12 Things That Online Writers Can Learn From Star Trek
Can Captain Kirk Make You a Better Writer?
What do a freelance writer and the captain of a star ship have in common? Not much actually.
A star ship captain has a full crew under his command to ensure a successful mission, whereas the freelance writer usually spends a lot of time alone doing several people's jobs.
So, what can a freelance writer possibly learn from Star Trek? If you look deeply enough, you can find life (and writing) lessons everywhere. But you don't have to search for yourself. Here are a dozen ways you can improve your career with lessons learned from Star Trek:
1. Boldly Go
You can't get where you want to be if you don't start moving. You can't discover new worlds or have great adventures if you stay in one place. If you aren't already writing, then you have to start. If you are writing in one place, then you have to try something new.
A lot of people have the potential to be great writers. Or at least writers that are successful enough to pay the bills. But they might never venture forth as boldly as they should because someone out there (or that little voice inside) is telling them that there they aren't good enough, that they don't have the experience, or that they don't know the right people.
The people of the Enterprise didn't let naysayers hold them back, and neither should you. Put up your deflector shields, ignore any negativity, and get to work.
Do You Explore New Horizons?
When you write, do you seek new angles, or do you just write what you think will sell?
2. But Go Someplace New
Sure, you are going. You are bold. You are making progress. But are you going someplace new, or is it already a well-populated area?
You know what I mean. How many articles or blog posts do you see everyday that are written about the same, tired subjects? Now, how many of them have anything new to say about those subjects?
Not many, because there aren't really a lot of new ways to write exciting, unique content about Vitamin C. We know what we know about it. And there are thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of content pieces online and in print that are just new ways of repeating that same information.
In Star Trek, note that Captain Kirk didn't re-explore areas that were already well known. It might have been a lot easier, seeing that these places already had the basic amenities. But there would have been no point. There would have been no thrills.
That doesn't mean you have to come up with a topic or point-of-view that has never been done before (virtually impossible), but you can always write about it from a new perspective. Even if it means introducing a little controversy.Why not write an article about "10 Great Reasons To Eat Potato Chips", instead of yet another article about the fact that junk food makes you fat?
This is part of the reason that blogs about parenting adventures are popular. Even though kids share similarities, no two children are the same. The adventures, the dialog and the messes will follow a common theme, but the plot will always keep you guessing about what comes next.
3. You Need Your Crew
Okay, so you don't have a crew. You sit at home on a computer, answer your own phones, fetch your own coffee and mail your own query letters. You can't even get your dog to bring the paper in for you.
But that doesn't mean you are alone. You probably have tons of people supporting your efforts and applauding your victories. Your spouse, your kids, your siblings, your parents, your friends.
You also have supporters that you have never met. Those are the people you meet online. Your social networking pals, the editors of websites and blogs where you write, and your clients.
If you post to online sites or blogs, then your readers are your crew. They may not be looking at you to make a big decision about their life or death for them, but they might be interested in your opinion on what shoes are best for this summer, or where they should eat if they visit your hometown. Maybe they are even looking for a bit of deeper guidance, or just an affirmation that what they have believed all along is okay.
So, you should do what a good captain would do. Give the people what they need or want. You had to sacrifice some sleep, you got a migraine from staring at your screen. But at least you weren't mangled by some weird alien beast on a desert planet.
4. Bend the Rules, Then Stand Your Ground
What made Captain Kirk a perpetual thorn in the side of Starfleet? His tendency to break the rules.
BUT...he didn't do this just for the fun of breaking rules. There was always a good reason behind his actions. Maybe he saw an opportunity to right a wrong, to save a race of people, or to prevent some kind of cosmic devastation.
I see lots of rule breaking in the online writing world. Some of it is beneficial, some of it is just to cause a stink. There are good ways and bad ways to break rules. Just ask yourself if you are doing it for the greater good.
Along with rule-breaking comes the consequences. There are always the "leaders" out there who won't pay any attention to the fact that you saved an entire planet from doom. If you broke protocol by leaving out an apostrophe during your mission, you are headed right to a mining colony.
The moral? Bend or break the rules as needed for yourself and for others, but be prepared to be penalized by critics in the aftermath. If you felt that what you did was justified, then don't back down.
5. Know What You Are Not
"For God's sake Jim, I'm a doctor, not a photographer!"
Dr. McCoy was never shy about letting everyone know that he had one job, and one job only. He was the doctor. Not the engineer, not the captain, not one of those un-named guys standing at computer terminals on the bridge.
When you self-publish to sites like Hubpages, you have the freedom to practice as you please. However, if you are working for individual clients, you may get more than your share of requests that have nothing to do with your expertise.
Don't be afraid to say:
"I'm a writer, not an editor/photographer/graphic designer/marketing analyst."
Even if you can do all these things, you shouldn't have to if they aren't part of the original arrangement. They take up way too much of your valuable writing time.
How great would Doctor McCoy's medical care have been if he had been called away from surgery three or four times to sweep the decks or repair elevator doors?
At the very least, don't be afraid to ask for adequate compensation when someone starts adding tasks to assignment.
Bend the rules, know your limits, and boldly go where no writer has gone before.
6. Always Consider Taking Advice
Captain Kirk was willing to take advice form his crew members. Even those who were new. He even took advice from strangers on a thousand different planets.
Because everyone needs advice from time-to-time. No matter how good you are, how brave you are, or how much you think you know, there is going to be someone else out there that can offer you a really good tip.
If its good, use it. Who cares if it came from a professional, an amateur, a superior, a reader, or an alien?
7. Use a Colorful Metaphor, When Appropriate
Occasionally, there is only one word that accurately sums up the emotion in a piece of writing. And that word might not be the nicest word in the dictionary.
Or maybe you just really need to get people's attention and let them know you are serious. Foul language wasn't really common on Star Trek, but there were times when the characters used it to drive a point home and let their viewers know that they were really feeling the moment.
Some bloggers use "colorful metaphors" quite successfully. These writers sound real, and that gets people to listen. However, if this isn't the way you naturally talk, you might want to avoid trying too hard, or you will sound as stilted as Spock when he tried to "fit in" by using curse words.
8. Don't Trust Technology
This might be one of the most important lessons you can learn from Star Trek. Never, ever, put your faith in technology. It will fail you when you need it the most.
For Captain Kirk and his crew, that meant that they were probably suspended in space without shields while another ship prepared to turn them into space dust. In your world, failed technology probably means:
- Not being able to get phone service in time for that client's call.
- Having your computer/internet crash 45 minutes before a deadline
- Hitting a publish button only to see an error message
- Realizing that those photos didn't save to your flash drive after all
- Finding out your computer ate your statements at tax time
Since you can't work online and not deal with technology, these are just some risks you have to take. But you should always take the time to back up your files and save copies of your work. If you don't have your own personal Scotty to fix the problems for you, at least have a good prescription for anxiety meds!
9. Don't Choose to Be A Red Shirt
In the Star Trek universe, it was pretty standard for guys wearing red uniforms to die in every episode. Sometimes several in one day. This was to let the viewer know that the situation was serious. It happened so often that the crew didn't really notice after awhile.
Most of these guys didn't even have names. No one had even seen them before they appeared in their own death scene, either. It is like they were randomly generated every day to replace previously lost "red shirts".
In the writing world, it is easy to become a guy in red. Maybe you are that faceless person cranking out articles for a content mill at a $1.18 per 500 words. Or maybe you are the site member that comes on and writes two or three articles then vanishes when you didn't get enough attention right away.
The ghosts of red shirts long vanished haunt the entire internet. You may have stumbled across their empty husk of a profile, or seen their blog activity was last updated 5 years ago. Who were they? Where did they go?
Or, more importantly, how do you not become one of them?
Easy. Don't choose to be a red shirt. Be visible. Be heard. Make sure people have seen your face. And don't let yourself be shot down on the first few minutes of your mission.
Which Character Matches Your Writing Style?
Use call to action, lead others, seek balance between emotion and logic, bend rules
Focus on facts, look at statistics rather than individuals, maintain a calm voice, objective
Seek to change other's opinions, become flustered over people's actions, feel problems deeply
10. Balance Logic With Human Emotion
There are two things that can make an article very tedious to read:
- All logic and information with no personality
- All emotion and opinion with no facts or logic (or logical structure)
Both can be okay depending on where they are used. A blog post about your favorite dog doesn't really need to be backed up by statistics.An academic article on third world farming doesn't need vivid descriptions of the beautiful sunsets.
However, a lot of articles need some sort of balance. This is what made the Enterprise missions so interesting. Not only did the crew have to work together to find that balance, they also had to remember NOT to let personal feelings run away with them and cause bigger problems.
A good example of this is when you see people writing on sticky subjects like religion or politics. Often, they are not actually writing an article so much as trying to scream their emotions about the subject to the world. This appeals to those who agree, offends those who don't, and causes everyone else to avoid reading it because there isn't anything to actually learn.
11. Balance Bluntness With Diplomacy
As I said above, you have to use slang words and curse words sparingly. They should enhance your work, not drag it under. You should also strike a balance between bluntness and diplomacy.
This can mean either in your writing, or in your dealings with readers and clients. It is always a good idea to make sure that some things are crystal clear (like how much you charge per hour).
Not always such a good idea to be brutally honest about other aspects. Like telling a client you want to charge them extra because you hate their proposed topic.
12. Live Long and Prosper
What are your goals as an online writer? To be famous? To be wealthy? To be "viral"? Personally, I just hope to achieve what the Vulcans suggest:
To live long, and prosper as a writer.
To me, that means still being visible after many years, to earn enough to justify my efforts, and to enjoy what I do. It might not be the loftiest of goals, but it is a good start, and something we can all achieve by working hard at our chosen career. And by watching Star Trek re-runs whenever possible.