Wednesday, 14 September 2011

A rant on writing

I love writing. I really do. Sometimes I forget this (usually when I'm 3000 words into a report on a boring subject like mining legislation and have lost my sense of humour a wee bit).

Writing, however, really is a weird job. There's a whole bunch of people who think that anyone can be a writer and can't see the need to hire someone with a journalism or copy writing qualification to do the work.  Then there's another bunch of people who think writing is some mystic creative gift that God endowed on a chosen few. And there's a few of us who are somewhere in between. We believe that words have currency and a good wordsmith is worth a good fee, but that writing's not rocket science or religion either. And not every article can be a masterpiece.


What has brought on this musing? A thread of discussions on the professional writers' forum I subscribe to, about the fact that sometimes writing is really boring. One of the members posted a comment about the fact that he's completely bored with his work, whether it's journalism, copy writing or communications consulting. Sometimes I feel the same. After awhile, words get stale. This is particularly true in certain instances. Like press releases. I hate writing press releases. IT's all the same stuff. Different product, same spin. But I could do press releases in my sleep. It's easy and it's a good way to make a quick buck. But it's not fun.

Another catalyst for this rant was the reaction of the guy who came to check out my complaint about my mattress (which has a 20-yr guarantee but is lumpy after five) when he asked what I do and I said "freelance journalist".

When people ask me that question and I give them that answer, their eyes light up and they inevitably say something like, "Ooh! That must be interesting!" And sometimes it is. There are certain jobs that I love doing - writing that fits into my interest areas. I used to get to do theatre pieces for a lovely lifestyle magazine. It meant I got comps for all the new shows. I loved writing those pieces.

But the writing that actually pays good money tends to be corporate stuff. And while some corporate stuff can be fun, some is decidedly not.

People also don' tunderstand that there are totally different types of journalism out there - investigative, news, political, lifestyle...

When I say "freelance journalist", people don't picture me sitting behind my laptop, typing away at a brochure about hydraulic hose (yes, I actually did write a brochure about hydraulic hose. Fun stuff). They see me with a camera and a notepad in the middle of some obscure African country's latest war zone, dodging bullets and frantically scribbling down tales of human tragedy that will promote urgent action by the masses. I could never be a hard news journo. No bullets for me, sorry.

Or people see me dressed in a power suit, electronic dictaphone in one hand, cocktail in the other, as I interview some or other fabulous celebrity for a profile piece about the contents of their handbag, their thoughts on ageing and the rumours of their latest fling. I could never be an entertainment journo either. I have zero interest in most celebrities.

There are occasional moments of glamour in my job (definitely not when I'm crying my eyes out on my carpet, surrounded by tax documents and tissues). Sometimes I get to meet someone impressive. Sometimes I get to go to glitzy events. Very, very occasionally, I get free stuff (but hardly ever the nice kind). I promise you that none of these things happens very often (and that the food at press events actually tends to be fairly revolting on average).

I am not in this for the glamour. I'm not in this to save the world (but if I can get more people to recycle I'll be extremely happy). I'm in this because it's something that I can do. (I think. Sometimes.) And because when I'm not writing a 3000 word report on mining legislation (for real), I actually do love writing.


Shayne said...

I love reading you -you write really well, i think. And btw - i did get yr mail and follow your links and WOW. Pretty impressive stuff. I thought you wrote for woman's mags etc. You are a very clever lady x

Hardspear said...

Yes, because I do change management for our clients, comms is usually part of it. Usually it is my job to generate content, but then I give it to the corporate comms people to turn into something professional. Many of the corporate comms people have a journalism background, so I have learned to appreciate how they have to be able to write schtuff ranging from the exciting to the mundane... Sometimes it is a pain though, because in my not so professional way, I want something in a certain way, but then the Company Corporate Identity Manual & Guidelines (Often thicker than War & Peace) usually have so many do's & dont's that it becomes frustrating. Sorry, I am writing posts within posts again...

Anonymous said...

Confession, I'm one of those people you refer to in paragraph six (counting the *sigh* as a paragraph).

I've been bumped back to earth. :-)

po said...

Heehee what an awesome post. I have to admit, I never imagined you writing about hydraulic hoses. it sounds terribly boring, but on the other hand, think of the incredible knowledge you must have about the obscurest things. Your job makes you an expert in so many things!

I think most people assume that "anyone can write" but give them 5 minutes with hydraulic hose literature, and I am pretty sure they wouldn't know how to make it sound interesting.

Tamara said...

Shayne: Thanks very much. I would LOVE to write for women's mags like Women & Home and Fairlady. It's just to get a foot in the door!

Hardspear: Ugh... CI manuals = hate.

Tyger Kat: Yay! I reached someone ;-) LOL.

Po: Thankfully that was just a once-off! FEw topics have been quite as dull as the hydraulic hose brochure :-) I know a little about lots of things, but not a lot about anything in particular. Lots of arb trivia though, which can be fun at dinner parties.

Louisa said...

I've seen more hydraulic hoses than I've ever seen written about them, and you must be good if you can find anything to say about them other than what they're made of. ;-)

Tamara said...

Louisa: Thankfully they're very functional, so I just write about what to do with them ;-)

Helen said...

Wow, you're definitely a very versatile writer! Does the range of topics at least keep it slightly interesting sometimes?

Tamara said...

Helen: Totally! That's why I do it. At the moment I'm writing about: stockbroking, cycling, branding, braais, transport and paint websites. It's the variety that I love.

Angel said...

Teehee, dodging bullets and handbag contents eh?