The Writer’s Life – Livin’ it Up!

Some mornings I have a table tennis game at 8:30. I’ll play until 10:00, or, if it’s a hot game, 10:30.

Some mornings I’ll linger over the several daily newspapers I get. (If you’re a professional communicator, you don’t subscribe to just one paper.)

Some mornings I’ll jump out of bed and race to the keyboard to immortalize the brilliant idea I had in the middle of the night, before it evaporates.

Some mornings … but not many, because this is the least-active of my preferences … I’ll sleep in. No problem, because if the phone rings I’ll answer it, and any e-mail will be there when I decide to check the messages.

On any morning, I can choose from these options, plus limitless others. I’m master of my own universe.

Can office-bound employees match that splendid schedule?

For anybody who hasn’t been born to great wealth coupled with indolence, this lifestyle is a classic dream come to life. Those of us who enjoy it day after day can look down from Mount Olympus and say to those stuck in lesser life-niches, “Too bad. You should have been a writer.”

In fact, to those who have been born to great wealth coupled with indolence, we still can look down from Mount Olympus and say to those stuck in lesser life-niches, “Too bad. You should have been a writer, because you’re missing fun and good times you might have had.”

What’s the downside? In my opinion, none.

If you don’t recognize that your life isn’t exhilarating because you’re the one who decides you’ll be on the tennis court at 11:00 a.m. and writing copy at 11:00 p.m., get out of this oxcart now, because you’ll be better off having another person tell you when you can do what.

If you regard having to compete with other writers as a downside, then you’re not a genuine writer. A genuine writer believes in his/her own talent.

If you look at a creative job and just stare at it, wondering how you’ll generate words to sell something with which you haven’t previously been familiar, to a sour and cynical business recipient who’s being pitched by others, go back to your clerking job at the shoe store whose products display themselves without your grudging help.

Do you hate having to grind out sales messages for something you yourself would never use? Then you’re not a genuine writer. You’re an emotionally-unfulfilled critic.

My kind of writer couples two types of enjoyment: self-setting a schedule whose only external demand is that every job be delivered on time, and matching wits with unsuspecting recipients of our creative output.

I’ve sold a lot of computer software, in space ads, mailings, and e-mail … and for most of these items I don’t know what I’m talking about.

I’ve sold plastic pipe, strange and exotic insurance, crossword puzzle subscriptions, health products I’d be afraid to use, astrological signs, subprime loans, time-share deals, cell phone conversions, audio books, market forecasts, computer memory enhancers, bottled water, higher-level education, credit cards, private airplane maintenance, classmate registration, fruit by mail, private investigations, seminars and webinars, exotic travel, legitimate and probably illegitimate legal services, movies even worse than the ones I make, and … well, you get the idea.

I’ve raised funds for extremist organizations I personally detest. I’ve raised funds for non-profits whose existence puzzles me. I’ve raised funds for local, national, and international eleemosynary claimants. I’ve raised funds for … well, you get the idea.

Or did you get the idea? One of the wonders of what we do is that no two days are the same. Tomorrow I may pass up the table tennis game and go for a bike ride. Or I might use the same time-window to start writing a thought-piece such as this.

The only constraint – and it’s absolute – is that deadlines are sacred. One of the blessings of living the writer’s life is acceptance of basic conditions. If you’re one of those “Oh, well, if it’s a day or two late, what’s the difference?” types, go back to your job at the shoe store so you won’t sully the reputations of the rest of us whose claim to professionalism depends in large part to honoring deadlines.

Or are you one of us, thanking the day you decided to make this your profession, even if it meant enduring a breaking-in period while clients and prospective clients became acquainted with your talent?

Here’s how simple our job is, boiled down to solid professionalism:

The seller’s concern – what it is. The sellee’s concern – what it will do for me. We structure our messages to match the sellee’s concern, not the seller’s concern. Once that approach becomes automatic, our job is easy. And an easy job that pays well is a rare benefit successful copywriters enjoy.

A peripheral benefit to having no two days the same is that our education never stops. I can bleat a “Primum non nocere” to doctors, who wonder how I know the phrase (“Above all, do no harm”).

That’s a good imperative for us, too. Be enthusiastic, but don’t lie. Not ever.

I can toss “Res ipsa loquitur” at lawyers who themselves may not know that the words which appear in their own briefs mean “The thing speaks for itself.”

That works for us, too, if we observe the differential separating the seller’s concern and the sellee’s concern and tailor every paragraph, every sentence, every word, to match the sellee’s concern so the thing seems to speak for itself.

Now, earn the benefits that come with the profession. Observe three basic rules of the road and you’ll join us on Mount Olympus, reveling in beating controls and getting so much business you’ll be able to turn down the ones that seem to be least profitable or least satisfying.

Rule 1. As you begin a job and until you’ve hit “Enter” for the final time, repeat and repeat to yourself – and mean it: “What I’m writing about is fantastic, wonderful, the best anybody ever hatched.”

Know what that means? It means convincing yourself that you’ll present whatever it is – service, product, philosophy, appeal – convincingly and with apparent integrity, in the most elegant and positive light.

Rule 2. Don’t send any job to a client until and unless you’re convinced it’s the best you can do.

Know what that means? It means working at a pace that gives you enough time to let the finished job sit for a day or two so you can look at it with a cold, analytical eye. If that means passing up table tennis or bike riding or sleeping in while the job is hot, your attitude has to be “No problem.”

Rule 3. Treasure your lifestyle and protect it for yourself and for the rest of us.

That means counting blessings such as being able to live wherever you like, whether it’s Tennessee or Timbuktu, the Riviera or River City, a courtyard or a boatyard … gradually building a positive reputation in a dignified and respected profession … and being called on to write opinion-pieces such as this one.

That’s my opinion. Make it yours and you’ll be happy. Res ipsa loquitur. The thing speaks for itself.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: May 18, 2010

2 Responses to “The Writer’s Life – Livin’ it Up!”

  1. Thanks Herschell, A wealth of advice, most of which I really need. I like the three rules

    Gavin M

  2. I recently watched a presentation about "Tiny Habits" and this is a perfect conclusion to that message!

    Guest (PeggyK)

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