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The most popular performers are often the ones that are most versatile, because this flexibility provides them with more platforms, which naturally means wider audiences and bigger profits. Actors like Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep and singers like Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra were able to morph their abilities to suit any given project, changing with the times, expanding their repertoire to include many genres and styles of expression.
Writing is potentially an even more chameleon-like art form than either acting or singing. Especially if you also approach it like a business, as these savvy show people did.
The Page Is Your Stage
The average freelance writer will probably not become a living legend via his or her creative efforts, or earn millions of dollars, but if you learn to diversify your professional literary options, you may wind up making more realistic dreams come true.
For one thing, once you’ve learned the tricks of your trade, you can use them in different ways, depending on the nature and requirements of the piece.
If you’re writing a screenplay, for instance, the dialogue will differ than if you write the same story as a novel, since the form is much different, basically a blueprint for a filmmaker’s vision. Also, “movie dialogue” is often much more stylized than true human speech, whereas novelists routinely take artistic license with conversational reality, and puts words in their characters’ mouths that are much more poetic and eloquent than most real people could muster. (But always strive first to learn the basics of realistic dialogue before experimenting with style).
If you’re writing a children’s book, naturally you will need to keep the limitations of youthful experience and understanding in mind, which will be easier if you have or are in personal contact with actual kids, rather than relying on memories of your own childhood.
Hardboiled crime fiction fans demand a certain sensibility from that genre, and unless you’re a hardened criminal yourself, you will need to dig deep and find a way to make your outlaws act and sound authentic, making their deeds understandable in context, at least from their unique points of view. Crime fans often live vicariously through lawbreakers, since bending the rules in real life leads to undesirable consequences, so finding a way to make your characters as human as possible will result in good reviews, and nothing sells more books than positive word of mouth.
The same holds true for any genre, whether horror or sci-fi or romance. Make sure you read and study the most popular examples of any genre you plan on exploiting for personal gain. Readers can spot phony dilettantes a mile away. Your main job as a commercial author is to satisfy their needs, not just yours.
“Just the Facts, Ma’am”
But frankly, the real money for most writers lies in non-fiction, because that’s where most of the opportunities can be found for freelancers. Again, whether you’re writing blogs about subjects you are familiar with, or ghostwriting copy for a client, you need to bone up on your facts and figures, adhere carefully to your given guidelines, and then convey the requisite data in a voice that attracts rather than alienates that specific readership.
This self-restraint can result in extremely cut-and-dried text that you may not be particularly proud of as an author, but which may pay a few bills in the process. And that in itself is a source of glory.
For fiction writers, it can be challenging to alter or reign in creative inclinations when switching over to commissioned assignments. Remember, for most non-fiction pieces, the goal is information, not entertainment.
Your client will let you know the parameters. Occasionally they may prefer you write a piece in your own natural style, since your byline is part of the bargain. But primarily, you will be hired to craft a piece to suit a particular subject and audience, and that means checking your personality at the door, and delivering a product rather than a personalized work of art.
But just as Elvis sang rock, country, blues, gospel, pop, soul, and even opera throughout the course of his storied career, exponentially expanding his fan base (and bank account), you can be King of your own career if you learn how to similarly exercise and amplify your instrument, employing it to its fullest capacity and range.
How many types of writing have you mastered?
PHOTO: JOHN WESTROCK
New Orleans, LA