Monday, September 9, 2013

A Wild Writer Has Appeared

The challenge of being a writer: Everyone fancies themselves writers.

On the rare chance that I am invited to a party, someone inevitably tells me about the novel they have been working on for 15 years or about their niece’s plan to self-publish a series of fan-fiction. While I am supportive of people having creative hobbies—like painting or sculpting or writing—the sentiment that anyone can be a writer makes it difficult to convince clients, readers, or the people gawking at you at parties that your work as a writer is anything of consequence. After all, they could do what you.

They could write a book, if they had the time.

They could query a magazine and pitch an article, if they felt like it.

They could develop a content marketing strategy matched against an editorial calendar, if their job wasn’t already so demanding.

If you ever meet a writer or find yourself working with a writer for some professional purpose—perhaps your company hired an agency to develop copy for an ad campaign or perhaps your non-profit hired a grant writer to win a new source of funding—here are three points to help you get the most of the interaction.

1. I run and jump, but I would break my face if I did parkour.
Everyone is a writer on some level. Tweets, text messages, emails to co-workers, a personal blog—people write every day, even if what they do for a living has very little to do with writing. Some people even write as a hobby, and that’s okay. A lot of people run for a hobby, but they are very far from being Usain Bolt. If Usain Bolt gave you tips on how to run better, you better believe you would listen. You might go for a run two or three times a week, but Bolt is a guy that makes a living out of running effectively and efficiently. Writing is a hobby is awesome, but don't confuse hobby-writing with professional writing.

2. You wouldn’t second-Google your doctor.
There is an episode of Scrubs where Dr. Kelso is frustrated with a patient who insists on second-guessing his treatment with answers found while searching forums and websites from her phone. The wonderfully terrible thing about the internet is that you can always find someone somewhere that will agree with your opinion, no matter how crazy it is. If you are working with a writer, you can always find someone that will tell you that the writer you are working with is wrong. In the event that you cross paths with a true professional writer, you are welcome to ask him or her questions about the choices he or she made in a project because a true professional will be able to explain the reasoning behind every paragraph, sentence, word, and punctuation mark in a piece of copy. Asking why is okay and so is discussing possibilities for improvements. Immediately assuming that you know better and saying so is very frustrating for your helpless writer colleague.

3. What you picture in your mind cannot always be recreated in reality.
Frank Lloyd Wright was a famous architect who designed many homes that are now considered historic landmarks, one of which is Falling Water, a home perched over a stream near Pittsburgh. Wright had a vision for a daring cantilevered design that would allow the home to extend out over the water, a beautiful sight to be sure but a review from a team of engineers found that the structure Wright intended to build would probably fall into the stream. Even though Wright’s team doubled the support for the home without his knowledge, the house still developed a noticeable sag and has needed near-constant repairs. Now, when you hire a writer to build your house over a stream, do not be surprised when what he or she produces doesn’t match the amorphous idea of what you had pictured. If you hired the writer, you must have trusted his or her work at some point, so trust that what they built to your abstract specifications is both in your best interests and executed in the best possible manner.

Writing is a trade, just like any other career. If you want a roof built, you hire a roofer. If you want a table built, you hire a carpenter. Professional writers dedicate their careers to mastering the art of hammering words together to build functional pieces of art. They know what they’re doing. Are there bad writers? Absolutely, just like there are bad roofers, but that’s beside the point (if you need help vetting a writer, let me know). If you meet a writer, whether at a party or in your professional life, give him or her the respect that you would like someone to have for the work that you do every day.

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