Thursday, September 23, 2004

Yo ho, yo ho, the writer's life for me

Someone (and you know who you are) asked me today why I don't blog about my work. Since inquiring minds want to know, let's chat about it for a bit.

The primary reason I don't blog about work should be obvious to any SSTOL reader: I blog as an alternative to my daily grind, not for the purpose of reliving it. I'm a hired pen — all right, hired keyboard, if you want to get nitpicky. Although I enjoy copywriting immensely, I'm writing what I'm paid to write, not necessarily what I might choose to write about. This blog is an outlet for the myriad random thoughts that come pinwheeling out of my skull in and around the mercenary gigs.

Second, I learned early in my freelancing career (and repeatedly since) to be rather circumspect about the specifics of my work. It's not like I'm writing classified documents or anything like that; it's just that some of the entities for whom I work prefer that I not broadcast the nature of the work I do for them. Fair enough — if they pay the invoices on time, they're entitled to a modicum of discretion. Most of my clients are advertising and marketing agencies, whose creative abilities are their stock in trade. It just so happens that, in certain instances, their creative prowess is, at least to some degree, mine. So my copywriting practice is like Fight Club: the first rule is, don't talk about it. Rule Two: See Rule One.

(Sidebar: Quite a few freelance copywriters market themselves mostly to businesses that will access their writing services directly. It just happens that my client base has evolved so that I get mostly agency work. I actually prefer it that way, because I don't have to do as much self-marketing, and I have a smaller and more personal client base to manage. I have a whole stack of marketing brochures that I printed a year ago for a mass mailing I intended to do, and I've yet to need to send them out. My agency clients take excellent care of me, and I'm grateful that they do most of the prospecting...mainly because I suck at it.)

There's a third reason beyond the above: As interesting as my work is to do, it's not all that interesting to discuss. Listening to someone talk about writing is a little like watching chess: Monumental brainwave activity may be going on, but there's not a great deal of visual excitement for the spectator. Plus, I can't explain my process. I sit down with the necessary background information, stare into my 19" Envision monitor — sometimes momentarily, occasionally for hours — and eventually my fingers start tapping. I can't tell you how I write any more than a hen can tell you how she lays eggs. She squats, and eggs appear. I type, and words appear.

But all that aside, since you asked, here's what I have on my plate right now:
  • A brochure for a hospital's new breast cancer facility (a topic near and dear to my heart, as the husband of a breast cancer survivor).
  • The holiday advertising mailer for a kitchenware company.
  • An array of feature articles and press releases.
  • Some marketing materials for a medical services company.
  • A set of ads for an accounting firm.
  • A newsletter for a public library system.
  • A Web site for a business services company.
  • A Web site for a law firm. This one is the only direct client in the bunch (an interesting story, that, but I'll wait until the project is over to tell it). All the other projects are assignments from my beloved agency clients.
All this, plus a stack of reviews to edit for DVD Verdict, and the weekly battery of materials I prepare for church.

There's yin and yang to everything. Being a self-employed writer can be a sporadic means of ensuring one's material living. The hardest part of freelancing for me in the beginning was learning to live without a biweekly paycheck that arrives like clockwork. You have to enjoy being by yourself — which I do, more than most people. You have to be self-motivating, which isn't much of an issue for me because I like to eat, and to sleep knowing the utility bills got paid this month, and to not live in a cardboard box under a freeway overpass. You have to enjoy the sometimes arduous, frustrating, and mindbending process of writing, which I love as much as life itself — which some of you tell me is reflected in this blog.

On the positive side:
  • I like my independence.
  • I like commuting to an office that's ten feet from my living room.
  • I like drinking my morning coffee in the security and quiet of my own surroundings.
  • I like driving my daughter to school in the morning, having my dog snoozing at my feet while I work, and occasionally having dinner ready when my wife gets home.
  • I like being able to do things more or less when I feel like doing them, deadlines permitting.
  • I like working in a T-shirt and sweats.
  • I like not having to make small talk.
  • I like being sought out and valued as a specialist in my field, rather than devalued and taken for granted as an employee.
  • I like being able to say "No thanks" to work I don't want to do. (I don't always, sometimes for fiscal reasons but more often because I like helping my regular clients, but the point is that I can say "no" if I so decide. Self-determination is an illusion, but the illusion is a wonderful thing.)
  • I like knowing that, most of the time, success and failure depends on my own abilities, and not on decisions made by people who couldn't pour water out of a glass if directions were printed on the bottom. I've worked for two companies that went bankrupt because the people who ran them did things I wouldn't have done were I in charge. If I fail as an independent contractor, it's no one's darn fault but mine.
Now, aren't you glad I don't write about work more?

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2 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Blogger Joel offered these pearls of wisdom...

I think that many folks assume, since work is such a big part of our lives, that it should be a big part of our blogs.

Also, there are many folks (not me, since I've worked in the technical writing field) who are just curious exactly what a copywriter does.

6:40 AM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

You'd be amazed — not you personally, Joel, since you've worked in the field, but others like the person whose e-mail inspired this diatribe — how many people think a copywriter is the person who issues copyrights on written material.

When I was first listed in the Yellow Pages, I got maybe six phone calls from folks who had written their memoirs or an unpublished novel or some such, and wanted to get it copyrighted. I gave up attempting to explain that (a) you don't need to file any kind of legal paperwork to copyright something you've written, because you hold the copyright to your intellectual property the moment you write it, unless you explicitly relinquish those rights; and (b) copywriters write copy — they don't copyright.

10:22 AM  

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