Monday, 30 January 2012

Freelance Writing: What Is It Exactly?

Freelance writer. Has a ring to it, doesn't it? Freelance loops around the tongue and finishes in a high-kick hi-ya! But what exactly is a freelance writer many people would ask? 

So here goes. An explanation as much for myself as anyone else. If freelance writing were an element, it'd be air. If it were a colour, it'd be steely pencil grey, sometimes dull, sometimes shimmering silver. It's the complete opposite of a static fixed routine job. It has no boundaries, no timetables, no bosses. It's all on you, the freelancer, the free launcher, sometimes freeloader, the free minded to go out and make your (inked) mark on the world. 

Vaulting. That's the first word that comes to mind to describe the process of freelancing. Pole vaulting to be exact. (Yes, pole vaulting.) Being a freelance writer is like being a pole vaulter. A highly skilled profession that requires poise, balance, strength and timing, skill, showmanship and flair. Just like the practical jump, there's the leap of faith involved too. You must believe to succeed. 

Arch yourself to the work required, bend and flex and tilt and turn and swivel, all in the aim of finishing triumphantly, achieving what others deem as the impossible. Indeed, getting work is like going through the motions of a pole vault; it requires all kinds of strenuous skilled manoeuvres, application and much whizzing through air until you're over the hurdle of publication and into print. As a freelancer, you must be flexible and willing to push yourself forward; forward with clenched muscles and a whole grinding of spirit. In other words, it's all up to you. 

Pole-vaulters, like all athletes, are dedicated, as are freelancers. There's a thin line between a  freelancer slacker and a failure.  Also, you need to have vaulting ambition to do this. Shakespeare enthusiasts might recall Macbeth's tragic flaw of 'vaulting ambition', an ambition that threw him so hard up and over the lines of rank, he fell into murderous ways. You need to be made of stern stuff to take every knock on the chin, every rejection in your path and move on over it. You need to be able to spur yourself on, to want to get over that bar, that fixed mark. To harness your desire and turn imagining into momentum. And especially, to not let others, those on the ground, hold you back, knock your stride, throw you off.

What is at the heart of freelancing? Striking out on your own of course. With a pole -pen  -as your only prop, support, supplies. You must make the most of what you have to offer. Vault yourself out there onto the heaving writer's market, the podium where everyone is watching, reading. You must rely on yourself only, no one else, especially readers, critics, comments.  You must spur yourself on. Self-motivate. The equivalent to lifting your whole upper body weight up and over that pole.  Freelancers are lone, solitary creatures with the strength of their own convictions, honed to an almost invincible level. Their self is their only asset.

Also, it's quite like being a knight in a way (from 'lance' .... stay with me!) A knight jousting with words. A knight on an honourable quest for not just fame and glory, but more importantly, truth and beauty, great sweeping banners of it.  To forgo everything for freelancing is indeed a chivalric attempt to uphold the honour of words, the status of them, to do great things with them. To inform, to entertain, to enlighten. A pioneer of some sort, going out into the unfathomable jungle of the written world, with only your own skill as a talisman.

Being a freelancer is also about taking chances. Taking chances on yourself, on your trade, on your skill. And being curious enought to take these chances. Chancing your arm, your heart, your rent, your bank account, your social life... All for the triumphant glow of seeing your words in print. Taking a free jump into sky with no scaffolding below. Enjoying the ride. Not knowing what's around the corner, but leaving things to good old Chance. Like a vetted gambler who respects Luck, but aslo knows their own hand  well and how to use it. Freelancer: re the chancer, the risk-taker, the gambler, the vaulter into the unknown. 

Maybe the most seductive element of it is the freedom. Essentially, it's about being free. No rules, no timetables, rotas, restrictions. Free to do things your own way. A flair of independent bohemian bon-homie. Making it on your own, on the back of your ideas and thoughts. In other words, being 'free' to do what you've always wanted to do, free in the sense of doing your own thing, flinging wide open the doors of yourself and shouting: 'here I am world!' Going at it (the big bad world) by one's self is scary; but the prospect of tackling it head-on in a high-jump, o solo mio, is irrestible to a free-spirited freelancer (one and the same, most often).

And where would we be without the thrills? The high-jinks. The roller-coaster up-and-down spiral your life becomes. The frenzy it induces when things are going good, when you're swinging from one branch to the next, singing merrily, at one with yourself and the universe and everything.  The energy, the excitement of it all. Not knowing where you're going to land, what job is next. Then the inevitable crashes, the lulls, the falls, which lead to the getting-back-ups, which in the long-run define who you are. Outline your strengths in black ink and mark you as strong.

For the final note, the successes. When you succeed, at a freelance endeavour,  how it's like reality is bending to you, with you, not the other way around. You're soaring, sailing through sky, back-flipping gracefully over that bar, knowing when you land you''ll be on your feet and the applause will be deafening. The success of getting a foot-in in the frenetic fast world of freelancing, with all those fantastic creatives and chancers and the feeling of taking that bow, announcing to yourself, to the world, 'Ta-da! Look what I can do!' There is no other satisfaction like it. No other high-faluting job to equal it, or wage to surpass it or career to outdo it. You live for the inner pride and glory, not the money. The reward of real achievement, not the high-ranking offices of other ordinary pursuits.

This is what you were born for. The high-jump, the touching of sky, the freefalling into flashing lights and the stage-show of your words, your creations, manifested for the whole world to see.

Thank you & Goodnight! (Bow)

~ Siobhán.

Monday, 23 January 2012

That Eureka! Moment: The Genie of Creativity

'Had I Not Been Awake' - Seamus Heaney

 Had I not been awake I would have missed it,
A wind that rose and whirled until the roof
Pattered with quick leaves off the sycamore
And got me up, the whole of me a-patter,

Alive and ticking like an electric fence:
Had I not been awake I would have missed it,
It came and went so unexpectedly

And almost it seemed dangerously,
Returning like an animal to the house,
A courier blast that there and then

Lapsed ordinary. But not ever
After. And not now.

Last post, I wrote about having no inspiration. This post, au contraire, is about feeling inspired and marvelling at the whole process of creating. 

The above poem by Seamus Heaney perfectly describes the feeling when one is inspiration-struck. If you substitute the word 'aware' for 'awake' then you'll get a better understanding of the meaning behind the poem: the metaphorical wind of inspiration, whooshing in and shaking up recognitions, but only if we witnesss it, accept it.  I love the line  'the whole of me a-patter/ alive and ticking like an electric fence'. This is exactly how it feels when you're inspired creatively. When you are literally buzzing with energy and everything once ordinary  suddenly becomes hyper-real and extraordinary.

And it happens just like that, out of the blue (those blue bolts again), usually, in the middle of the night, as Heaney implies here. Infact, did you know that 4am is supposed to be the peak hour for creativity? When the waking rational mind is silenced just enough to comprehend things more fully, when the dormant dreaming artist's eye opens and ideas light upon it like stars. I've written some of my best stuff in the wee small hours of the morning, scribbling so fast it inevitably turns to shorthand. These instances are brief but brilliant, an epiphany of a kind, radiating light and realisation and regrowth on all that has been fallow and dark. A most welcome gift. A high-five Eureka where all is answered.

And what fascinates me is how I myself have absolutely nothing to do with these happenings, no control, no say, no ability to instigate them, schedulue them or summon them. They simply happen. From that great blue beyond. And I know a lot of you out there will agree with me on this. So many writers and artists have professed to this 'other' source from which their best ideas come, and talk of being merely the 'channel' through which these ideas are made manifest. 

In other words, they let this creative source work through them. I remember when younger and doing the whole school exam thing, the common cliche  doing the rounds of 'hoping for divine inspiration.' Something to intercede on our behalf and fill up the pages for us. And sometimes it worked. Ideas just came, out of the blue with blessings of what we didn't know (or maybe, didn't know we knew).

I like to refer to it, as many others would, as taking dictation. It's like cocking an ear and listening. Not even. Sometimes ideas, words, lines just fall into my consciousness, like floating bird feathers. They just come to me. Instant whispers from some wise source. Readers sometimes praise me on my use of vocabulary - how did I come up with that word, it sums it up exactly! And it's not as if I rummaged around amongst my inner thesaurus or dusty real book one, the word in question just sounded out of the ether, ping, just like that, as a light bulb pop ups up in cartoons above a character's head. I didn't need to think or find it; it was just there. Abracadabra. And I feel guilty for accepting compliments; it wasn't me really - it was that other voice, the creative space that hovers around us, elusive, ethereal, but eager to assist.

As I said, this theory resonates with a lot of creatives. I recently watched Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the hugely successful 'Eat, Pray, Love' talk on this and other aspects of creativity. She talks about how the ancient Greeks and Romans would refer to this aspect of the creative process as artists having a 'daemon' or a 'genius', like a genie or magical spirit that would assist in their work. She also mentions a poet who talked of how she would 'feel' poems coming at her and references singer-songwriter Tom Waits in this analogy too! *(See video below)*

Similarly, in the iconic 'The Artist's Way', the author Julia Cameron refers to creativity as a process of 'surrender, not control.' She is of the opinion that the universe takes a direct hand in our creative pursuits, adds that 'other' dimension to it, the divine, transcendant, inspired aspect.

Artists of all kinds respect and acknowledge this part of the process. But we also know that our part must be done too. When I said that words just come to me, I should also add that it's not all the time that this happens. Just some of the time. Other times, I do have to do a bit of thinking and scribbling. Creativity is a two-way street: we show up for our work and only then maybe the Muse will too.

Most of all, we must keep ourselves 'aware' incase we miss it - that wind in the night, that illumination, that electricity, that whooshing of ideas, that genie spirit whispering to us.  Keep ourselves awake. That's what I've been doing these last few days, and I'm delighted to announce I'm making my way out of the trough I'd fallen into (with a helping ethereal hand) and on the yellow brick road to creating once again.

It's a process that continually amazes me. Hence this post!

Keep Creating,

~ Siobhán.

Elizabeth Gilbert: A New Way to Think About Creativity:

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Palette of Inspiration

Well. It's January, and January being the particularly grey month that it is, my inspiration tank seems to have hit an all-time low. I'm thinking maybe it's also an after-effect of reading too many books: now my words have stage-fright. 

As I said many times before, there are highs and lows to writing. It's a bi-polar process. The high energy bolts of enthusiasm that keep you up all night planning projects, scribbling notes, mind on fire with sense of possibility and purpose are random and irregular. Other times, it's the low troughs of despair, doubt and blocks. Like now. When nothing works and nothing wants to work.

But not to moan. I'm going to be pro-active about it. Right! Throw some colour at this bleak blasted month and mind. Some splashes of inspiration I've come across along the way, from artists and writers and all kinds of creatives. And because I need to write something, if I don't I feel I'll dry up and blow away, a tumbleweed in the desert.

So here goes. Some attempt to fill the void. Some lovely lines of inspiration from artists and writers alike. You've probably heard some of these before, but indulge in them again. They're like a zing of energy, zapping the lead frustration of non-writing into smithereens. Paw, bam, zwah!!! (Gibberish is also a symptom of the lows, but on a brighter note, a symptom of recovery, I hope...)

Anyone care to share their views on the lows? Their experiences? Their inspiration? I'd be glad to know!

moping and museless, 

~ Siobhán 

Every writer I know has trouble writing.  ~Joseph Heller

Writer's block is a disease for which there is no cure, only respite.  ~Terri Guillemets
If you hear a voice within you say that you cannot paint, by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.  ~Vincent Van Gogh

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise.  The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.  ~Sylvia Plath

An artist cannot fail; it is a success to be one.  ~Charles Horton Cooley

The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible.  ~Vladimir Nabakov 

Ink and paper are sometimes passionate lovers, oftentimes brother and sister, and occasionally mortal enemies.  ~Terri Guillemets

To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it's about, but the inner music the words make.  ~Truman Capote

Don't loaf and invite inspiration; light out after it with a club, and if you don't get it you will nonetheless get something that looks remarkably like it.  ~Jack London

I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.  ~Michelangelo

The Possible's slow fuse is lit
By the Imagination. ~Emily Dickinson

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

New Year, New Beginnings, New Books, New Me

'The Old Year has gone.  Let the dead past bury its own dead.  The New Year has taken possession of the clock of time.  All hail the duties and possibilities of the coming twelve months!'  ~Edward Payson Powell

Happy New Year everyone! Happy 2012, year of impending Mayan-prophesised doom - or, auspicious astrological alignments and the dawning of a new higher consciousness, according to your inclinations. (I prefer the latter).

And indeed the New Year always starts with a 'snow-storm of white vows', the most important of mine being to be more creatively productive. Specifically, read more books and write more. Yep. Starting from now.

And I've got a good head start. For the holidays this year, I spent most of my shopping time book-browsing, for myself, and for friends, because a book is the greatest gift you can get!  (And by the way, a bookshop experience is oh so more satisfying  than a shopping centre or any other shop really. A bookshop browse in a Christmas rush is like a cooling quiet oasis in a desert sandstorm...) And I've been enjoying  my acquisitions ever since, spending most of my down-time snuggled up by the fire, hopping in and out of all kinds of printed-word worlds - fantastic suspenseful adventure (sci-fi trilogy The Hunger Games), mesmerising  travel writing (anthology of arctic and Antarctic writing The Ends of The Earth) symbolic  seasonal pickings (short story collection A Winter Book), magic, mystery and intrigue  (circus novel The Night Circus) and aww-inducing  relating (endearing quirky love-story The Lover's Dictionary) and pending enjoyment from a whole lot more of course. (Intrigued? Click on the titles to read more ;)

What's Christmas without a good book? There's nothing more delightful than snuggling up with a good book, a glass of your fancy, and a blazing fire, while winter wails outside. I love the escapism it offers, but also the magnified realism. I've learnt a lot from books. About life. About different viewpoints. About how people act and why.  I love how I can enter a new world with a new book and be totally immersed in it, so as everything else becomes secondary. Because the reality the book offers is reality viewed (not skewed) through the lens of the human mind, and focused upon with the full strength of the human heart with every little minute meaning magnified into momentous, all with the intention of making this world a little clearer.

Most of my Christmases are categorised and remembered by what book I was reading at the time. All beginning with Roald Dahl when I was first starting out on my reading journey.  Infact, it was the books I read then that remain fixed in my mind still, not the films or even the (shock!) presents. I remember best sitting with a new book in my lap, palms caressing pages, head peeping in and out of  pages as visitors and games and days whizzed by. These things were transient, the story a permanent presence.

So, that's that, just a hats off to my books this year. I've thoroughly enjoyed poring through them and having my days and hours filled with excitment, adventure, happiness and that great pleasure only books can bring - when a reader personally relates to the story, when the individual psyche meets the collective and sparks of recognition flare.  Here's to a  new year of reading! (Have you read any good books over the holidays?? Please share your experiences here, I'd love to know! What was your favourite holiday read or yet-to-read? Or classic you read every year? Dr Zhivago has always been my choice, but unfortunatley I can never get to finish it, the prose gets so dense like snowdrifts I'm afraid I sink into and freeze into submission.....oh well.)

And before I go, a little toast to the 'new' in happy new year. The new beginnings, the blank slate of the year as it appears to us now, horizon up ahead still to be seen, created, formed out of actions, thoughts, all our hopes and dreams and wishes for the year ahead hanging in the air around us like electricity, waiting to swoop in and be realised "our hopes such as they are/invisible before us/untouched and still possible." Still possible. According to Mr WS Mervin below, our hopes that have not yet been realised, still possible. Yes. (I love the lack of punctuation in this poem - it creates the feeling of freedom, the weightless, restraint-less feeling of being free to do anything we want...)

Read a few novels, write a novel, paint a masterpiece, scale a mountain, go deep-sea diving - whatever it is, now is the perfect time, in the birth of a new year, to do whatever it is our hearts desire. Most importantly, to believe that we can.  And to begin, simply begin. 

May 2012 bring you what you wish from it,

~ Siobhán.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

                                                               ~Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1850

For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.

                                                                                ~T.S. Eliot, "Little Gidding"

To the New Year - W.S. Merwin

With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning

so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible