by Larry Brooks
It’s so easy to get overwhelmed in this business. Deadlines. Writer’s block. Procrastination. Cranky clients. Competition.
And perhaps at the bottom of the barrel, apathy and boredom.
This is as true for freelance writers as it is for novelists and screenwriters. Believe me, I do both. And I’m as overwhelmed as the next guy.
It’s so easy to get overwhelmed, in fact, that we can sometimes forget what this work is about. Why we got into this game in the first place. We forget that this isn’t just a job (emphasis on just, because if you’re doing this for money, make no mistake, this is a job).
At least it shouldn’t be.
Our mantra should be to prove Moliere dead wrong.
You remember Moliere, right? That little 17th century French dude with the cheesy beret who said (and I paraphrase), “Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love and pleasure, then you do it for a few friends, and finally you do it for the money.”
When that happens, you can be sure you’re heading down a dark and lonely road. Because then it really is just a job. And I’m guessing that’s not what signed up for. Hell, you started writing precisely because you wanted more out of life than just a job.
Some other wise old sage said this: “Happiness isn’t doing what you like, it’s liking what you do.”
Amen to that. You used to like this work. And you can like it again. Even love it.
So let’s hit the reset button today.
Let’s put the bliss back into your writing. Make this fun again. And, despite all those deadlines and clients and connecting the factual dots, I have a way to get there.
It’s a choice you can make. A brand you can adopt. A voice you can embrace.
The great trap in freelance writing is the tendency to start writing generically. Like a journalist rather than columnist. Like a technical writer rather than a creative writer. Like all the other commodity writers out there writing commodity stuff for commodity clients. The commodity-like nature of non-fiction work isn’t completely within our control, but how we position ourselves within the crowd of applicants absolutely is.
Even if we started out absolutely bubbling with attitude, over time we tend to slide into this vanilla writing mode, avoiding risks and playing it safe. We are driven there by our clients and the nature of the competition, sometimes simply to take the easy road and just get the thing out the door.
That needs to stop. And in stopping it, in cultivating your own voice as a writer – even a freelance writer with chops in a wide breadth of fields and niches, some of which are completely antithetical to passionate writing – you will be building the most important thing you can possibly give your writing career.
You will be building a brand.
If you want to separate yourself from the crowd, if you want to build a brand, and if you want to fall in love with the process of writing again, then choose not to be a machine. Instead, be a pro at it, someone who writes with heart and humor and edge and attitude, and knows when and how to lay it on or back it off.
Anybody can research a topic, go deep, make it sell, sell a point of view, elicit a response. That’s non-fiction 101. And it’s necessary… as a baseline objective. The trick is to not stop there.
If you want to bring passion back into your writing, don’t settle for that.
Make what you write interesting to read. Not just for the content, but for the experience of encountering it. Make readers notice the writing, but without allowing the writing to distract from the point.
Make your voice an advocate for the point.
I do some ghost writing for a guy who bills himself as the world’s foremost authority on public speaking. You’d think this respected guru wouldn’t need a writer, and in fact he’s a darn solid writer on his own. But when he needs something to pop, something with an edge, something to publish in a big national magazine, he hires me. He feeds me the content and tells me to do my thing.
Why? Because I give him passion.
I infuse his stuff with energy and juice. I make him look good. I won’t say he doesn’t have to reign me in once in a while, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. And because of that, we’ve been working together for three years, and he pays a premium for what I do.
Of course, this little sauce of attitude that infuses the writing with a taste of attitude can be tricky, it depends on the nature of the piece and the willingness of the client to go there. Less is usually more, but the right touch can change the driest of non-fiction into a joyful and enlightening ride.
Not just for the read, but for you, too.
Suddenly it’s not just work, it’s art seducing craft and erasing the lines that separate them.
So if you’re tired of working at this writing thing and yearn for the days when you looked forward to sitting down before a blank screen, make a shift. A choice. Choose to like what you do.
Choose to do it with love. Because passion is so much more rewarding, and universal, when it comes from that place.
Larry Brooks is the creator of Storyfix.com. His new book, Story Engineering: Mastering the Six Core Competencies of Successful Writing, comes out from Writers Digest Books at the end of February.