Addiction – an interview with Ruth Barringham (13th of August 2006)

Introduction

The moment I added the article, 25 Ways To Fail As A Freelance Writer, I knew I wanted to interview Ruth. I liked the way she wrote and the more I read of her articles, the more I enjoyed learning. In this interview, Ruth has given some fabulous advice and also precious insight into how writers work. I have great pleasure in introducing to you Ruth Barringham …


Aneeta: Ruth, thank you for agreeing to participate in this interview.

Ruth: You’re welcome. That’s one of the great things about working over the internet; you get to meet people from all over the world.

Aneeta: Yes, I agree. Let me start by asking you a few personal questions. Please tell us about where you were raised and where do you live now.

Ruth: Well, that’s quite a long story. I was born in the north of England but emigrated to Australia with my parents when I was very young. We lived there for nearly 20 years and that’s where I did all my schooling and then I went out to work in retail when I was 15.

We came back in the 1980s (my mother got homesick) and I’ve lived here since. I’ve been married twice and have two children (one who has a son of his own now – but please don’t use the dreaded ‘Grandmother’ word on me). My husband, Dean, has recently been offered a job in Australia in exactly the same place where I grew up. So we’re in the middle of packing up all our possessions, including children, grandchild and pets, and shipping the whole kit-and-caboodle back to the Land of Oz. It’s funny how things have gone full-circle. And I must say that’s it’s totally disrupting my writing routine.

Aneeta: How did you first get into writing?

Ruth: It started over 10 years ago. I’ve always enjoyed writing and was the top of my English class in high school. But I never did anything about it until one day I decided to do a writing course and when all my course material arrived I began the course with great gusto. I’d sit for ages going over all the text books and then doing the assignments. But I was too impatient and could hardly wait for the assignments to be returned so that I could read what my tutor said.

Then one day someone gave me a magazine that they’d finished reading. I read the short story in it and it had a really weak plot and disappointing ending. So I re-jigged one of the stories I’d done in my writing course and sent it to them. Then a few weeks later I got a telephone call from the editor saying that she wanted to publish my story and was £300 payment acceptable. Acceptable? I was ecstatic and drunk with happiness. I couldn’t believe how much they were going to pay me, but most importantly, I was going to be a published writer.

Well, as you can imagine, that made me more determined than ever to move forward with my writing career. I finished my writing course and then studied up as much as I could about how writers work and what was the right way to approach editors, etc. And then I started sending out queries for articles and short stories to as many magazines as I could.

At first I’d send out just one query or story and wait to see what came back, but then my husband, Dean, said that it was all a matter of percentages and that the more things I had circulating, the better my chances were of being published.

Then I saw a writing course that promised to get you writing straight away and said that if you followed the course then by the time you’d finished it in 3 months time you’d have earned back 30-times the cost of the course – and it came with a money-back guarantee.

So I bought it, because it didn’t cost much anyway, and started doing it the same day. It was an instant download from the internet so I set-to and did everything it said. I was amazed at how fast I was working. The course began with readers’ letters in magazines and then progressed to slogan writing, greeting card verse, cross words, fillers, articles, short stories and more.

The cheques for my work just started pouring into the mail box. Some things were published and some weren’t, but because I was sending out so many it didn’t matter. Whatever was rejected I’d just turn it around and send it somewhere else. I also started writing articles for web sites so my name and my writing was published all over the world. So in the end I didn’t need to use the money-back guarantee because instead of earning 30-times the cost of the course by the time I’d finished it, I’d earned it when I was only half-way through.

If anyone’s interested in doing the same writing course, they can find it at http://www.writeaholic.co.uk/quickcash.html.

I then progressed to another course called ‘Write Any Book in 28 Days or Less’. So again I began the course with great gusto and in 4 weeks I had a manuscript in my hands. I didn’t even know what I was going to write about when I began the course, but once I started it didn’t matter because the course led me step-by-step from thinking of a book idea, to writing the outline, the blueprint and finally the manuscript.

I gave the whole thing a complete rewrite and then sent it to several literary agents because it’s a work of fiction and so it’s better to have an agent for novels. One of the agents asked to see the whole manuscript and then offered me a contract on the condition that I had it professionally edited.

But unfortunately, I’ve recently had to fire my editor because he was dragging his feet and was taking months instead of the promised weeks to edit the manuscript so now I have to find another one, but hopefully my novel will be published later this year, if this whole thing hasn’t delayed it too much.

Again, if anyone is interested in doing the same book writing course, you can find all the information about it at http://www.writeaholic.co.uk/writequickly.html.

Aneeta: I wish you luck in finding the right editor. I understand that you’re now a freelance writer, creator and editor of three successful websites:
http://www.ruthbarringham.co.uk
http://www.writeaholic.co.uk and
http://www.workathomeaholic.com.

Please, do share with me what are the services and/or products you offer on these websites.

Ruth: Well, I began the first site, www.ruthbarringham.co.uk, when I did a web page building course (I don’t have a fetish for doing courses, I just like to know what I’m doing when I embark on a new project). The final assignment was to design, build and upload a multi-page web site. So I decided what better thing to make a web site about than myself.

So I built my first site, uploaded it to the internet and received my diploma for web page design. Then I decided to try and make a bit of extra money from the site so I started putting ads on it for writing related things and a few Google ads and I started offering links to other sites.

Soon I was getting quite a few visitors to my site and was making a bit of extra money at the same time. I also joined a freelance site and added my web page address so that people could read more about me and my freelance writing services.

Sure enough, within a few months I’d built a small client base by doing business letters, sales reports, rewriting books, scripts, etc. But I also noticed that the writing articles on my site were receiving lots of visitors.

So then I started my next web site www.Writeaholic.co.uk as a place for writers to visit, read articles and reports, see what writing related products were for sale and find ways to earn extra money while they were writing. I then hit on the idea to start a monthly newsletter and I wrote an eBook called Become a Freelance Writing Success which I offer for free to anyone who subscribes.

Sure enough, people did start subscribing and my email list has been growing ever since. But it was difficult to combine writing and information to help people make money all in one newsletter.

So I decided to split the web site into two and I then created www.WorkAtHomeAholic.com where I could offer ways to make money online while the Writeaholic site and the newsletter stayed devoted to writers. But then of course, I had to start another newsletter for www.WorkAtHomeAholic.com. I could go on all day about it because it just keeps growing and growing. I think having a web site is addictive – you just want more and more.

Aneeta: I know exactly what you mean by a web site being addictive! You say on your site that you created your website. Now, I’ve created my website on my own and there are times I’ve wanted to tear my hair out. In hindsight, these experiences have been funny. My question is this – have you ever faced such a situation when creating any of your sites?

Ruth: Multiple times. It happens so often you have to laugh or you’d cry. It can get very frustrating when I’m scrolling through pages and pages of HTML trying to find out where I’ve made the one tiny little error that’s totally messed up my web page and turned it into an unidentifiable piece of junk. And it usually turns out to be something really simple. But once I find out where I’ve gone wrong and put it right, I wear out the rug dancing for joy. I once discovered that my whole web page was just one huge hyperlink because when I placed a link at the top of the page I forgot to close it properly (missed the inverted comma) and so the link and everything after that was clickable and took me to the same place when I clicked on it.

Aneeta: Ruth, sometimes, when I’m faced with a writer who’s a little ‘tetchy’, I find it really difficult to tell them their work’s terrible and it causes me much stress. I’m sure that you too must be facing such trouble and I would like to know, how do you deal with it? How do you tell a writer that what he/she is writing is the most atrocious thing you’ve ever read without offending them?

Ruth: Yes, I get that problem a lot. And I know you might think this is cruel, but first of all I write down exactly what I’d like to say to them, something like; ‘Dear Whoever, I think you writing is absolutely awful. How can you write such garbage and write it so badly?’ And then I laugh and laugh at what I’ve written and get it out of my system and then I write to them more politely. But I have to remind myself that if they were good writers, then they wouldn’t need me and then I’d be out of a job. When I do write to them I use expressions like ‘possible rewrite’ and ‘needs more attention to detail’ or ‘not enough emotion’ if it’s a bit boring.

I have one writer who I work for regularly. He writes How-To books and then he emails me his manuscripts for editing. But in all honesty there’s nothing really wrong with his writing – it’s just the juxtaposition of his paragraphs. He puts everything in the wrong order. I think he must work quickly and just write down whatever pops into his head. So I just print off his manuscript, lay the pages out all over the floor and begin numbering the paragraphs in the right order. Then I collect up the pages, go back to the computer and begin a massive cut-and-paste operation.

Aneeta: As you know, my website is for storytellers. What advice do you have for storytellers, particularly those who are thinking of starting their careers?

Ruth: That’s an easy one. I’d say just write. Whether you prefer short story writing, scripts, novels or whatever – just keep writing. Don’t try and analyse it or look for errors, just let your ideas flow onto the paper (or computer screen). And don’t even try and edit it as you go along. Editing is a totally different job and should be done later. Just keep on writing because you can always go back an edit your work any time, but you can’t edit a blank page.

And don’t worry about finding the right market for your work. If your work’s good enough you’ll find a market for it eventually. Joining writing websites and subscribing to newsletters is always worthwhile because they’re always coming up with new ideas that you haven’t thought about before and lots of writing markets. Also writing forums are a good place to see what other writers are doing and where they’re having their work published.

But whatever else you do, don’t stop writing. And don’t keep your work hidden away in a drawer. You won’t get it published from there. Get it out there where it can be seen, and then send out more. If your work gets rejected, just think of it as a rewriting opportunity or just simply send it somewhere else. Never give up or give in. If you want to be a writer, you have to write.

Aneeta: Ruth, this is all I have to ask you. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Ruth: Yes, there’s one thing that I think is terribly important for all writers, yet it’s the hardest one of all – being organised. Being a writer it’s too easy to get distracted by other day-to-day things and this can suck away your writing time before you even know it. Make sure when you go to bed at night that you already have a business plan for the next day – and stick to it. I find the trouble with working from home is that everyone thinks it’s the same as not working and that they can drop round any time. I’ve managed to stop all that and anyone who knows me knows never to come to my house during office hours. If I wasn’t rigid about this, I’d get no writing done. It was hard at first to get people to understand, but I held firm and it’s paid off.

Aneeta: Ruth, thank you.

Ruth: It’s been my pleasure.


This piece may NOT be freely reprinted. Please contact editor @ howtotellagreatstory.com for reprint rights.

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