22 Answers to 22 Questions: On Novel Writing, Surviving as a Freelancer, and More

My Quora inbox is facing a bit of a crisis right now.

Like any moderately-active Quoran, I get a lot of answer requests. Some of them are really good questions I spend time and thought answering. Some can be answered in a sentence or less. Some just make no sense at all.

Also, like any moderately-active Quoran, I don’t answer every request I get. I tend to delete the utterly nonsensical ones and let most of the others simply sit there, either because they don’t instantly inspire me and/or because I feel like answering with just a few words is a waste of everyone’s time but answering with more words is a waste of my time.

Here’s my method of clearing both my A2A backlog and my conscience: I’m going to answer the backlog here.

22 answers to 22 questions_on novel writing, surviving as a freelancer, and more

Has anyone ever paid for a course/program in making a living as a freelance writer? Do they work or is it a scam?

I’ve never paid for a course, just a few books. I particularly recommend The Well-Fed Writer, by Peter Bowerman.

I’m sure some courses are helpful. I’m equally sure some are scams.

What are the best freelancing opportunities for someone with an active mind and a lot of time on their hands?

Research-heavy writing worked for me. If you’re trying to kill time, anything time-bound like creating/editing/rendering music and video will probably fit the bill as well.

What is the best advice for a new freelance editor?

(Note: I’ve stopped answering this question on Quora because my advice is literally always the same for every freelancer.)

Do not quit your day job until you can live comfortably off 50 percent or less of your gross pay from freelancing. You need to put at least 50 percent, ideally 60-70 percent, of that pay into savings immediately and pretend it does not exist except when you need to pay your taxes.

Is experience or talent the key to writing really well?

Yes, but mostly the first one.

What observable characteristic screams “I can tell you a good story”?

Visible scars.

Why is the new trend for entrepreneurs and any type of freelancers to sell a course via their site?

To make money, you need to provide value in some way. Sharing your own knowledge in a convenient, packaged fashion for people who want to know what you know is an easy way to provide value.

Why don’t commercially/non-commercially successful writers or seasoned writers host more workshops, especially since the writing industry is growing?

(Yes, this question and the previous one appeared back to back.)

Probably because they’re busy writing and/or they don’t want to teach. Teaching a workshop takes work.

To progress professionally as a content writer should I go into marketing?

It depends on what you mean by “go into marketing.” You need an understanding of online marketing principles and tools in order to progress as a content writer. There’s no getting around it.

You don’t, however, need to go take marketing classes unless you have some independent passion for marketing. The stuff you need to know to be an outstanding content writer you can largely learn by doing and by reading the Internets, which is where the vast majority of the good info on online marketing lives.

Where did you get your first idea for a story?

Watching my parents yell at other drivers when I was five or six.

Has there ever been a good part three of something?

Return of the Jedi.

Can we think of a better word than “content” to describe what we create?

In private, I call mine “repackaged knowledge,” which is far more honest but not what anyone wants to admit they’re buying.

Realistically, though, “content” is exactly what content creators create. We populate websites and blogs so that they feel useful and relevant, but the underlying goal is always to get someone to buy something else.

How should I address my main character, by the first or by the last name?

If you’re using a point of view that gets inside the character’s head, use whatever they call themselves. Otherwise, use what other characters call them.

Do you agree with the controversial opinion that Copywriters should never use adjectives?

Without adjectives, we’d never know that Frosted Flakes are “great,” KFC is “finger-lickin’ good,” Subway is “Fresh,” that diamonds are “forever,” that Google’s goal is not to be “evil,” or that Rice Krispies make a sound when you pour milk on them.

I mean, you do you, but that sounds boring as heck.

How many principles of composition are in Strunk’s book The Elements of Style?

It’s been a good twenty years since I last read The Elements of Style, but I recall there being zero principles of composition in it and a whole lot of advice on style.

How do you make a likeable story/series?

  1. Give me someone to care about.
  2. Give me something I care whether or not they succeed at it.
  3. Show me what happens on the way to their success or failure.

What was it like starting your career with a liberal arts degree?

It was fine. I got paid enough to cover all my rent and bills with some left over for savings and the work wasn’t too difficult.

The recession blew that all out of the water, of course, but back in the day I had no trouble at all.

Do you feel as though your creative writing ability has peaked at some point and gradually began to decline, or continued to progress throughout your career as an author?

My inner troll thinks we’ve never had a jot of creative writing ability in our lives, we never will have any, and that writing books is a hilarious joke.

I ignore it.

What is the craziest way you have overcome writers’ block?


What are the pros and cons of an online juris doctor (law) degree?

Pros: Not having to cram into a lecture room with 90 other people and no air conditioning/sporadic heat. Not having a law professor stare you down while you try to figure out how to admit you didn’t do the reading.

Cons: You’ll be in no way prepared for the actual practice of law, which frequently involves being crammed cheek by jowl with other people, uncomfortable waiting in uncomfortable rooms, and being stared down by intimidating people who know the law much better than you ever will.

Is Infowars one giant scam?

Worse. Scams only take your money. Infowars takes your dignity.

Why does a freelancer never earns the same respect as earned by a full timer?

Because we live in a society where we’re taught not only to accept our ownership by the capitalist class, but to pride ourselves on which of the capitalists owns us at any given time. Freelancers prefer to be owned by multiple capitalists, concurrently or consecutively, which makes them suspicious.

What is the funniest thing you’ve ever written?

Definitely not this blog post.