A Fool For A Client

Will Hindmarch • October 22nd, 2008 @ 3:28 pm • Uncategorized, Writing Tips

So, maybe I should make a quick introduction. By now, I imagine, you’re like, “Who the hell are you?” Let me tell you: I hear you, brother. Who the hell am I?

What up. Nice to meet you. I’m Will. I’m Will Hindmarch. I’m also Will Hindmarch and, often, Will Hindmarch. If it doesn’t offend you, I’m also sometimes Will Hindmarch. Later today, I’ll also be Will Hindmarch. I have been other Will Hindmarches, and I’m currently Will Hindmarch in other places, too, but not all of those are for you.

I listen to songs over and over and over again until I cannot stand them anymore, then pile magazines on top of them and forget about them, until I find them by accident while cleaning my office, when I like them because I miss them. (The song, “Dream Awake,” by The Frames, I ran positively into the ground this summer.) Most mornings, when I wake up, I’ve already got dialog stuck in my head from Ghostbusters (“Gozer the Gozerian? Good evening…”) or The West Wing (“I’m holding onto the belief that there was a time in the history of everything that works when it didn’t work.”). That’ll play over and over for the next twenty minutes or so. My doctor says the amount of coffee I drink is unhealthy. I smoke a pipe, but don’t worry, it’s fine. I’m on this sort of Scandinavian/UK kick right now, while I re-read the Penguin Classics edition of Orkneyinga Saga. Sometimes I think seriously about moving to the UK because of the weather and the ruins and the coastline and the trains and the history and the Europe being right there and all.

Where in there did I lose you

I’m a freelance writer and designer, so I’m routinely out trolling for work. I don’t so much pound the pavement as I “pound” the “pavement,” but such is the life. To get work, as a freelancer, you’ve got to promote yourself. It’s part of the job.

You know the thing about self-promotion? I don’t. I’m awful at it. I was born without that mental sensor that reads the difference between self-promotion and being full of yourself. Game designer and punk, Chris Pramas, put it to me like this:

“Upside: being a dick can get you noticed. Downside: you are being a dick.”

Amen, brother.

But I don’t know where that line is between Dick and Not A Dick. I keep mistaking other things for that line. I think I see the line, but it turns out to be a crack in the floorboard. I see writers talk about themselves online and I say, “Wow, way to be a dick!” But somebody else says, “What, are you crazy? That’s not dickish. The line’s over there. He’s on this side of the line.”

“Oh,” I say. “Really?”

“Yes. He’s in the clear.”

“Not a dick move?” I ask.

“Not at all,” they say. “What is wrong with you?”

“Yeah, nobody knows,” I say.

Believe it or not, this is as much snobbery on my part as it is any kind of timid politeness. (Did I mention I’m snob? I’m a snob.) I think that if writing is good, you shouldn’t have to jump up and down and wave it in the air and say, “Look what I wrote!” If it’s good, people will tell you it is good

Except, of course, that’s bullshit. Good or not, it doesn’t mean anybody read it. You’ve get to get people to look at your work, first. Once they’re looking at it, they can read it. And then your writing can do its thing. But it’s even more bullshit than that. Even if it’s good, people might not say anything.

As a game writer, I’ve worked on a lot of multi-author books. In most of these books, all your names get lumped together in the credits, so the reader doesn’t know who wrote what. This puts the focus on the work itself. If the book turns out well, you can share in the praise, even if the part you were assigned to write was unglamorous pipe-laying. If the book gets lambasted, you have some cover from partial anonymity—this is especially important in game books where you may have been assigned to write support material for game rules that someone else designed, and which you may or may not agree with, but which you are being paid to explain and present. Ideally, this keeps the game developer from blaming the writer and the writer from blaming the game developer, at least publicly. All in it together.

My first published credits were in those kinds of game books. So I was brought up to think that it was how things are done. Your work gets recognized, not you.

When I see people go onto Internet forums and say things like “Oh, I wrote part of that book, too!” and “I even like the parts of that book I didn’t write!” it sounds like reaching for a compliment to me. (“Teacher, teacher, I finished my assignment, too!”) Your name’s in the credits. They know you wrote it. You might as well say, “Not only did I help, I’m also standing right here!” If you want compliments, do good work and then Google yourself

This is especially vital for a freelancer, whose name is often not associated with the work at all. You’re paid to deliver great work that makes the client look good. You’re not being paid to use the assignment for public self-promotion. Praise from the audience isn’t part of the equation, so asking for it isn’t just not classy, it’s a faux pas.

So: The praise you get after asking for it doesn’t count.

Except, the thing is… a lot of the time, I’m wrong. More and more, lately, I think I’m wrong about this. (Not all of it—the purpose of writing isn’t to dole out gold stars for readers to give back to you.)

These past few months, I’ve branched out from contract writing on work-for-hire assignments into personal writing projects. I’m trying to break into new areas of fiction and nonfiction writing, and I’m trying to develop not just my writing but me, the writer. I’m expanding from freelancing into independent writing and publishing. I’ll avoid any half-assed speculation here about the-author-as-product as an essential part of Some New Paradigm, but what the hell, there it is. If I want people to find my work, I’ve got to be noticeable. I’ve got to get attention. I’ve got to represent myself.

2 Responses to “A Fool For A Client”

  1. Matt Forbeck says:

    And so, here you are. Well done. :)

  2. Bill Ectric says:

    “You’ve get to get people to look at your work, first. Once they’re looking at it, they can read it.”

    Amen, brother.

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