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The Writer's Mailbag: Installment 271

Updated on August 26, 2019

Fighting Sluggishness

We don’t do AC in the Pacific Northwest. Oh, sure, a few homes have it, and a few of the nicer cars actually have a working AC unit in them, but by and large most people do not purchase an AC unit if they live in the Puget Sound area. We really only need one for ten days tops out of three-sixty-five, and that hardly seems like a smart allocation of disposable income, you know?

So on an August morning, as the heat rises in my office and the sweat forms on my upper lip, I really have zero desire to write. The passion is there but the practicality of it all overwhelms the passion, and I dream of late September and cooler temps.

That is a lead-up to the Mailbag this week, and my confession that I’m just not “feeling it” this week. For sure we have one . . . here it is for you to enjoy . . . but it will probably be short and I may, or may not, engage with all pistons and cylinders.

Just a pre-warning as we begin.

The Mail Room
The Mail Room


From William: “I'm working on a story that is based loosely on a song. Although I don't mention the song or any of the lyrics, someone told me that ideas are copyrighted as well, and I may be breaking copyright laws. I think only a very few people would make the connection if any. I've put a lot of time into it and would hate to have to forfeit it. Any ideas? Would it be appropriate to place partial song lyrics as a quote at the end giving credit to the composer?”

William, this is actually the gray area of copyrighting. I can tell you what I would do based on my meager knowledge of copyrighting laws, but that’s the best I can do.

Section 102 of the U.S. Copyright Law says the following:

“In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.”

In other words, ideas are considered a part of the public domain and as such do not fall under copyright protection. Do you want to play it safe? I would because it is so easy to do so. Simply give credit at the end, with partial lyrics and a credit to that composer. That should do the trick! There is practically a zero chance you will be called out for doing it.

Too Young

From Kelcey: “I’m only nineteen, so I don’t have a lot of life experience. Do you think it is possible to write effectively at such a young age? How do I go about changing that, or how do I make it sound like I have the necessary experience?”

Wow! Kelcey, you are showing some serious awareness for someone so young, and I don’t say that in a condescending manner at all. I’m impressed!

It seems to me, at your age, you only have two choices: get out there and experience as much as possible, as quickly as possible, or learn to observe life around you. Those two are not mutually exclusive, by the way.

Writers are observers by nature, or so I believe. We watch people and we store away the information we gather. It is all shoved into a mental bank until we need it for a story or book. You can do that at nineteen. Age is not a limiting factor for that activity. And with each passing year you will have more of your own experience to draw upon. I suspect you, like most of us, will be a better writer in twenty years than you are today. Life’s classroom is the best teacher we all have.

In my second novel, “Resurrecting Tobias,” I wrote a passage about fighting in Vietnam. I am told it is a very realistic piece of writing. In truth I’ve never been to Vietnam and I certainly have never been in the military. How did I pull that off? I talked to soldiers who were there. I read accounts of veterans, and I imagined what it must be like to face death daily . . .

All of which you can do at nineteen.

Best wishes to you!

Is my life worth writing about?
Is my life worth writing about?

The Memoir Again

From Pete: “I know you have mentioned you are writing a memoir. What do you think is the value in doing that? Why are you doing that? Most memoirs I have read were written by famous people and no offense but you aren’t famous, so what’s the point?”

Pete, you had me laughing out loud with your question. What the hell is the point, Bill? LOL Who do you think you are, Bill? Again, Pete, LOL.

I’m not laughing at you, Pete, so please understand that. I’m laughing because I’ve asked myself the same question ever since I started on the memoir.

My quick, easy, safe answer is this: some friends suggested I do so. They convinced me that I have an important message to share with all of you. The more difficult answer to admit is this: I need it for my peace of mind. My memoir will finally allow the last of the ghosts to escape. It is forcing me to face things I have been reluctant to face, and I believe therein lies its value. I think we all have ghosts and we all have secrets. I believe we all have things we would prefer not to face, and we all have portions of ourselves we would prefer not to uncover for all to see.

But I also believe that complete freedom and happiness is not possible until we bare all, and so the memoir is my way of stripping naked and getting real with all of you and with myself.

If my story resonates with anyone else, and in some small way helps anyone else, then to me it’s a win!

Thanks for the chuckle, my friend.

Content Writing

From Sammie: “Hey Bill, I know you are a freelancer. Can you recommend a good freelance company I can start working with? I’m having a hard time securing any writing jobs.”

You may or may not like my answer, Sammie, but here we go.

No, I cannot recommend a good freelance company. I have not worked with any of them in years now. I have worked with a small firm out of Fort Worth for six years now, and I work directly with the owner of the company. I am her only writer so I stay pretty busy. She pays a fair amount, she is punctual with her payments, and life is good for both of us.

My recommendation and advice for you is to skip the middle man. Companies like Freelancer are never going to make you rich. If I were you I would pound the pavement in your city and hawk your writing talents directly to the business owners. Negotiate for yourself rather than having Freelancer or another company involved in the process at all.

If you don’t like that recommendation, do some research and find a local content mill, not a national one. If you live near a major city there is an excellent chance there is a content company in that city. Yes, they will get part of your payment, but they also save you from having to pound the pavement, and they allow you to skip national content mills which can be less than reliable.

Best wishes!

Content companies?
Content companies?

Writing While Depressed

From Mary: “Regarding Eric's question about staying upbeat, I'd like to reverse that. If you're low, depressed, or stressed how do write? Especially if what you're writing needs to be positive. Are you able to write yourself out of the pessimistic state.”

Mary, this might be hard to believe, for some, but I don’t do depression or stress? I eliminated those from my life back in 2006. I had to or I wouldn’t have survived. We alcoholics need to stay away from pessimism and depression. They can fuel another drinking binge, and I’m not sure I would survive another binge.

I constantly repeat the words of a mentor I had back in 2006….”Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff.” That’s how I get through life, Mary. I’m just grateful to be alive, and I think that is reflected in how I face life daily.

And the Heat Has Broken

At least temporarily, Olympia is now basking in the 70’s, and I’m in heaven. The 60’s would be better, but I’m not about to kick a gift horse in the mouth, and what a silly saying that is. Who would even attempt to kick a horse in the mouth? Who would be foolish enough to try?

I’ll leave you with that thought. Have a great week, unless you’ve made other plans.

2019 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly”


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