Posts Tagged ‘freelance’

Sometimes two different books can look a little too similar.

Sometimes two different books can look a little too similar.

Working as a ghostwriter leads to some odd situations. One that struck me recently is that I could commit an act of plagiarism just by using my own words.

Not Owning My Work

As a ghostwriter, I don’t own the copyright on what I produce. There are hundreds of thousands of words out there that I crafted but that have someone else’s name on them, whether it’s the name of a real person or a made up name. Not only am I not associated with those words – I have no legal claim on them.

Legally speaking, I’m effectively not the author of those words. Someone else owns them.

Riding the Roundabouts

Recently, I’ve started to return to territory I’ve covered in previous works. For example, I’ve been writing about the Tudors. So when I did that, I opened up previous writing assignments I’d done on them. If nothing else, it would save me from replicating my research – why reinvent the intellectual wheel? I’ll even copy and paste something I’ve written before into the working document, so I can keep track of what elements I still want to include. But I have to be really careful that those same phrases and patterns of words don’t appear again. Because if they do, I’ll be plagiarising work that belongs to my client, which would be illegal and bad for my career.

Favourite Phrases

It’s weird not to be able to copy myself. Weirder still to think that, sooner or later, I’ll probably do it by accident. If I come up with a phrase I really like and use it a ghostwriting project, what are the odds that it won’t occur to me again later? And if I forget that I used it before, then a tiny bit of repetition slips into the mix, and I can come close once again to plagiarising myself.

None of this is meant as a complaint. I have a great job, and when I ghostwrite I accept the consequences of that – I get my money, I lose my words. But it’s very strange to think that, however unlikely it is, I really could break the law just by writing in my own voice over and over again.

Further reading, for those who want to know more about poor Mary Tudor

I’ve recently been doing some freelance history writing. As part of this, I’ve spent time reading and writing about Henry VIII and his daughter, Mary I. It made me feel some surprisingly extreme things, and I want to talk about that experience and how we deal with emotions when writing for work.

Poor Bloody Mary

Lets start with a history lesson.

Henry VIII is generally treated as a hero or a joke in English history – the strong leader with the six wives. But when we look at his personal life, we see something that by modern standards is pretty monstrous. Among other things, he accused his second wife Anne of cheating on him and had her killed because they’d fallen out; had his fifth wife Catherine killed for actually cheating on him, despite his own numerous extra-marital affairs; declared his daughters Mary and Elizabeth illegitimate and largely excluding them from his life because they weren’t boys; bullied Mary into signing a document that went against both her values and her respect for her late mother, out of fear that he’d have her executed; and much more. You can make all sorts of arguments about the necessity of his actions, but that still looks like horrifying domestic abuse to me, whatever the reasons for it.

There’s a terrible irony to the fact that his daughter Mary helped Henry through a period of depression after Catherine’s cheating and execution. Mary’s own understanding of depression came from the fact that she’d suffered it for years thanks to her father. Long deprived by political circumstances of the chance to marry – something she strongly desired – often isolated from friends and support, when Mary finally married she suffered from a neglectful husband and a series of miscarriages and false pregnancies. The death of many Protestants at her hands is appalling, but so is the suffering she endured in her life, for most of which she suffered from poor physical and mental health.

As I say, Henry is mostly remembered as a great leader and/or punchline, Mary as a villain. It appears that memory, like their lives, has little taste for justice.

Feeling History

Reading and writing about Henry and Mary hit me very hard. I’ve suffered from depression. My wife and I have struggled with the long, frustrating process of trying to have a child, only to be robbed of it by a miscarriage. This stuff hit me where I live, and it hit me hard. I’ve worked in schools and for social service, read case files and heard first hand accounts of the vilest treatment dished out to families by abusers. How much worse then to see the effect of a parent who was outright abusive and who is now regarded in the playful and positive light Henry is.

There’s another irony here, and it’s in my attitude. When a king is presented to me as a villain, like King John has been, and I then learn about the other side of them, I can somewhat come to terms with their appalling behaviour. John was responsible for the death of his nephew among others, but because of his troubled upbringing I’ve come to see him in a more forgiving light than the traditional tales of the evil king. I recognise the hideousness of some of John’s actions, but I can step back and put them in context. In contrast, hearing about Henry filled me with near-unbearable bile. I was literally shaking with anger and sorrow.

Part of this is of course about current discourse, not just history. I’m almost as angry at our idolisation of Henry as at his behaviour. A domestic abuser shouldn’t be seen as a hero or the subject of casual jokes.

And part of it is how personal these issues are, not just to me but in a general sense. Looking at the domestic lives of Henry and Mary takes us past the veil of top level politics, something beyond most of our lives, and into the realm of the personal, where we all live. We all have some experience of love, loss and family. Seeing those things warped and broken affects us all.

Dealing With the Pain

There’s a part of me that wants to rationalise away these feelings. To tell myself that I’m getting wound up over something that’s not about me, that I should just calm down and do my job. This is my work, not a place to get emotional.

And to that I give a heartfelt cry of ‘bullshit!’

These are my feelings. This is the way the world affects me. They are a way of drawing attention to something that is wrong. Millions of years of evolution have equipped me to feel these things, and repressing them isn’t just incredibly unhealthy, it’s a waste of part of my human potential. Our feelings have a legitimate place in every corner of our lives, including our work. How else would we ever care about what we achieve?

More than that, this is the work of writing. Words are meant to move, not just to inform. They’re meant to fill our bellies with fire, our eyes with tears, our hearts with rage, sorrow, love and the desire to change the world.

I’m not saying this experience has been good for me. I’m not saying all this grief and anger I’m feeling for long-dead aristocrats is fun. But it’s a part of writing, a part of reading, a part of responding to history. It’s a part of being human, and that’s something to be proud of.

*deep breath*

OK, got that vented, for now at least. In case you hadn’t realised, what you just read was part of my dealing with this.

And now over to you. Are there parts of history or works of fiction that really move you, in happy or unhappy ways? Have they surprised you by doing that? I’d love to read about your experiences in the comments below.

Wesley Crusher says games are cool, it must be true!

Wesley Crusher says games are cool, it must be true!

One of the frustrations of freelance writing is that I often can’t point toward the things I’ve written and say ‘I did that’. Sometimes even when I can I don’t want to – no-one wants to read three hundred words designed to sell toothpaste. But right now I have a gig that not only has my name attached, it’s about something readers of this blog might be interested in – board games.

I’m currently writing blog posts for a price comparison sight called Board Game Prices. These aren’t in depth, critical analyses – it’s a site selling board games, so I’m focusing on the positives, the things that make me enthusiastic. Fortunately I have a lot of honest enthusiasm for board games.

Not all the blog posts there are by me, but if you want to read the first couple you can see my top tie-in games or read me enthusing about Doomtown Reloaded (again – I think I may love that game a little too much). I’ll have articles going up there fairly regularly, and they’re tagged with my name, so if you’re interested in board games then please go check it out.

A Whole Lot of Words

Posted: February 11, 2015 in updates
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My excited face!

Look, over there, it’s huge pile of writing, and I did it!

A couple of weeks ago, I finished writing the fourth in a series of novels I’d been contracted to ghost write. I’m now starting another series for the same people, and getting paid to do what I love is cause to rejoice. But this also seems a good time to pause and give my ego free rein. Because I’ve written a book a month since October, and that’s pretty bloody productive.

OK, so I didn’t plan these novels, and the editing on the last one still isn’t complete. But I wrote each one while responding to the edits on the one before, and while contributing to plans for the next series. Alongside those, I was also working on my own fiction, as well as writing articles and blog posts.

If I ever had any doubts about whether I could make a living through writing, I’m ready to kiss them goodbye now. Not only did I write all those books, but they’re selling, and they’re getting good reviews. Once I find the time to market my own fiction properly, I can make this work.

To think two years ago I was improving administrative procedures. Stuff that, this is the life!

Ikea to the rescue!

Ikea to the rescue!

When I wrote a week ago that I was starting to work at a standing desk, several people said they’d be interested in hearing how I got on. As it’s also been an instructive experience for me, I figured it was time for a quick update.

First up, my neck and shoulders feel vastly better. My habitual slouching or hunching forward is impossible with this setup, which means I’m treating those muscles much more kindly. Less neck and shoulder strain means less tension being passed on into my head, which means no tension headaches and better concentration. It also means that, at the end of my working day, I’m more likely to be able to do something productive and enjoyable, and less likely to be reduced to slumping in front of the TV. It’s been well worth the effort.

That said, there was one significant bump along the way. It’s entirely my own fault, and a useful lesson for anyone thinking about using a standing desk – build up your use gradually, like I didn’t do.

The day I set up the ‘desk’ (actually a cunningly adapted set of shelves) I was very excited. This looked like the perfect way to improve my health. I worked standing for about nine hours, with just an hour’s break in the middle. And by the end I was exhausted. I felt like I’d spent three whole days on my feet while wearing a solid mass of chainmail (a comparison I make based on personal experience and curious hobbies). My feet were sore. My calves ached. My thighs and lower back were stiff and awkward. I had totally over-done it.

The day after my new desk, I was completely exhausted and spent most of the day resting.

Since then, I’ve brought a tall kitchen stool up into the study, letting me alternate between standing and sitting at the desk. I’ll work standing for an hour or so, then sitting for between ten and thirty minutes. I can feel the difference in my neck and shoulders when I switch to sitting, muscles shifting awkwardly like they did when I sat and typed all the time. But I also feel the sweet relief in my legs and give a happy little sigh.

Even over the course of a week, I can feel my endurance improving, meaning I can work standing for longer without wiping myself out.

So on the basis of a week, the standing desk has been a huge boon to my health and my writing, but one that I shouldn’t over use without practice.

I’ll try to remember to provide another update after a month, but if I forget, and if you’re still interested, then remind me. And in the meantime, take care of your posture. Because unlike a nest of angry hornets, good health doesn’t grow on trees.

No, wait, fruit grows on trees, and fruit is healthy. Good health does grow on trees. Curse you poorly thought out cliché!

And now back to work.

A Wanted Man

Posted: January 28, 2015 in writing life
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I really don’t think it does, Lord K. Love the moustache though.

Another minor writing first this week – I got approached by a recruiter. While I wasn’t interested in what he was offering, it was nice to know that my skills are in demand. Come to think of it, a couple of clients have come back to me with new work in the last few weeks, making this the most demanded I’ve ever been. Brilliant!

I don’t want the job back in an office cranking out technical writing for a company. But it’s nice to know that it’s an option if I ever get sick of free-lancing (doesn’t seem likely right now, given the fun work and control over my lifestyle). And it’s a timely reminder that I should be making an effort to use social networks, as that’s where so many of these opportunities come from.

Experiments in posture

Posted: January 22, 2015 in writing life
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Working at a computer all day can play hell with the muscles in your neck and shoulders. Despite doing stretches three times a day and visiting a physiotherapist every few weeks, my body’s still giving me a lot of trouble. So today I am starting an experiment in preventive action, with an improvised standing work desk.

IMG_0781[1]This is my fourth different attempt to make things better since realising how much trouble computer work was causing for my body. First came the dining room table, so that I wouldn’t just be sprawling in random places and postures. Then it was Chromecasting to the television, so that the screen was straight ahead of me. After that I tried a separate monitor on top of a pile of filing boxes, so that I could combine sitting upright at a desk with that straight ahead screen. Each one has helped a bit, but I didn’t think I’d find a proper solution until I could afford to buy some kind of ergonomic desk.

Fortunately, Laura is smarter than me. She pointed out that I could turn the Ikea shelves in the corner of my workspace into an upright work station, just by adjusting a couple of shelves. As well as giving me the chance to try typing while standing – which is supposed to be one of the better ways to work – it also means that I’m forced to declutter this room some more, which is good for my mental processes.

Two and half hours in my legs are starting to ache, and I think this approach might take some adjustment. But my shoulders feel good, and that’s a great start.

Remember kids, take care of your body – your brain can’t cope without it.

Today, Laura and I went out for our first works Christmas lunch. As we’re both now self-employed and working at home, neither of us had other colleagues to do this with, so a festive lunch together seemed like a nice tradition to start.

While we were eating mounds of tapas  in one of our favourite cafés, we talked about highlights of the past year. It’s been tough in places, but with a definite upward trajectory, and a lot of my highs have been related to my writing. So, in no particular order, here are some of my writing highlights from this year:

  • Having my short story ‘Surprise Me’ published in Daily Science Fiction.
  • Deciding to take my destiny into my own hands by self-publishing.
  • Releasing my first self-published books, learning a lot and getting some great reviews.
  • Getting enough freelance writing work in areas I love, mostly history and science fiction, so that I could stop bidding on less interesting projects.
  • Writing three whole novels in the space of a few months, and working with an editor on two of them. Because they’re ghost writing I can’t say more about them, but it’s been great fun.
  • Joining the writing team I’m now part of for the ghost writing gig – they’re a great bunch.
  • Getting to know fellow readers and writers through the internet, especially those of you who regularly frequent this blog. I didn’t make great use of social media before the last year or so, and it’s been fun getting to know interesting people I didn’t before, as well as chatting with a few who I did.
  • Getting my gorilla onesie. It’s only a writing thing because I sometimes wear it to keep warm while I work, but damn I’m grateful for it now that winter’s closing in.
That's right, I am exactly as cool as a three-year-old playing dress up.

That’s right, I am exactly as cool as a three-year-old playing dress up.

Next year I’m hoping to build on all of this. I have plans to finally publish a series of steampunk novellas in the spring, and then get back to my more heavy duty fantasy Rome novels. The sci-fi ghost writing looks set to continue. And I will of course keeping filling this space with words.

How about the rest of you – what have your highlights of this year been, whether related to reading and writing, science fiction and fantasy, or any other thing? Share some of them below, and lets celebrate together.

gal-jeff-conaway3-jpgDo you have characters in books and shows who you love out of all proportion to their role in the story?

I know I do. A number of characters get killed in the books I’m currently ghost writing. Because I didn’t develop the plot, those deaths aren’t my own doing, and I still feel that emotional tug you do when you’re reading a book and a character dies. I feel some sad for these guys.

You’d have thought that the deaths of significant characters would be the most emotional, but so far the one that’s hit me the most was a minor character who existed to meet a horrible death. Knowing he was coming up in book two, I introduced him in book one as a friendly extra, so that he’d at least have a bit of significance. And it really worked. I hated to see that guy die. The extra effort I’d put into building him up meant I cared way more about his death, even though he hadn’t featured all that much.

The same thing happened to me as a viewer when the character of security officer Zack Allan appeared in Babylon 5. First the actor turned up as an extra in a security uniform. After he’d done that a couple of times I recognised him as ‘that security guard’. Then he got a few lines. Then a name. Then a place in the show’s credits and his own character arc. As a concept, he was one of the less interesting characters in the show, mostly there to fulfil some plot functions. But because I’d seen him emerge from obscurity, because I’d been cheering him on to become someone significant, I loved that character.

I have a vague idea that this is an underdog thing, or about a sense of ownership over the character, but really I’m just guessing. So what do you folks think? And do you have minor characters who you really love? Leave a comment, share your thoughts.

I decided over the weekend to stop doing NaNoWriMo this year. Not because of NaNo itself, but because of how it fits in with everything else I’m doing at the moment.

NaNoWriMo was, for me, meant to be as much a social tool as a motivational one, a way to get to meet other writers in the area and talk with people about writing. I have other ways to get myself motivated to write a lot, and right now they’re working fine. But the irony is that NaNo itself, alongside my other workload, meant I had no time for the socialising and contact making it was meant to be about. I’d loaded myself up a little too heavily to fit that in.

And while I could just about keep up with NaNo while keeping up with my freelance work, I couldn’t do either as well as I wanted. I didn’t have the flexibility to play catchup if something disrupted one or the other chunk of writing, or to properly plan ahead and build in the flexibility to avoid setbacks.

It’s been an interesting experiment, and I’ve got some good work out of it, but I’m calling it here. I’m not going to do my NaNo 50k this year, and given my reasons, I’m perfectly happy with that.

On the double plus side, this means I can get back to the work editing my own existing stories that I was playing with before NaNo, so that should mean more stories see the light of day soon.

Good luck to those of you still doing NaNo. And now I’m off to write!