Friday, April 3, 2009

Commercial Writing: Soul-Sucking... Or In the Zone?

Keyword density.
Headlines, sub-heads, bullets.

It's been a few years now that I've had my writing business, and it's been interesting to watch the transitions.

When I was just learning how to become a freelance writer, with no clients, no portfolio, no paid experience, it was a shock and delight to land a gig - even if it was writing about credit repair services or digital cameras. Wow! Someone out there wants my words so badly they'll pay for them!

Once business was booming, an adrenaline kick set in. How many clients can we serve? How many excellent writers can I tap to join my team? What's the limit on how much we can produce together? I often felt like an air traffic controller - always something coming in or going out, checking this and that, communicating with a dozen teammates at once. Writing the projects that were either especially interesting or especially challenging - and honestly, getting more than a little overwhelmed.

Then hitting the wall... for a time. And coming out on the other side with a different business.

I've heard Bob Bly explain what he does a few times ("I write junk mail"), and it always makes me laugh. Partly because of his humility in it - he's not claiming to be a novelist or anything glamorous that people think of a writer doing. Partly because the guy's making some serious money doing this.

No doubt - on the surface, commercial writing is nothing like what you dreamed of doing as a writer. There can be a lot of pressure. You can get stuck in projects that you just can't squeeze any life out of no matter how creatively you think. You can face penny-pinching, disrespectful clients (from time to time). You may reach the point where just the idea of writing even one more article about FOREX trading makes you want to hurl. You start wondering whether you've outgrown the field.

When you reach that point, come back to this post. I've learned a couple of things recently that may make a big difference for you.

You probably got into commercial writing because you love to write, and discovered this as a way to make money doing it. No matter that it's not the kind of writing you'd really like to be doing. You're naturally good at writing - it comes easy to you, and how cool to get paid to do something like that!

I'm going to suggest that NOW is the time to start your book. You know, the one you've been percolating for years. The one you may never have even told anyone about - and you may have even forgotten about it.

Start it for you. Work on it regularly - whatever you can fit into your schedule. Mathematically, your odds of getting it published really haven't changed since you launched your commercial writing business... so it's not like you're putting all your eggs in that basket. That isn't why you're going to write your book. You're going to write it for pure enjoyment, release, the sense of flying, and falling in love with words again. What you do with it after it's written is up to you - you could look for a publisher, you could self-publish, or you could do something else entirely. The object is to find pleasure in writing - to let your talent shine.

Give yourself a promotion. When content writing (or whatever projects you're in a rut with) starts to feel like a soul-sucking effort, it may be time to make a shift. Instead of seeing yourself as a human word processor, churning out words by the gross, what if you were to become a content consultant instead?

As a seasoned commercial writer, you've learned a thing or two about producing high-quality copy. Many clients out there are just getting started online, and don't really know how to make articles, website content, press releases, sales letters, etc. work for their business. It's overwhelming for them, and many of them would be thrilled to pieces to have someone come alongside, catch a vision for their business, and help them strategize. Sounds like a consultant to me.

Yeah, you're still writing content. But rather than seeing it as a one-off gig that fell in your lap, now it starts to look like you using your writing talent to save the day for another business owner. You see your valuable contribution to another person's business - and not only are you more likely to get paid more, but by operating "in the zone" you'll find a lot more life in your words and in your business, too.

The thing is this: You can settle into your writing business, hunkering down and writing like a machine... and create a life that feels like a cheap knock-off of what you really desire. OR, you can reframe it completely... and create a life that feels rewarding, connected to others, challenging (in a good way!), and that gives you the opportunity to let your light really shine.

So.... where are you in YOUR business now?

1 comment:

Kate said...

I'm totally there! I've been struggling to focus and discipline myself lately. Yikes! But I've been trying to steer my business into ghostwriting instead of writing article after article. Thanks for the inspiration Sue! It comes at just the right time!