Hands Full Of Snow: A Learning Journey

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I pride myself on my ability to adapt in order to deliver exactly what a client wants, and I enjoy it when this forces me into learning a new skill. So when I was asked to research Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method for a project this week, I was excited. I listened to an interview with him, read about the method, and began applying it to the project. The job is still a work in progress, so I can’t claim to have trialled The Snowflake Method in full yet, but I am very hopeful that it’s going to be a game-changer for me when it comes to my own fiction projects.

My brain is a bit like pick-up-sticks: lots of solid, brightly coloured thoughts that get tangled up and can’t be moved without disturbing the others. It means I can easily lose track of ideas and forget how I intend them to relate to each other. The Snowflake Method is essentially about building the story out from a small centre – just as you can draw a snowflake by pulling points out from the lines of two overlapping triangles. It keeps everything organised and under-control, and you can’t lose sight of the essence of the story because it’s right there at the heart of it.

The way I wrote my first novel was scatter-brained. It’s true that it resulted in a story that I’m pretty proud of, but it took a very long time and a lot of frustration to get it there. I’m hopeful that using the principles of The Snowflake Method, at least to get a fiction project off the ground, might be really useful to me when I come to write my next novel.

When I worked in primary schools, I was more passionate about teaching the children how to learn than I was about what to learn, and this is exactly why: being willing, eager and able to learn opens so many doors and paths throughout life. Each project I’ve taken on since I started my freelance journey has been a learning opportunity, and each new skill feeds into the next project. I’m excited to find out what will come next.

Taking Time To Power Up

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Just as I know that getting more sleep would be good for me and somehow still don’t prioritise it, I know I should read more. You get out what you put in, be that to your mind, your body or your piggy bank. Wide reading is the fuel for good writing, and I know how important it is to do it; to constantly be learning and growing and fuelling the desire to write. But, just like going to bed earlier, it falls down the priority list easily. It feels like an indulgence; a treat; something to do to relax rather than a crucial component of developing as a writer. Finding work; doing work; staying on top of admin: that all feels more important, and somehow reading, for me, has slipped to become a weekend morning treat.

I love reading. The world is full of books that I want to read, and the rational part of my mind knows that reading them is good for me, both personally and professionally. I also know that sleeping more would make me a healthier and more productive person, yet still I don’t go to bed early enough. So how do we find the balance? How do we allow ourselves to accept that sometimes down time is part of on-it time? While the responsibility is ultimately on me, I can’t help but think it’s a cultural problem, part and parcel of trying to survive under capitalism. So urgent is the need to earn, and so engrained is the idea that we need to work all the time, that unpicking the stitches is difficult. Studies suggest that a shorter working day would lead to more productivity for businesses, allowing workers to be properly rested and fully engaged during the hours they’re on the job. I’m a big believer in working less and living more, and I know how important it is to fuel the fire. But still…

With reading, the short-term answer for me might be audiobooks. I’ve only tried a free one so far; I haven’t yet committed to a subscription. But listening to an audiobook in transition between one place and another seems like it might be the best solution for me, at least until I can find a better balance within the waking hours I have available. It’s a plaster on a wound that needs to heal properly, but sometimes dressing the wound is the best you can do in the moment.

As for sleep, that’s still a work in a progress.

Battling The Inbox

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I have an inbox full of newsletters. Sometimes I do a bit of a clear-out, but there are a few that remain relevant, a few that I can’t justify unsubscribing from. So they sit there, and they build up. And occasionally, over lunch perhaps, I go through and find out how many deadlines I’ve missed.

The newsletters I keep are ones that link me to relevant, writing-related blogs and articles; they’re ones that list competitions; they’re ones that provide writers with advice; and they’re ones that list job opportunities. I also have a Mslexia subscription that arrives every few months and sits on my desk begging me to read it. I want to read all these things. They’re useful, and when I manage to do them in time, I nearly always find useful opportunities and tips. But how do you schedule these things in? They might lead to things that will generate an income, but they might not, and investing the time to read through them all and then follow up on things that need action can take a lot of time away from the working day. And I’ll be dammed if I’m going to read newsletters in the evening when I could be curled up on the sofa watching The Good Fight.

The answer, I think, is to carve out a chunk of time each day to go through the most pressing material: the job opportunities. Competitions can be done maybe once a week, or once every couple of weeks. But reading other writers’ blogs and news is something I’ve yet to figure out. I think what I’d like to do is set aside a half day once a week for general industry research; reading those things would slot into that time. But keeping a well-managed inbox is a challenge for most people, I think, and newsletters, while useful, are amongst the trickiest to keep on top of.

The Injustice Of The Pay-Per-Word Model

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Writers’ fees vary hugely, and the debate about how much writing is worth continues to be a hot topic with no easy answer. I set my fees based on the work a job requires, and I’m always open to discussion and negotiation with my clients, but I’m at the beginning of my career, and as such sometimes have to accept work that doesn’t pay me fairly. At the top of my list of grievances as a freelance writer is the pay-per-word model.

Pay-per-word as a concept makes me angry. I’ve done it, and I’ll continue to do it while I have to, but it makes me cross how much it devalues the art of writing. You’d never pay an artist for the number of brush strokes they used in a painting: the idea would be ridiculous. The brushstrokes are the components of something much greater, the creation of which has taken time, planning and creative energy.

Writing an article – which is the sort of piece you normally find paid for by word – takes research, planning, crafting and editing. 800 words are not quickly chosen at random and flung onto the page; they are not berries weighed in a punnet after picking. If it were that easy, then anyone could pick the 800 words – you needn’t pay a writer at all if you don’t believe any craft is required. And if you do believe that craft is required, then you should be prepared to pay for it. 800 random words can be written in maybe 15 minutes. 800 carefully chosen, well-researched words, tailored for a specific audience and purpose, and then edited and reworked for impact, cohesion and clarity might take several hours. It is not the same thing, and it makes me really angry how little writers are expected to work for under the pay-per-word model.

We don’t pay for cakes by the number of ingredients in them: we accept that talent and skill has gone into creating a whole item. The idea that a piece of writing should be any different is baffling to me, and it devalues the work that has gone into it, resulting in unfair pay and writers working for far less than they are worth.