Being a writer sounds romantic—but is it?
When you spend your days crafting copy for businesses, what should you expect? Is corporate writing very different from personal writing? Will it be fun and fulfilling, or tough and demanding? What do longtime writers say?
To help answer those questions, here’s a look at seven things you don’t know until you’ve been a professional writer for a while:
Other people write better (but that’s OK). If you are the only writer in your circle of friends or you were the best writer in your college class, you might have learned this late: Someone out there writes better than you do.
Comparing yourself against other writers is a discouraging endeavor; it’s a waste of time and energy to dwell on it. Once you’ve been a writer for a while, you understand this.
As K.M. Weiland writes at WritetoDone.com, “The sooner we can stand up to our feelings of jealousy, put them behind us, and work toward being genuinely happy for our fellow writers, the more content and the more productive we’ll be.”
You will hate a lot of what you write (but that’s OK, too). Whether you became a professional writer out of necessity or out of passion, you probably didn’t go into it expecting to hate your work—but at some point you will.
Sometimes you’ll hate what you’re writing because of the project: It’s boring or not something you believe in. Other times you’ll hate your writing because of your skills: They aren’t up to the level you wish they were. Of course, there will be times you hate your writing because it’s genuinely bad: You see your mistakes, your boss sees them, and you recognize your need to grow.
In every case, though, you’re only experiencing what generations of writers have experienced before, from newspaper reporters to authors to feature writers. After you’ve been writing a while, you’ll know these disappointments come with the territory, and you’ll keep writing.
Readers can be vicious (but they can also be amazing). It doesn’t matter whether your readers are the executive board at work, a specific client, or the public—their responses to your writing will vary. Some will like it, some will hate it, and some will personally attack your value as a human being as a result of it. Veteran writers will tell you that’s normal. If you’ve only ever received praise in response to your work, you haven’t been writing long enough. Don’t sweat it; just consider the criticism, and move on. You can’t please everybody. What’s more, every now and then, someone will heap praise on what you’ve written, or the client will be thrilled. Those are the moments worth retaining.
You are always developing and growing. Even after you’ve been writing for years, you will still have much you can learn, so keep reading good writing, keep stretching your skills, and keep looking for ways to improve.
Good writers work to stay inspired and don’t assume they have it all figured out. Journalists with impressive bylines still taught themselves to use Twitter. PR professionals had to get savvy about social media. Follow their example by keeping up with new venues and trends in writing.
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Writers wear a lot of hats. Being a good writer is about more than putting words on a screen—it’s also about research, communication, and creativity. When you spend years managing projects that range from crafting a hospital’s SEO content to drafting a manufacturing company’s marketing materials, you see how true this is.
Throughout your career, you will write about certain subject areas with which you are terribly unfamiliar, with people who are poor communicators, and in media you haven’t tried before. In every case, you are stretching yourself beyond traditional writing skills.
People will want your help. Tell someone you’re a writer, and odds are good that he or she will see a “free help” sign on your forehead. “Could you edit my proposal?” “Would you tweak our website copy?” “I’d love it if you could lend a hand with our newsletter.”
For some reason, writing is a vocation often perceived as cheap and easy labor. How you respond to these requests is up to you; you may be happy to help a friend, or you may try to explain you can’t, but anybody who’s written professionally knows to expect it.
Sometimes you’ll have fun. Here’s the thing that drives so many of us to write, even amid the hard work and the disappointments: Writing can be fun. When you’re the type of person who enjoys crafting lines of text, who marvels at the power of the written word, and who enjoys bringing order to a chaotic heap of information, you will find a worthy task in choosing to write.
Writers help companies communicate, represent brands, and provide voices for those who need them. Even after you’ve been writing many years, you can’t help but see the value in that.
Are you a writer? Do these reflections ring true for you?
Shanna Mallon is a writer for Straight North, a Chicago Web design firm providing specialized SEO, Web development, and other online marketing services such as website content writing services. Follow Straight North on Twitter and Facebook.
This article first ran on Ragan.com in Feb. 2014.