Write What You Know? No, Write What You Love.
I have lately had a mini-crisis of sorts in regards to my still new, but no longer fledgling freelance writer status. I haven’t been motivated to write much of anything. I see the thick book full of potential markets for future writings, with all of the specific instructions on how to make inquiries to each, and got a little nauseous. I checked out a list of writer’s marketing websites I have been collecting and occasionally perusing over the last few months and found myself almost wishing I’d lose my internet for a few hours just so I didn’t have to read one more of them. And as usual, the very thought of finding a networking event to attend in person, business card in hand, made me momentarily wonder if the priesthood might not be a viable way out of this whole career networking thing. (And I am not a member of a church, so think about that.)
More than once in the last week or so even as I fulfilled the writing responsibilities I already had, I pondered if it was all really going the way it should. Hard work I believe in. Miserable work I do not, and yet the whole process of finding places to make the most money writing was starting to wear me down. The research. The pricing. The budgeting. The potential for negotiation. (I haven’t done much of that yet, as most of my work has a set payment from the source.) For being something I am supposed to be built for, I certainly didn’t feel at all like a freelance writer.
Late last night, as I lay pointlessly in bed, sleep eluding me, something just sort of made its way into my thought stream.
“It all sucks lately because you are using all your energy to find a paycheck and not to write.”
I actually sat up in bed a bit when it came to me. I repeated it out loud once or twice. And it gradually sunk in. This voice within my mind was correct. I’ve been trying to shoehorn my writing mission into available marketing scenarios, instead of creating a quality product that is unique to me, and presenting it on its merits to whomever I decide should see it. As a result, the creativity I usually tap when I write has been a bit plugged of late.
The time and energy I have spent in recent months trying to create an income stream has increasingly outweighed that which was dedicated to actually writing. My focus was on money. On not having enough of it. On desiring to make 100% of my living through writing. On paying off every penny of all my debts as soon as possible. My focus was not actually on writing. I was using writing as a tool to fix my financial situations, as opposed to writing because I have something that needs to be said. I wasn’t burning out on writing. I was burning out on money grabbing. My focus should have been on the actual craft of being a wordsmith.
Don’t get me wrong. I know that a freelance writer has to have some business acumen. In addition, I know that my acumen in that area is lesser than many others. But I also know that the business side of things can’t really take the front seat. Not with me.
Many of you fellow freelancers will probably tear me apart for that, and if you do, so be it. But I am Too XYZ to just follow a business template because most other people follow it. It has to be true to me. And pursuing the money, and trying to adjust my writing to it wasn’t being true to me.
No, I need to stop, and think about those articles, blog posts, columns and other writings that are already in my head, waiting to materialize. And I need to give them life on the page, and find later what to do with them. Some may call that writing on spec, and many hate doing so. But I need to create a sparkling product, and the better way for me to do that at this time is to write what I feel I need to write, and then find a market for it. (Or in the very least an audience, even if no money is involved.)
As it stands now, many things are not being written because I haven’t established enough connections in the business, or haven’t found a perfect magazine, or I haven’t found a contest that calls for my type of writing specifically. In the mean time, stress, doubt, and fear are filling the void left by the delayed composition.
Writing with passion is important, because it will translate into my work, and make it more desirable in any venue, free or paid. It will leave people wanting more. I doubt that it is a coincidence that my most passionate blog posts here tend to be among my most read. (Not always, but often.)
And what happens when the fire burns out, and I run out of things about which I feel a visceral need to put into words? My sense is that the more I allow myself to write the things I am inspired by, the more inspired I will be to write other things.
Plus, it will also encourage me to go out into the world and experience more in the coming year or so. Visit more places, read different publications. (Even meet more people, but only once in a while.) The more I am exposed to, the more I am going to be inspired to write about. And hence, the better my chance of selling something becomes. It has worked here on the blog, and it must work with the more business oriented content I create.
I fight with writer’s guilt a lot. I haven’t always recognized that, or even admitted it when I did. But I do, and I guess lately it has gained some traction and got ahead of me. But I need not be guilty for being a writer. I can’t let the inane and archaic Protestant Work Ethic, and the myth of a merit-based American Dream guilt me into either running everywhere for a paycheck, or abandoning writing altogether in favor of working at something I hate just to get a paycheck. My family won’t let me starve, and I need to make use of that investment they make in me to become a more successful version of myself as a writer. I must not use that generosity as a source of guilt over having debt and needing help.
In the end, it really only takes one post, one article, one well phrased comment, or one reader, editor, or fellow writer to turn the tide and send me into my optimum student loan paying, independent living, sustained income version of myself. And that one single piece is more likely to find its way to the right places if it has been stamped by my own passionate desire to speak, as opposed to being stamped by my desire to convince anyone anywhere to print a piece for me, pay me, and add to my clip collection.
Writing is about sharing ideas. Communicating. Connecting. Educating. Moving. Sometimes even saving and changing. But it is always about us. Those who do the writing. The best writing exists because it has to. And I have not been letting the writing of mine that has to exist lead the way to success. I got caught up in money. And to an extent, caught up in the approval of a nebulous society that has honestly never been ideal for me anyway. (What’s the name of the blog??)
The business part of it all isn’t over for me. Neither is my hatred of same. Nor is the quality of the products I do produce. My writing is always something in which I take great pride. But for a while, instead of spending hours researching who will pay me to do one of two things I do well, I am going to try to spend those hours researching a new topic that has caught my interest. Or finding sources for an argument I want to make. That way at least I know there will be a result each and every time. The result being a written piece. I can go from there. But the other way had zero guarantees, and I am not prepared to live with that much uncertainty right now.
These inspired writings may not always lead to inspired writing assignments. But they will best showcase my skill, because I will have been committed to them. And though the copy writing job I land may not give me a chance to be an artist, being an artist may give me the chance at the copy writing job.
So begins (again) the long process of being true to my writer self. Yes it will probably be a slower journey than yours. (I’m talking to you, fellow freelance writers that have become instant successes.) But it will be my own road, and I think I have swerved off of that lately.
I think writers and people who write are two different beasts, with the latter able to treat their ability to turn a phrase as a skill like being good with numbers or at building things, and the former viewing it as an identity or compulsion.
I know that I take writing (or my writing, anyway) much too personally to be a lifelong freelancer. Heck, negative feedback even makes me feel unreasonably angry and insulted. I don't mind making money from my talent (and someday, my book deal ship is gonna come in), but I (childishly? selfishly?) prefer this to be on my terms.
I have (and will very likely again in the near future) pursued unrelated career-ish jobs in order to be able to keep my writing pristine and not have to rely on it as a primary income generator and risk losing or cheapening my emotional connection to it for the sake of a pay check.
I have some fear of that, but not as much as I might, because I don't mind the task oriented writing, as I am good at that as well. I can write good copy for a website, or write a good speech. I can adapt my skills to the needs of the project, and I am okay with that, because one doesn't dilute the other.
My main problem is getting noticed, I suppose. While writing copy for a catalog is a perfectly reasonable way to make money through writing, I doubt anyone is going to pick up a catalog and wonder, “Who wrote this wonderful copy?” But a blog post, or article, or editorial has a much higher chance of illicitness that response, because those are the types of things I am most motivated to write for the sake of writing.
It is when I have attempted to write THOSE types of things to suit a pre-existing market, as opposed to writing them with more feeling first, that I get into trouble.