Food for writing thought

Three articles caught my eye in recent weeks.

The first is titled “Novelist Cormac McCarthy’s tips on how to write a great science paper“.  It interested me, because most of us write fiction, and aren’t used to a more scientific exposition.  Could we learn something from that discipline, that would perhaps help us write better fiction?  Here are two examples of Mr. McCarthy’s advice.

  • With regard to grammar, spoken language and common sense are generally better guides for a first draft than rule books. It’s more important to be understood than it is to form a grammatically perfect sentence.
  • With regard to grammar, spoken language and common sense are generally better guides for a first draft than rule books. It’s more important to be understood than it is to form a grammatically perfect sentence. When you think you’re done, read your work aloud to yourself or a friend. Find a good editor you can trust and who will spend real time and thought on your work. Try to make life as easy as possible for your editing friends. Number pages and double space.

Seems applicable to me!

The second article illustrates, yet again, the law of unintended consequences.  It’s titled ‘ “Everybody Is Freaking Out”: Freelance Writers Scramble to Make Sense of New California Law ‘.  For those of us who do freelance writing work, it’s important.  Here’s an excerpt.

A new bill that caps freelance submissions may make writing financially unsustainable for many workers even though the legislator behind the law insists that the goal is “to create new good jobs and a livable, sustainable wage job.”

. . .

The bill, which cracks down on companies — like ride-sharing giants Lyft and Uber — that misclassify would-be employees as independent contractors, has been percolating through the California legislative system for nearly a year … But the exemption for freelance journalists  … contains what some say is a potentially career-ending requirement for a writer to remain a freelancer: If a freelance journalist writes for a magazine, newspaper or other entity whose central mission is to disseminate the news, the law says, that journalist is capped at writing 35 “submissions” per year per “putative employer.” At a time when paid freelance stories can be written for a low end of $25 and high end of $1 per word, some meet that cap in a month just to make ends meet.

. . .

Many publications that employ California freelancers aren’t based in the state and it’s not clear how AB 5 will affect them. Still, some are choosing to opt out entirely. Indeed, several freelance writers who spoke to THR say that various out-of-state employers — some with offices in California — have already told them they’re cutting ties with California freelancers.

Typical politicians.  Craft a law to deal with one issue, only to have it create multiple – and worse – issues for many other people who weren’t affected by the first one!

The third article is yet another riff on a familiar theme.  It’s titled “Author Income: How to Make a Living from Your Writing“, and re-hashes a lot of information with which most of us are already familiar.  Still, it never hurts to revisit the basics.  Example:

Authors who are able to dedicate significant, consistent time to writing are more likely to have a higher author income. On average, Emerging Authors are spending 18 hours per week writing, 60kers are spending 28 hours per week writing and 100kers are spending 32 hours per week writing (that’s four 8-hour days!). This finding dovetails with the one above as the more time you spend writing, the more books you will publish.

Our survey found that authors write at all times of the day, but across all groups, early morning was the most popular specific time. Home office and living room were the most popular places to write.

Not much new, but informative for newcomers to the field.

That’s your food for thought for this week.  More soon!


  1. I’m going to have to differ a little with Mr. McCarthy. There is a certain language and form used in academic writing, and in popular science and history writing. You are trying to balance your readerships, and greater formality and adherence to”the rules” for the discipline really are important.

    Full disclosure: my last academic paper was published three years ago, and things may have changed a great deal since then.

    1. I agree. Language and tone are different in research writing than in fiction writing (no, academic writing hasn’t changed that much). I’ve done research for 20+ years and I’m just now writing fiction. I find fiction very freeing (for one, no citations!). The language, especially in the mouths of characters, is much more “normal” than the almost stilted language in a research paper, which is different still from the language used to verbally present the same research paper.

      I most heartily concur with the “read it out loud” advice. I tell my students to do this and I do it myself. Yesterday, I read a sentence from a student research paper to that student. The look on her face was priceless as she realized that what I’d just read, verbatim, was nonsense.

  2. With respect to #2, this wasn’t an unintended consequence.
    The major California publications have unionized.
    Those unions view freelancers as scabs, and a threat to the earning potential of union members.
    Those unions were active in lobbying for this bill.
    It’s working as designed.

    Politicians do lots of stupid and destructive things, but they generally do so at the urging of someone with money or connections.
    It’s worth taking the time to see whose hand is making the puppet talk.

    1. This. I freelanced a bit, producing content for pay – not enough to pay serious bills, but for walking-around-money on a regular basis. Posts for so many pennies a word, easy-peasy. Straight economic exchange, my time and wordsmithing for a bit of cash, promptly paid. Much easier for me, less hassle for the purchaser … yes, no wonder that the unionized publications have an interest in quashing this.

    2. won’t matter because a lot of the tech news sites aren’t in CA, or they aren’t owned in CA anymore, including where i used to write for (now owned by Future Publishing)

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