Beat the Winter Freeze with Freelancing

winter freezeSometimes we just want to hibernate. Our minds freeze up and we can’t find the words that normally flow. There’s been a lot of talk about writer’s block out there lately and I think the winter freeze could be to blame. Even if our bodies aren’t hibernating, our minds may want to.

Whenever that happens, it helps to put the current project aside and work on a shorter one. Short stories are good for this, but I also enjoy freelancing for my local newspaper. Freelancing will force you into writing, writer’s block or not, because there will always be a looming deadline. But the best part is that it will bring you out into the world to talk with people who have stories to tell.

To do this, it’s as easy as contacting your local newspaper to ask if they need freelancers. Reporters are usually understaffed and they’ll be glad for the chance to unload a story or two. When I first worked as a reporter out of college, I got the job by visiting newspaper offices with my resumé and a writing sample. A tired reporter happened to be walking by and asked if I’d write a story as a freelancer. One story led to another and I ended up working there as a full-time reporter.

Freelancing is more fun than full-time reporting because it doesn’t involve town meetings where people argue until midnight about sidewalks or traffic lights. Since I have a regular day job now, I write feature articles every few weeks or so. No town meetings are involved and I love getting out there to talk with people about all the exciting things they’ve done. It will make you realize how true it is that stories are everywhere and that will melt any writer’s block away.

Do you have any questions about reporting or freelancing? What do you do to beat the winter freeze?

Walking in the Footsteps of Thoreau

I try to time travel as often as possible. A book is the perfect time travel vehicle but a place can be too. Henry David Thoreau walked along this Chatham coastline about 150 years ago and wrote about it in his book Cape Cod. It’s fun to read his descriptions and follow in his footsteps to go back in time.

Asphalt from the parking lot crumbles into sand. Dunes rise up along with the path to give the feel of walking on a mountaintop or the end of the earth. From this vantage point, there haven’t been many changes since the 1800s.

Far ahead Stage Harbor Lighthouse can be seen hunched down in the scraggly bushes. Thoreau wouldn’t have seen the lighthouse since it wasn’t built until 1880. Without it as a point to walk toward, there would be nothing but this stretch of land and sky.

A snake slithers into the bushes by the path. It is so quiet that the flap of a seagull’s wings can be heard overhead. Even the fishermen standing on the shore talk in low voices so that their murmurings become one with the wind.

Thoreau said, “The sea never runs very much here, since the shore is protected from the swell by Monomoy.” This creates a sense of peace, with everything as still as a painting.

Thoreau saw Monomoy as one offshore landmass while today it forms two barrier islands. As a testament to Cape Cod’s shifting sands, Monomoy has been a peninsula, a single island and even multiple islands. A lighthouse was built on the southern tip of the island in 1823 but deposits of sand over time have lengthened it, causing it to seem as if the lighthouse has traveled inland.

A seagull plucks at a crab on the sand while sand pipers dance in the background. Thoreau loved to watch these birds, as he said, “Sometimes we sat on the wet beach and watched the beach birds, sand pipers, and others, trotting along close to each wave, and waiting for the sea to cast up their breakfast.”

The quiet waves continue to bring more treasures. According to Thoreau, “The sea-shore is a sort of neutral ground, a most advantageous point from which to contemplate this world. It is even a trivial place. The waves forever rolling to the land are too far-travelled and untamable to be familiar. Creeping along the endless beach amid the sun-squall and the foam, it occurs to us that we, too, are the product of sea-slime. It is a wild, rank place, and there is no flattery in it. Strewn with crabs, horse-shoes, and razor-clams, and whatever the sea casts up…”

The shore is still strewn with whatever the sea casts up and it remains an advantageous place to contemplate this world. It is a different world now. Although much has changed in the last 150 years or so, it is comforting to know that some places remain the same.

Do you use a certain book or place to travel through time?

On True Events and Fiction Or How I Was Bitten By a Monkey

I’ve been thinking about how true events mix and meld into fiction, forming something that’s both true and not true at the same time.

While nonfiction can be added to fiction, the reverse can’t be done. I was a reporter for a while and still freelance for feature articles. Fiction was my first love but I try not to let it sneak into any articles. As anyone who has ever seen the movie “Shattered Glass” knows, you can get into trouble that way. The movie also shows how fiction can make the facts a lot more interesting.

There is much more freedom in writing fiction. I love to get out and interview people for feature articles but whenever the time comes to sit down and write, the writing can feel constricted to facts and quotes. I’d rather let my imagination take over and drift into fiction.

Then just when I think I’m finally writing fiction, true events end up seeping in. In the short story that was recently posted here, the international incident on the beach did happen pretty much as described with maybe a few embellishments that hopefully helped to make it funnier. In real life, there was also a monkey on a leash that people liked to have their pictures taken with. That monkey bit me, which was also funny, but I couldn’t figure out a way to work the monkey bite into the story. It was just a little bite on the finger, but the lifeguard still gave me some antiseptic while calling monkeys, “little thieves who jump out of the trees to steal people’s sunglasses.”

Even as these things were happening, the idea to turn it all into a short story didn’t come up until I started thinking more about mixtures – from drinks to nationalities or cultures. There are lots of references to mixtures in the story, so I guess it makes sense that the story itself is a strange mixture of fact and fiction.

What have been your experiences with writing fiction? Is it always truly fiction or does the truth seep in somehow?