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The Well-Fed Writer

Peter Bowerman claims that almost any decent writer can enjoy prosperity in a freelance career. What if he's right?

The Well-Fed Writer
Peter Bowerman
Fanove Publishing
June 2000
ISBN 0-9670598-4-4
282 pages

As its title indicates, The Well-Fed Writer is a book about getting fat. Author Peter Bowerman wants writers to know that they don't have to starve in garrets and waste away in the service of writing. Not unless they want to, of course. But writers who prefer a bare cupboard in an unheated room probably wouldn't have any use for his advice.

Bowerman's book is about prosperity, success, living the writer's life and living the good live at the same time. If this sounds familiar, it's probably because so many books about freelance writing promise something along these same lines -- "make $50,000 (or whatever figure sounds good to you) a year as a freelancer, gain wealth and admiration, then retire at 40." As writers, we've heard it all before, and we're wise to open these books with the same kind of skepticism we'd use while tuning in to an infomercial.

On first blush, The Well-Fed Writer seems to be much the same kind of thing we've read before. Like most other self-help books for freelancers, this one explains all the facts of life to the novice writer who's considering a freelance career. Bowerman includes the necessary information about dealing with clients, running an office, billing for time, marketing to find new clients, and so on.

The corporate world is where the freelance writer can get fat, and it's terrain Bowerman knows well.

But because his scope is narrower, most of Bowerman's information is more specialized that the common run, and more useful. Instead of covering all the possible markets for the freelancer's skill, he focuses on writing for corporate clients, especially for businesses that have downsized their staffs and now must outsource more and more work to independents and consultants.

This corporate world is where the freelance writer can get fat, and it's terrain that Bowerman knows well. Bowerman's tips, tasks, do's and don't's, and other sage advice are based on what he knows from dealing with corporations as clients -- how to find them, how to work for them, how to keep them, and how to please them without compromising yourself. With his experience writing for the likes of Coca-Cola, MCI, IBM, American Express and UPS, Bowerman is the best native guide through the corporate world that a freelancer could hope for.

What does the freelancer need to succeed here? Determination and skill, of course . . . but not as much of either one as you might expect. Bowerman notes that "compared to other areas of freelance writing, it's not only much easier to get into -- it's much more lucrative once you do." It is necessary to know what kind of writing you are best at and enjoy, then pursue that. But genius, he says, isn't a prerequisite to a successful freelancing career. Simple average ability can accomplish just as much or more when it's properly applied: "If you can position yourself as the writer to call when someone needs solid, dependable, consistent copy in one or more fields, you'll do well."

Attitude, in Bowerman's opinion, is as important as native skill. The successful freelancers are the ones who work past their negative, self-defeating attitudes. "You can memorize all the information in the world about how to build a business like this," Bowerman writes, "but if you're not clear upstairs, nothing's going to happen. On the other hand, you can know nothing about this business whatsoever, but if you want it badly enough, I'd bet on you in a heartbeat."

Shy writers need this book more than anyone else does.

From the Introduction of the book to the closing chapter, The Well-Fed Writer reminds the freelancer that a healthy belief in the self, combined with the ability to set definite goals, is the key to a prosperous writing career. It's a point Bowerman demonstrates by example; his book brims over with his own enthusiasm and bravado.

But the nagging question must be asked: Can a freelance writer -- you or I, for example -- enjoy Peter Bowerman's kind of success without being Peter Bowerman in the first place? Or at least being someone like Peter Bowerman? In other words, can someone follow Bowerman's program of success without having his kind of personality as a foundation? It's indeed likely that an extrovert with a generous ego and a comical view of life is going to profit a lot more from The Well-Fed Writer than shy introverts will. And since a lot of writers are introverted and inclined to self-doubts by nature, what benefit can they get from the book?

Here, at least, is one answer: Shy writers need this book more than anyone else does. In addition to a wealth of practical advice, Bowerman persuasively argues that there's no virtue in being anorexic, no benefit in denying oneself the legitimate pleasures and benefits that come from the hard work of writing. For the freelancer, those include a good standard of living, appreciative clients who respect the writer as a professional, and the independence that comes from being one's own boss. Focus on the rewards, clarify your goals and believe in them. Then self-doubts, diffidence and hesitancy begin to vanish.

The Well-Fed Writer is appropriately gorged with good material, and deserves a place on your bookshelf for that reason alone. Other books about freelance writing careers provide pretty similar information, just in different words and with different formats. In the best of these books, though, the author turns into more than a teacher and becomes a kind of mentor. When that happens, we readers connect with the person behind the words who has as much to say about life as about writing. Peter Bowerman, a master of the feast, is one of those writers.