When I was a kid living in the Tampa Bay area of Florida, one of my favorite after school pastimes was swimming and hanging out with my friends at one of the cypress tree-populated local lakes around the neighborhood. Only a few of those lakes had publicly accessible shorelines and, if they had docks, they typically were privately owned and usually off limits to us kids.
A common sight in Florida, cypress trees, as you might know, grow in a peculiar manner: the roots, quite often, grow up out of the watery mix of soil, sand, and limestone gravel. The misshapen root protrusions are commonly referred to as “knees,” for their familiar resemblance to that particular feature of the human anatomy.
As with humans, those cypress knees also have “pits,” or openings, in which any number of creatures can find refuge from predators. Predators such as school boys, with far too much after school time on their hands and a penchant for fresh frog legs. And frogs were, at that time, one of the most vociferous inhabitants of freshwater lakes and cypress knees.
The method for catching frogs, while seemingly cruel, was extremely quick and efficient: spear them with a multi-pronged spearing device known as a “gig.” Each point of the spear had a barb on its tip that made it impossible for the frog to slip off the spear accidentally and be lost to the hunt.
Hence, it was known as gigging, or “getting the gig.” The hunt almost always produced enough frogs for our gang to have at least two fried frog legs apiece. Sparse pickings; but with butter and lemon, delicious, nonetheless.
So, what, you might ask, does all this have to do with writing gigs? How do I relate “getting the gig” and “gigging for frogs” to producing the written word for pay?
My goal here is to introduce you to the concept that the word “gig” can be viewed in two completely different fashions, depending on your perspective as a writer. In one view, you get the gig, or the writing assignment; in the other, you often get gigged, while writing the assignment.
We all know how exciting it is to get the gig, with its inherent promise of a paycheck, no matter how great or small. The heart-pounding, looming background presence of future writing assignments, based on our performance and production of a viable written product for a client.
There is no feeling like it: to have our work accepted and published, with our byline bannering the completed work. The satisfaction at having successfully completed an assignment and getting paid for it. Of having that assignment appear in print; our self-esteem soaring to new heights as a result.
On the other hand, there are the other kind of writing gigs: those barbarous points on which we impale ourselves while writing. Points that may be for the most part meaningless to another writer, but have the effect of stopping us dead in our tracks, with our self-esteem bottoming out, like the Titanic on its ill-fated journey.
We question ourselves: Did I use the right words, phraseology or language appropriate to the client? Were all the “talking points” or keywords covered across the length of my production? Was my writing style adjusted to comply with the final written material requirements of the client? How could I have written it differently and still met the wants and needs of the client’s end user–their own customers?
Too often, there is no limit to the number of gigs we can spear ourselves with as writers, flailing about at the end of our own barbs, and bringing ourselves down. As creators of the written word, and as nearly full time dwellers in the imaginary world, we are experts at framing all the possible outcomes, whether positive or negative, right or wrong.
Our duty to ourselves as successful writers is to get the gig and enjoy the results, and to minimize the possibility of getting gigged. No one likes the idea of being speared for some fantastical, usually never happening, problem we have created for ourselves.
After all, you, as the writer, wield the spear. What you do with it is completely up to you.