Writers Worth: Readjusting Your Attitude

What’s on the iPod: Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke feat. T.I., Pharell

Who knew I’d be working this week? I sure didn’t. As it stands, I may have worked the equivalent of three days this month — until this week. I feel numb, tingly, but bored. That’s my sign to get busy again. Not a full schedule yet, but I have two client projects already in progress. I give them three hours a day, then I turn off this machine and rest.

Not long ago, I was participating in a conversation online among a few writers and one thing stood out — we writers have a real time coming to grips with our attitudes and egos. The prevailing attitude is “I don’t want to do that kind of work” or “I’m better than that project.”

To which I have to ask: what is better than doing a good job for a client who needs you?

There are projects we won’t take. I get it. You’d never catch me writing certain things because I’m opposed morally to them. That’s different. The projects I’ve heard writers whine about not wanting are decent jobs — white papers, brochures, catalog copy. Really? You don’t think you can be creative in those jobs? Then why are you writing exactly?

Maybe we’re hung up on visions of impressing people at parties when we say we’re writers. Or maybe we think we have all this experience and shouldn’t be reduced to taking grunt work or something less sexy. Who knows why, but I’ve seen writers sabotage their careers time and again because they think the work presented to them doesn’t merit their skill and attention.

What nonsense.

Last year, I worked constantly and doubled my income over the previous year. I did it by writing on projects most writers would run from — catalog descriptions, email sales letters, newsletters, white papers, one-page case studies, and articles about technical subjects that I can bet you’ve not read (and probably won’t ever come across). I wrote in insurance and risk management. Yep. Not exciting to you, but to me, it’s fascinating. And it’s my bread-and-butter specialty. I charged $125 an hour for projects and $1/word for articles. Every client I worked with, save one, was happy with the results.

Did I just waste my time and talent? No way. I used it to its best advantage.

So there’s that project staring you in the face. The client is offering to pay your rate, but the work — ah, you think you’ll be bored out of your mind. So how do you reconcile your need to make a living with your desire to have this sexy, writerly existence?

Find the fun in it. That first workers compensation article I wrote loomed over me like a hanging noose. So I decided I’d get interested and answer the questions I wanted to have answered. That’s how you find the fun — you let your own curiosity lead your questions or lead your research.

Shift the focus to your client. Dare I have to say that it’s not all about you? If you change your goal from earning a paycheck and impressing friends at parties to pleasing your client and giving them beyond what they expect, you’re now going about it the right way. And you’re dropping your ego, which doesn’t belong in a business relationship anyway.

Impress them with your lifestyle. I’ve received just a handful of reactions from clueless people who seem to think I’m not a “real” writer because I’m not publishing novels. A few of them have been enlightened when they hear how well I’ve done and they see me living a pretty damn good lifestyle on my own dime. That and the smile on your face is all that matters anyway.

Stop caring what others think. Seriously, do you really need anyone else’s validation? So what if your dream was to write books and you’re writing corporate content instead? The only person who knows that is you. You can still write your books as you’re doing other things (diversification is a good thing). That way you can earn as you build that side of your business.

Be impressed by your own accomplishments. I know writers with stellar portfolios who bemoan that one area they can’t break into. Just because it’s eluded you doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Au contraire, you’ve managed to build a solid career despite that. Why aren’t you celebrating how great you’re doing?

Make your intended goal your new mission. That’s not to say you give up on what you want, but what are you really doing to understand that area, including all the ins and outs of the business? Are you making contacts, creating dialogue, researching how to break in? If not, there’s an hour in your day that needs to be filled by that activity.

What area is eluding you? How have you had to adjust your attitude when it comes to taking work you may not be thrilled with?

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  • Devon Ellington May 24, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    I really enjoy doing those types of projects, especially if it's for a company whose mission I agree with. That's why I end up working for a lot of non-profits. Although the rate is a little lower, I have so much creative latitude and get a lot of satisfaction.

    I also find what I learn then translates into better-paying jobs in more corporate environments.

    If I was willing to work for companies whose missions I loathe — I'd make more money, but I just won't promote or advocate things with which I believe are wrong.

  • Cathy Miller May 24, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    Well there must be something wrong with me because I like those kinds of projects. ;-)Sure, there's some I enjoy more than others, like case studies – love telling someone's success story.

    I learned a whole new industry – global supply chain – that I never would have imagined I'd enjoy because a former client asked me to write for her. I loved it.

    I will say that I regularly turn down jobs that don't interest me. At my age and stage of life, I feel I've earned the right to be picky. 🙂

    So good to see you back in the blogosphere, Lori. I'm off to finish up my boring brochure. 😉

  • Lori May 24, 2013 at 1:04 pm

    You're right on that, Devon. One good job completed can lead in so many new directions.

    Cathy, I love supply chain. 🙂 I took that topic on with one client in particular about six years ago. That gig came from an article on supply chain. Show you know it and they feel more comfortable hiring you. Don't know why — once you're able to move into various areas of a specialty, the sky really is the limit.

  • Paula May 24, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    I must be the opposite of the egotistical writer – I'd love to land more white paper, brochure and catalog copy jobs. Why? They pay better than feature articles.

    Don't get me wrong, I like seeing my byline in glossy magazines, but pay rates are stagnant. Yesterday I read a piece discussing how freelance payment models have changed over time. The writer said per-word rates have been about the same since at least 1960. Ouch! That explains how despite writing more articles per year than I did 10 years ago I haven't seen much of an income bump.

    I'd gladly trade a few by-lined pieces for some of that "boring" work!

  • Lori May 24, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    Paula, I agree. I love magazine work, but it would be foolish to think that's all the work I should be doing. Magazine work is supplemental because budgets and needs dry up rather quickly.

  • Paula May 24, 2013 at 4:15 pm

    Well, for me, magazine work is the mainstay because the few corporate jobs I've had have been one-shot deals, or worse – they're not in the same region as me but realize how valuable a good writer is and hire someone local as an in-house writer. (It's happened.)