Sunday, August 15, 2004

Live to Write

Live to Write
Everyone in this world believes in the right to choose what he or she wants to do for a living. Not many people however live the lives they want because jobs are scarce in the world of economics. In the heart of hearts, many people would have at one time or other desired to be a writer or an author, but not all of these people get the chance to live lives the way they want it.

To be a writer is a noble thought and to see one's name published in an article or a book is a satisfaction that goes beyond actualization and personal achievement. It is a signifier of success and authority on the subject of what has been written. For a fiction writer, it is the power of imagination, a fantasy beyond reality, a demonstration of creativity. For a non-fiction writer, it is an accomplishment that propagates the writer's expertise on the subject, a canonical authority to power in knowledge.

Many people who pursue a career in writing began their career as a journalist after they have obtained a diploma or a degree in mass communication or journalism. Academic achievements, however, need not always be quintessential to good writing, although many employers would prefer to engage someone with at least basic writing skills or qualifications, especially in Asian context.

As a journalist or intern journalist, there are various paths in which writers can achieve their goals. The first consideration is usually to write for the broadsheet press or main newspaper, a place that provides a good start for building an outstanding portfolio. This path, however, will not be an easy ride and new comers entering a newsroom environment will usually start as reporters. To work as reporters can be hell because the deadlines for each story is within several hours, often less, because of the required time for meeting people, conducting interviews, and getting the story out for editing and print within the same day. News that do not make it within the scheduled time on the same day will be discarded as it will no longer be news the next day. Apart from the rush, writing for the mainstream has advantages as well, the key gain of which is a portfolio that provides good reference to an impressive CV or resume.

The second alternate path is to write for non-mainstream press or tabloid. Although the desired prestige may not be what the writer seeks to have, depending on the track record of the publication's circulation capacity, it can still substantially provide some publicity and recognition for a good portfolio.

The third path to consider is to write for periodicals, magazines, or on-line publications. The advantage of writing for these types of publications is primarily in the area of deadlines. Articles for such media usually allows a slightly longer time for writing completion as the audiences are more selectively targeted. Production for magazines and periodicals are usually scheduled for weekly, monthly, or bi-monthly release and content of writings feature based, often with added sophistication that allows writers the avenue to express their writing styles as well as presenting thoughts of people interviewed or their own.

Apart from seeing one's name associated to the article he or she has written, working as a journalist has other forms of satisfaction as well. When a journalist is invited to attend an event or a media conference, he or she is always treated with utmost courtesy by the people who invite, sometimes with souvenir gifts and seats arrangements that are usually only for the VIPs. These do not mean that the journalist must then write something favorable accorded to their courtesy, as journalists essentially abide by the code of journalistic practices.

Besides journalism, there are other ways for aspiring writers to start a career. As explained earlier, writing for a living is not dependent on qualifications, literacy, or academic achievements. For people who do not have the required qualifications but desire to write, they may sometimes be better off than those who have because they are not restricted by what they have learnt. In the case of fiction writing, those without degrees and diplomas often possess better imagination and creativity, with the ability to distance themselves from stereotypes. This, of course, does not mean that writers who are qualified are unable to write fiction. It does mean however that trained writers have a tendency to follow prescribed rules in their writing style which can limit a person's creativity and stifle a good story. Having said that, however, it should be noted that good writings are dependent on a person's flair for writing, not good qualifications. For a writer to be good, he or she must possess a burning passion for what he or she writes, not just write to live, but also live to write.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Fee or Free?

Fee or Free?
There are many people who are willing to write for free, especially when they have a full time job of their own. They do not mind contributing to publications so long as they get to see their articles published in magazines or books. Few however actually realise that in so doing they are jeopardising the survival of people who write for a fee.

I used to write for many publications at no cost in the past when I was an employee earning a regular income. Occasionally, I get paid writing for a supplement of the main newspaper only because of the publisher's required ownership and rights to the article, and that works fine for me. All these happened about ten years ago.

Today, as a freelance journalist and writer, my livelihood depends on being paid to write. As a gesture of goodwill, I usually provide one free sample of my unpublished works to editors in the hope of them hiring me to write for other articles. Many editors welcomed the gesture and some even assured me that my sample articles will be published. Often these turned out to be empty promises and when the next issues of their publication were released, the content of their topics seemed to be not much dissimilar from my ideas, except that it is written by someone else. This is how it is these days, possibly because there is no black and white to intellectual property rights as far as non-contractual freelancing is concerned.

Writing freelance is not a monetary rewarding job. Usually a writer gets paid about 20 to 30 cents per published word, and this payment do not usually gets received until a month after the article is published. If I write an article in August this year for a November or December issue of a magazine, I will usually only be paid around January next year. If the article is about 1000 words and the fee is 30 cents per word, it means I will be paid $300 after three months from now. In the real world, most editors for magazines only require freelancers to write articles of about one page or up to four pages. Each page is about 500 words and this means a writer must write a substantial amount of articles before he or she can survive.

Unfortunately, that is not the end of the story. The fee paid to the writer includes expenses incurred during the course of writing the article, such as the use of Internet, phone calls and transportation to conduct interviews on phone or meeting interviewees in person.

These are the things being faced by journalists and writers constantly. Print media editors usually get lots of articles free of charge from contributors and from full-time hired staff writers. Freelancers are often only hired for their skills in areas that normal writers do not possess, for example, technical knowledge required for articles of technological content. If you are aspiring to be a freelance writer, your first step is therefore to craft out an area of writing that requires your unique skills or expertise, according to the demand of publishers.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004


Recently I was assigned to cover a feature story and two short technical articles on the subject of blogging.

I started off the feature by introducing a blog site that I frequently visited of a soldier who is facing the daily tension at the war zone 'live' in Iraq. The site which details the daily life of an infantry machine gunner situated in Iraq is found at

The feature covered interviews with various people on the subject of blogging, including adults, teachers, and students. Quotes were taken from different people, including Jack Neo, JanNiCe and Sara-Ann K.

The feature ended in a melancholy note on the contrast of the different people writing blogs. Some write to express their joy while others write for a cause. For the soldier in Iraq, it is a matter of life and death. It is about informing family members and the public of the stituation and about how he faces each day with courage, fear, and uncertainty.
The two other technical articles detail the instructions of how to become a blogger, how to create blogs, and how to add sound and pictures. The first talks about blog and the second about moblog.

As to which magazine I am writing for, all I can say is that it is an educational magazine, and the the articles are for the Sep/Oct 2004 issue.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

A Writer's Nightmare

A Writer's Nightmare
The greatest nightmare of a journalist is when his or her written work is modified beyond recognition by the editor.

Throughout my experience as a writer and journalist for many publications, my writings have seldom been edited more than 10 per cent, and I respect editors for that.

My nightmare came not so long ago when I have to work with an editor I have never worked with before. The article which I was assigned to write for a trade magazine was a technology article on wireless solutions. As part of the required content for the article, I was required to work with as many corporations as possible to find out how these solutions have helped their businesses and to obtain quotes from them, and from people in the industry. After many hours of hard work and interviews on phone (which cost money), I painstakingly wrote the article and compiled quotes from many key people in the business world, trade associations and government bodies.

When the article was finally submitted to the editor after many rounds of self editing, the editor decided instead that all the quotes be lifted off to focus on an out-of-date aspect of wireless technologies instead! The irony is technology is an area of my expertise and I have worked in the IT industry for many years, while the editor admitted that she is NOT into technology at all.

When the article was finally published in the trade and business magazine, I was no longer able to recognize its content except for some minor semblance which I am unwilling to accept or acknowledge openly to be mine. In fact, I feel shamed by it and fear that it may hurt my reputation as a credible technology writer.

That was the last time I worked with the editor.

Share Your Experiences

This blog entry is dedicated to all editors, writers, journalists, and bloggers who wish to share and discuss about their experiences and thoughts on writing and editing, or to feedback about this blog.

If you have a tip on writing or an advice on how to get published or how to survive as a writer or have some thoughts that may help writers in their writing, or something to say about this site, please feel free to pen your comments here.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Welcome to this Blog!

Hi journalists, writers, editors, bloggers, mass communication/media/ journalism students, and visitors of this blog ...

Welcome to this new blog on Journalism and Writing! Whether your interest is to provide advice on writing or to feedback on this site or to share your experiences, please feel free to place your comments here. For anonymous submission, please sign off your comment with a name or nickname and an e-mail or web URL address.

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