoralising as I know I’ve got something else to think about. I’m reading again, and I’m looking for new books to add to my already burgeoning to-read pile. I’m excited about the thought of buying a new notebook and pen. Hell, I may even be motivated enough to get back on the treadmill from time to time, but baby steps.

I’ve got the passion back for writing, and a dream that I hope will be fulfilled. Whether or not it’ll become a reality is another question entirely, but at the very least, I’m writing again, and it’s just for me. It’s part of my writerly life that I can really get my teeth into, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store. I wouldn’t say that ideas have started to form, but the creative juices are definitely flowing – I can feel them rushing through me as I’m sitting at my desk, the cogs of the brain ticking over slightly, warming up again, getting ready for something more.

This post will hopefully be the first of many, and I can’t wait to get going with it again (this isn’t a new space but a resurrection of my freelance blog, the posts of which will remain hidden for now). Bring on the fresh start, and the new set of challenges!