Wednesday, February 26, 2014

What Writers Can Learn from the Animal Kingdom

The idea of the “survival of the fittest” often applies to the writing industry. As a freelance writer, can you beat the competition and stay afloat?

In order to strengthen your competitive edge, let’s look to our friends in the animal kingdom who’ve been doing this survival thing for centuries.

Here are some (r)evolutionary writing tips:

1. A dragonfly’s panoramic vision

A dragonfly has the ability to see in all directions, and can process up to a thousand images into one picture.

How this applies to writing: It's important to think small and be opportunity-focused, but also to think big and create your own opportunities. In some situations there could be a clear toss-up between writing what you're good at and writing what you love, so which to choose? The answer: choose both.

Projects may come by that don't necessarily fall into your range of interests, but are a perfect fit in terms of your expertise or educational background. Stay engaged in commissioned work, but don't forget your goals: finish that screenplay, or book, or story you've been thinking about for months. The key is to balance your vision.

2. A tortoise’s immortality

Successfully avoiding senescence for centuries, the tortoise ages but never grows old. Most tortoises die of old age, unafflicted by disease or injury.

How this applies to writing: You need to focus on constant re-invention. Whether you write literary fiction or fantasy, memoir or morbid exposés, business papers or blogs, your writing style and perspective must continually expand to include new ideas and technologies. Embrace changing modes of publication and writing platforms to stay relevant; otherwise there's the possibility you could be rendered obsolete by newer entrants in the field who are more tech-savvy and have better outreach.

With a change in perspective, you're also likely to develop versatility in your own work, regardless of whether you're a niche or prolific writer. French author André Gide wrote: "Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again." This is true of your own work: even within the realm of what you've written about before, you should constantly seek out new ways to express yourself.

3. An elephant’s vocal range

Elephants communicate at different frequencies, some of which are too low for humans to hear, while others are loud enough to travel huge distances—up to five or six miles.

How this applies to writing: Target your audience. Recognize your voice and identify who your readers will be, and then determine what your goals are in terms of outreach. Just like in any other product-based industry, understanding where you fit within your readers’ expectations and preferences can help you develop a loyal fan base.

Moreover, try to focus on communicating in different ways. To reach a dedicated, niche audience requires a contrasting approach to what you might take if you want to connect with a broader crowd. Consider things like your subject-matter, exposition, language density, and publishing platforms when evaluating these options.

4. A hummingbird’s effort

Though some weigh less than a penny, the hummingbird must beat its wings almost 80 times per second just to stay afloat.

How this applies to writing: Write a lot, write every day, keep writing even when you don't want to write. To stay on top of anything requires hard work, and writing output is directly proportional to input: the more you write, the more you'll sell, and the likelier you are to stay afloat.

Freelance writing jobs are not stable or guaranteed. They require constant initiative, a proactive mindset, and a drive to seek out new opportunities on a regular basis. It's simple: the more you'll reap, the more you'll sow.

5. A dolphin’s multitasking

Being mammals, dolphins must come up for air frequently. When asleep underwater, only half of a dolphin’s brain is actually sleeping, while the other half is responsible for making sure it doesn’t drown.

How this applies to writing: A writer’s work is never done. When you’re not writing, you should be editing. When you’re not editing, you should be thinking up new ideas. Whatever aspect of the process you’re focused on, keep part of your brain focused on the others. To be effective you'll need to get everything done well, and to be efficient you'll need to do it in the shortest amount of time.

Failing to plan is planning to fail. Be organized. Check your email regularly. Stay on top of your deadlines. Understand your personal capacity so you know how many projects you can handle at once. With proper calculation, you'll know when you're going to be ready for new work, thus minimizing the risk of drought periods.

Writers and writing are constantly evolving—and that's what makes this such an exciting job. Do you have any animal-inspired tips that help you in your writing career? Share them in the comments!


Unknown said...

It's important to think small and be opportunity-focused, but also to think big and create your own opportunities.


How do you propose one does both madam butterfly?

Unknown said...

It's important to think small and be opportunity-focused, but also to think big and create your own opportunities.....

How do you propose to do both Madam Butterfly?