“Pen — or Pencil — For Hire”

If the unfinished manuscript in your desk drawer is anything to go by, you have succumbed on occasion to the temptation to set words down on paper for the enlightenment of posterity.  Such a foolish ambition has never been easier to harbour than it is nowadays, when everyone has a keyboard and a selection of fingers.  Personally, I have eight to spare when I type.

But ask yourself this: what has posterity ever done for you?

Laying the great novel aside for later, you may even have considered dashing off a quick newspaper article and sending it to the electronic letterbox of your local editor.  Check your spelling first, of course.

And who knows, the very next day you may be down the local pub drowning your sorrows, either that or casually asking your drinking companions if they saw today’s paper, by any chance?

A freelance knight in olden days was like a gun for hire in the Wild West, a medieval mercenary who would rent out his jousting lance to any noble who was getting together a posse of bad lads to move in on a neighbour’s fiefdom, or whatever.

In modern times, a freelance writer’s equivalent of a lance is his pen, or pencil, or his Brother.  (That’s the printer I use, anyway, and over the years it has indeed come to seem like a member of the family.)

Have you given any thought yet as to what ought to be in your literary submission – the nub, the grist, the nitty-gritty?  As a general principal, it should be fearless, entertaining, interesting, stirring, topical and contain enough yeast to make it rise above the rest of the stuff the editor will yawn his way through that day.  And I can’t believe I just used a series of words whose first letters would spell ‘feisty’.  Is that Ouija board still lying around somewhere?

A serious rant about something is always a good idea, assuming you can hit upon a topic that most of your readers will feel strongly about – the breakdown of a celebrity relationship, perhaps, or the building-up of a defensive wall between two countries – America and Mexico, or Scotland and England.  The weakness of Mexico’s Olympic team has been unkindly attributed to the fact that every Mexican who can run, jump or swim is already in the USA.

Try to flatter or congratulate your readers in some way – for example, I am filled with admiration for any reader who has persevered in reading my article as far as this point, and I congratulate them on their intellectual acumen.  No, I really mean that.  (You see how easily they were fooled? – Not you, of course.)

We all know that an unknown understudy often gets a lucky break when the leading actor actually does break a leg before going onstage, in Macbeth, perhaps.  I have discovered that a similar thing can happen to a freelance journalist, and no, I’m not suggesting that you start learning the principal actor’s lines in the Scottish Play.  (“Is this a pencil which I see before me?  Let me clutch thee…”)  But just occasionally, when some poor wretch of a reporter doesn’t deliver his copy before the paper has been put to bed (often before the editor has) a freelance submission is chosen, after a careful rummage in the wastepaper basket.  And before you know it, you will be eyeballing your deathless prose the very day before it is keeping a bag of fish and chips warm.

And what about the poor soul whose copy arrived too late?  I’m guessing he will slouch home and retrieve his abandoned novel from the attic – where it has not aged well – and try to summon up some lost enthusiasm.  Really, a story about a boy wizard?  Who would want to read that?




























































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About David Learmont

Scottish 72-year-old retired teacher of English, and have worked in Hong Kong, Qatar (where I wrote the state English exams for 12 years), Cyprus and Germany.