The 5-Minute Freelancer Q&A #2 – Andrew Clark
In this regular feature, Story Board asks Canadian writers to share a few details about their work habits and their strategies for navigating the ups and downs of freelance life.
I hate to say it, I’m usually on deadline so I’m usually in front of a computer. It wasn’t always the case. When I was full-time freelancing — because right now I’m the director of the Humber College comedy program — I was always trying to come up with ideas and often out of anything I was doing or anything anyone mentioned to me. You name it, I would try and spin it into a story. You just have to be very aware of your senses. I remember being on a beach in Barbados and reading a very small article in a Barbadian newspaper about a woman from Toronto who had severed her lover’s penis and been found guilty of it and then had fled the country and was on the loose, looking to the UN to protect her. So I just said Oh, OK, well there’s a story. And I went and sold that to Toronto Life and tried to track her down. Basically when you’re full-time freelancing, everything you do should be making you money. There’s an old joke we used to have, which is “three is a trend.” Three more people doing it? Hey, it’s a trend. Or when you’re doing a column, you go “today is the one year anniversary of what happened last year on this day.” You’re always aware of stuff. I mean I’ve had ideas when I’ve been having sex, and all the time. Often in front of the computer, but I could be walking… I have a saying which is “a great idea is a crazy idea that won’t go away.” If you’ve got this crazy idea that keeps popping back in your head, you should probably pursue it.
2. What’s your biggest distraction and how do you resist it?
Other work, probably. I think there’s an inclination to hop around. I’m lucky because right now I write a lot of stuff for newspapers so there’s always a tight deadline. I’m really a big fan of deadlines. I can work without one, but the deadline focusses the mind. I’m generally pretty good, particularly with magazines and journalism and stuff like that. I don’t really get writer’s block. It can be a little harder if you’re doing screenwriting, because it’s a little easier to get lost. Probably because I’m not as good at it.
So how do you resist that temptation to skip around?
Honestly? I just don’t do it. I think the other thing I would say is, plan something else pleasurable that you’re going to do when you’re done. I think there’s a feeling about writing that it should be painful. Or you haven’t done your job unless you’ve really suffered, which I think is total nonsense. A lot of the best stuff you write’ll be effortless. And you’ll go back the next day and try to do it again and you won’t. But I think that if you look at how they take care of athletes, actors, people like that, they know that it’s important for these people to be able to do their jobs, so they take care of them. So I would say take care of yourself, don’t make yourself suffer. Have a nice lunch, have a good coffee, plan to go to the movies or whatever.
3. What non-writing activity do you do to recharge your batteries?
Drinking. No, I’m just kidding. Tennis. And I guess working out, but primarily tennis. I used to, when I was working on a book or a bigger piece, I would get up early, write say from 6 to noon and then play tennis from 1 to 3 and then edit from around 4 to 6.
4. What’s your best strategy for getting over rejected pitches?
I actually don’t even think about it anymore. I think dealing in comedy a bit, maybe this prepares you a bit more. Not everybody is going to share your sense of humour. So you have to ask yourself two questions: is it a good idea? And then: is it them or is it me? And often it’s a bit of them and a bit of you. But you need to be aware when it’s all you, right? Or when it’s all them. So, is the idea good? And if it’s a good idea then move on. And I think that the freelancers who last in this business, you have to be able to handle rejection gracefully or you’re done. It’s over. You have to say “oh, OK, no problem, thanks, great, thanks for looking at it.” You can hang up the phone and then swear a blue streak, but… editors, believe it or not, are human beings, and most of the time they’re really busy. Particularly in Canada. They’re absolutely swamped. And you have to remember they’re also getting all these crazy queries from shut-ins, crazy people, the incompetent… I hate to say it but the web has convinced a lot of people who should not be writing that they can write. And certainly when I started, the way I did research for articles, like when I wanted to get into say Saturday Night or Toronto Life, I went to the Toronto Reference Library and pulled out old copies of Toronto Life and Saturday Night and I would research the editors and what they had done. I would say, OK, Angie Gardos, what did she write before she became an editor? Or what did John Macfarlane write when he was younger? Or what did he commission when he was a senior editor? And then I would craft ideas and pitches based on that. And I didn’t see a lot of other people there, put it that way. Now with the internet, you just go clickety click. So that’s a bummer. There’s a lot of crap.
• Toronto writer and humourist Andrew Clark is the Director of the Humber College Comedy Program. He writes a regular column for the Globe and Mail called “Road Sage.” His most recent column is “What Rob Ford Was Reading Behind The Wheel (We Think)”. You can find him on Twitter at @aclarkcomedy.
•Where do your best story ideas come to you? We’d love to hear your strategies for generating pitch ideas in the comment section below.