Writing is my day job as well as my passion. However, I consider the writing I do at work and the writing I do in my own time two very different things.
During the day, I work as a copywriter for an online store, writing product descriptions for all kinds of different household goodies and gadgets. My desk at work is crowded with toasters and frypans and flowery teacups, and it’s up to me to make them all sound absolutely fabulous so customers will want to buy them.
Then, at the end of the day, I arrive home and after a bite to eat, I get back to work – this time, working on my own writing. My desk at home is piled high with books, pencils and scribbled notes. I’m a blogger; I write about books. I also write the odd short story whenever the inspiration strikes me.
As far as balancing acts go, it’s delicate. My workplace often talks me into working overtime, so I find myself awake at all hours of the night, falling asleep at my desk, trying to squeeze in a little time for my own writing. And sometimes, the last thing I want to do after a long day at work is to come home and keep working.
But it’s not all bad news. In fact, there are many ways in which the discipline of working as a copywriter during the day has actually helped my writing. Here are just a few:
It’s like déjà vu all over again
One of the most useful skills I’ve had to develop as a retail copywriter is the ability to write about the same thing in many different ways. A lot of the products I write about at work are, let’s face it, a little on the boring side. I’ve been working at my current position for eight years now, and I often struggle to find new things to say. All cutlery sets are pretty much the same, for instance. And although the manager of the dinnerware department insists that the new bone white dinner set he’s ordered is completely different to the ivory white dinner set I wrote about last week, to me, they’re identical.
It’s my job to make everything I write about sound interesting and desirable and unique, even though this may be far from the truth.
How does this apply to other kinds of writing? As a book reviewer, it’s a useful way to avoid falling back on the same few standard phrases reviewers use.
If you’re not happy with something you’re writing, write it again and again until you’re happy. Consider the same problem in a new way, or from a slightly altered angle. Pretty soon, it’ll come to you naturally. This works for paragraphs as well as entire stories. It’s like exercise for your creative muscles.
Shout down that inner critic…
Every writer has an inner critic. I certainly do. It’s that little voice at the back of your mind telling you that everything you write is awful and you really should step away from your keyboard and consider a career in the fast food industry.
But when you write for a living, there’s simply no time for writers’ block. When other people are depending on you to write something, you don’t just sit there, agonising over the same sentence. You don’t have that luxury.
As insistent as the voice of your imaginary inner critic may be, in a work environment, the very real voice of your demanding boss is much louder. And your boss couldn’t care less about your writers’ block.
Forget your inner critic. Get an inner boss instead. Someone who wants that short story written – and right now. Be ruthless. Set yourself a deadline and make yourself accountable for keeping it. Ask a friend to email you and demand to know how much you’ve written, and tell them the truth.
And, most importantly, stop listening to that inner critic. Sometimes, just getting your thoughts down on paper is enough.
Find your own mojo
A bored writer will undoubtedly bore their reader. I’ve worked as a copywriter for many, many years. Similarly, novels can take years to write.
Whether you’re writing for work, or you’re writing for yourself, writing can be boring. Part of being a writer means constantly having to reinvent yourself as a writer; finding what it is that keeps you going.
When you get bored with whatever it is you’re writing, no one else is going to help you find your motivation. It’s up to you to dig it back up again.
When it comes to your own writing, you’ve got all the time you need – put it in a drawer and come back to it later. But if you write for a living, time isn’t an option. Change the colour or the font you write in. Set yourself a challenge that you’ve got to meet during the day – certain words you have to use or words to avoid using. Eventually, your motivation will come flooding back, and your writing will sound all the more inspired.
Just. Keep. Writing.
This is going to sound really odd, but even just the act of that writing teaches you a lot about writing.
My advice? Just write. Even when you don’t quite know what to say, keep your hands moving on the keyboard, then go back and fix it later. When you write a lot and read your work back, you’ll start to find out for yourself what works and what doesn’t. And as for those annoying little grammar and spelling quibbles that haunt us all, writing is the best way to come to terms with them all – just make sure you turn Microsoft Word’s autocorrect function off. That way, you’ve got no choice but to learn for yourself how to get those impossible-to-spell words right.
Admittedly, working as a writer while writing in my spare time isn’t always the best fit, but I really believe that working as a copywriter has been valuable to me as a writer. It’s taught me so much about the importance of clarity, motivation and discipline. Although the things I write at work bear no relationship at all to what I write at home after work, one still influences the way I approach the other. And, of course, it works the other way around, too.
Michelle McLaren describes herself as a wannabe literary critic. She writes book reviews for her blog, Book to the Future (www.booktothefuture.com.au) where she’s slowly reading and reviewing some of the twentieth century’s literary classics in the order in which they were originally published. She also writes short stories and is addicted to Twitter. She tweets as @booktothefuture.