I just popped a sign in the window at the front of my house. It says ‘Writer of long form non-fiction wanted – ENQUIRE WITHIN.’ Don’t worry, there’s no chance some unsuspecting writer will knock at my door. You can’t see the sign from the street, and anyways no one comes past. The sign is intended for me.
There must once have been a time when publishers advertised writing jobs just like this. I picture these in black and white celluloid; they were long before colour, Technicolour and the Internet.
Now contemporary writers have a galaxy of channels to get their work to readers. Publishers are just one part of an entrepreneurial whole. That’s why I put the sign in my window. As far as funding, publishing and getting readers for my work, I must ultimately rely on myself. I am the incorporated company. Readers, not publishers, are my clients. But there’s another thing I like about my new sign and it relates to the writers’ mantra: ‘just write’.
As obvious as it sounds, the missive to ‘just write’ is among the best advice an aspiring writer can get. Writing somethingis a 100% improvement on writing nothing. When I took on some contract work unrelated to my writing a couple of weeks ago, I made sure to set aside time for my writing. Within days I had absorbed the details of the contract work: the deadline, the challenges, the personalities, the pace and how different it was to my everyday. When I sat down to write I lacked direction and focus. I had effectively buried my muse within the contract work’s minutiae.
It was a brief but valuable lesson on the need for writers to make time to think. This is the other thing I like about my sign. When I sit at my desk it reads backwards – as if in reflection. It’s a prompt that I must make time to ponder, make connections and inspire ideas. (Though we mustn’t confuse that with procrastination!)
One humble sign sums up the requirements of emerging long form non-fiction writers in the new media galaxy. On the one hand, we must rely on ourselves to be entrepreneurial. On the other, we must also be thoughtful and reflective.
Next month the Melbourne Writers Festival launches on the theme 'Enquire Within'. I hope we can be inspired by the writers there – whose success I suspect is driven by their own initiative and reflection.
Meanwhile I have my sign to remind me of what’s important. It was easy to make – perhaps you should make one too!