What’s it like being a “writer”?

When people ask you THE question (“So, what do you do?”), and you answer that you’re a writer, it’s not uncommon to get a blank stare. To be fair, most professions probably get some kind of blank stare. Maybe it’s because the person who insists on asking everybody this question is also the person who runs out of things to say, like follow-up questions, pretty quickly.

But if they do dig a little deeper, or if you are curious yourself, here are a few things to learn about the writers amongst you.

1. Discipline is just as necessary for “creative types”… maybe more.
Creative people in general, if they want to be successful for any period of time, need to develop discipline. The image of the artist, musician or writer waking up whenever they want and working sparingly while still producing great work is romantic, but not realistic.

If you have a lot that needs to be done by a certain date, even if nobody is breathing down your neck every day to get it done, you don’t want to wait until the last minute. All-nighters barely worked in college, and they aren’t a good long-term strategy for adult success. This isn’t about squeaking by with a passing grade. Anything below excellent might mean losing a client.

2. Even if we don’t look like it, we may be working.
Often I will stare off into the distance while trying to find the right word, or I may take a long walk to get the blood (and creative juices) flowing. Important breakthroughs happen at times like this, even if it makes us look a little zoned-out and idle at first glance.

3. You have to be purposeful about finding community.
Writers usually are the type who does not mind sitting in a room by themselves putting words to paper day after day, but everyone has their limit. For me, I’ve found joining a co-working space (the amazing HQ Raleigh) gives me a place to go and people to interact with. I also edit for a newspaper which brings me to their offices some days. Having a place outside of your home, and especially outside of your bedroom, to go for your daily work, even if it’s just around the corner to a coffee shop, could go a long way to preserving your sanity.

4. It may take hustle to find work.
Again, writers may not prefer to be mixing and mingling, but at times they will need to. I have joined a number of groups on meetup.com that encourage networking among freelancers in Raleigh, Durham and the greater Triangle. Some nights, no new clients come of it, but other times, I’ll walk away with more than one person wanting to follow up soon with coffee or lunch.

5. There’s a lot to learn, and it often takes swallowing your pride.
Most people know how to write like most people know how to cook or draw. They can put a meal on the table and scratch out a stick figure, but there is a lot of room for growth. I remember the first time I wrote in journalism style after writing mostly marketing copy for a couple years. It was for wral.com, which is among the most read sites in the state, so I made sure to deliver my best work. When I saw the edits though, my stomach dropped. There were changes to almost every sentence. Over time I learned how to write in this style, but it took some humility and time. Rules of grammar and different styles (AP style is most common) take a while too. Even after you think you have most of it down, there are always new things you absorb along the way.

There you go — that’s five insights to give you a window into the writer’s life. If you want to give this particular writer more to do, I’d be glad to help. Give me a call at 703-408-6763 and let’s discuss your project.

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