Monday, September 03, 2007

A Case for Writing from the Heart

Today’s Chicago Tribune held an interesting article about a fellow blogger – imagine that! Dawn Meehan is a mother of six and the proud author of Because I Said So. According to the article, Ms. Meehan started her blog two years ago after her mother gave her a list of ideas for making extra money – one of them being blogging. It started innocently enough, posting fun and humorous stories to go along with items she was selling on eBay and flourished into a well loved blog which shows the humor in a profession that largely gets overlooked; motherhood.

Today Ms. Meehan is being sought by numerous literary agents in hopes of a book and a major network wants her to pen a series based on her posts. How’s that for an amazing turn in career? All of this from a woman who had a natural talent for writing and was looking for a little extra income to help raise her family but, what I noticed more than anything in this story is that the blog itself is fun and humorous and it was that voice and love of subject matter that captured an audience’s attention.

Over my two years dabbling with blogs and meeting people online I’ve run into quite a few useful ideas on how to build a writing career. Often the goal is less lofty than the one I’d envisioned when I set about learning the craft of writing. For a while there I got caught up on the idea of making a full time income freelancing, and I did make a good deal of headway; going from nothing to $1,000.00 a month in a matter of weeks really. When I stopped actively pursuing clients it was largely because I hated the writing. Yes, you can find clients online. Yes, you can build clips and go from there... but I hated the SEO articles and copy that was largely spam. I hated the fact that there was more emphasis on keywords than content and I hated the fact that many clients expected to pay a pittance for my time and talent.... More than that, though, it bothered me that so many of these clients were assigning articles and e-books that are surely marketed as reliable expert sources to people whose credentials for the information are no where near reliable.

In my time freelancing I both wrote and edited a number of things that I had no previous expertise in and I was never given any research or information on those things. I would do the research myself and, while I feel that my abilities to write accurately on most subjects is far above par, I had a problem with the fact that I was handing over this copy to someone who would market it as expert advice on medical conditions – after all, I had no control over whether or not it was checked by a doctor or even if it was edited well.

I know a number of freelance writers who make a bulk of their living from this work and are very happy with it – and I think that’s wonderful for them. For me, though, that kind of writing became a drudgery that was worse than working at some counter or office might be. My down time wasn’t spent working on my fiction because the freelancing took the urgency from my writing. And seeing a story like that of Dawn Meehan reinforces my reasoning for retiring from the web content race.... while I can make a living from freelancing anonymously, I’ll never meet with the success I aspire to by my words. There is a need to pay the bills, don’t get me wrong, but I’ll take the delayed payment because I would rather give my best shot to the fiction than short change myself by making the one thing I love to do best become a chore.

Do I think this path of writing what I love will lead to the physical success of Ms. Meehan? I’m not counting on it, though I think it’s fantastic for her. But success for me isn’t nearly so hard to reach – a novel I’m proud of that really speaks to the reader and a career writing what I love, even if it means a real job to pay the bills while I do it... For me, success isn’t in the paycheck (though I wouldn’t turn one down). Success can’t be measured by my bank balance... and, frankly, the kind of writing that pays today wouldn’t make me well paid because I’m just not that kind of a writer.

There are a lot of writers that make a good living off of fast writing and multiple articles who can tell you that they’ll finish ungodly amounts in word count a day. I can’t do it, my writing suffers under those conditions and it makes me unhappy.

How about you guys? Do you write from the heart or strictly for a check? Do you like what you do or has it become just a job? Did the dream of being a writer equal the reality of writing? No judgment here – there’s room for every type of writer and my hat’s off to anyone whose found their niche in the writing world when it makes them happy.


Lillie Ammann said...

I've never written SEO articles - don't even do that for my own blog and Web site, though I'm working on improving that. I charge by the hour so I can take the time needed to do the best job I can. But I'm gradually trying to phase out some of the things that aren't as much fun - writing letters, manuals, proposals, and documents for businesses and editing academic papers. What I like to do best is work with authors, especially those who choose to self-publish, to edit their manuscripts and help them publish their books. I'm trying to focus on that kind of work.

Mary Witzl said...

In Japan, I worked as a rewriter, proof-reader, and translator, and I have edited speeches, academic papers, medical and engineering articles, textbooks, and a dictionary. I took great pride in doing the best possible job I could do, but I have nightmares about some of the stuff I had to rewrite when I could not understand it: two papers on respiratory physiology, and a certain dissertation on mineral assemblages still make me weak in the knees to remember. My aim is mainly to publish something that will be read and enjoyed by as many people as possible. I genuinely don't care about not earning a fortune; it's a good thing I don't because at the rate I'm going, things don't look too encouraging.

I agree that it is foolish to waste your time churning out text for projects that you cannot believe in or support simply because they can make you a living. Personally, I have been out of work for so long that I would happily write for money if I could, as long as I did not find the work morally repugnant.

I've just finished writing my first full-length for-adults novel, and I have seldom had so much fun doing anything in all my life. How wonderful it would be if I could sell it.

jjdebenedictis said...

Interesting post!

The thing is, I've never made money off my my writing. I have done projects at work that involved writing, but strictly, I could have done other things.

This is a hard question, because, yes, I'm writing from the heart, but I also don't think I would write (or not as much) if I hadn't decided I want to be published.

Merry Jelinek said...

Hi Lillie,

If you're looking for tips on SEO writing and page ranking, I can't think of anyone better to study than Sharon Hurley Hall - you'll find her link in my bookmarks (SHH - doublehdesign).

It all depends on what you like to write, I think. Personally, I enjoy business writing and bios and I enjoy essays if I like the subject matter. I have had some fun with freelance assignments and I know a lot of the freelancers I talked to were looking for ways to eliminate some of the lower paying items that they disliked while adding more assignments they enjoyed.

What turned me off most was all of the writers who advised upping your writing speed rather than improving your writing skills. Like I said, for some writers it works out well - but I didn't enjoy writing with a fast turn over.

Working with authors is great! Are you doing book reviews at your blog for authors you've edited? I've read a number of self-published books over the last few years and I think there are a lot of good ones, but there are also a lot with great potential that would have done better with a good editor. Thanks for adding so much to the conversation.

Hi Mary,

First of all, a very hearty congratulations on finishing your novel!!! So many people think the accomplishment is in getting it published, but really so many would be authors start novels but never make the finish line - it's a huge undertaking and something to be proud of...

Major kudos on the translating - I have a great respect for anyone that can learn multiple languages well. The medical writing was difficult for me, too. I understand it, I think, but I would have felt better if I knew for certain that the buyer was double checking the copy with a doctor... and I always felt there was something wrong with hiring a writer with no medical background to write on medical issues. If it were re-writing or editing an actual doctor, I didn't mind because, let's face it, even someone with a vast amount of education can't necessarily write well for an audience. Often, though, the assignments were a specific topic with no research information and I know a great deal of the web writers out there who have low rates will research entirely online... how much of that information might be faulty?

Thanks for stopping in. Always nice to see you.

Hi JJ,

Now there's an interesting point - even though we're writing without a paycheck the goal in finishing the novel is to get it published, which obviously means paid...

And my goal, the pie in the sky one, is to make my entire income writing fiction. It doesn't have to be an astounding income, just one that keeps me in ink cartridges and feeds my kids... but full time writing would be ideal.

Still, after trying out freelancing I can honestly say that if I absolutely can't get my fiction off the ground enough to write full time by next year (by which point I have no choice but to have an income) I would rather go back to secretarial or office work than freelancing the way I was... I might go strictly business writing or article writing with byline, but I can't do the type of webcontent that I started with and not want to shoot myself...

The Anti-Wife said...

When I wrote my memoir, it just flowed out of me so it obviously needed to be put on paper. It's not publishable in it's present form, but it was very cathartic and that's what I needed. Right now I have several partial outlines, characters developed, and ideas for other projects. But the thing I like best is just adding to my blog. Sometimes it's silly and sometimes profound, but it's always me and I enjoy reading other's thoughts. Nothing helps me more than learning to express my own experiences. Hopefully that will develop into a manuscript in the future.

Jaye Wells said...

I used to write freelance. Then I found fiction and I haven't looked back--much. I've been pondering getting back into the game, but I'm worried it will become to easy to forget the novels. Maybe that's backwards thinking--shun the paying work in favor of the non-paying. But there's always hope that the novels will pay off one day.

Merry Jelinek said...

Hi anti-wife,

Cathartic writing is some of the best... it might not be polished enough to be publishable, but what that experience gives the writer is often worth more than a payment might be.

Blogging for me is more to connect and have a little fun. Sometimes thoughtful (okay, hopefully it's often thoughtful) but I don't take a great deal of time polishing my posts - Never in a million years would I send out a piece for publication without editing thoroughly, but I don't do more than a rudimentary edit of blogs - sometimes not even that).

Hey Jaye,

I don't think payment has anything to do with a writer's level of growth. If you're making progress with your fiction, and fiction is the real writing dream for you, then I think that's more of a success than monetary gain through writing you don't really aspire to... then again, I would say that as I'm doing the same thing ;-)

Thanks for stopping by and adding to the conversation.

Travis Erwin said...

I have had to work hard at the technical side of writing. I consider myself a storyteller forst and a writer a distant second.

For that readon alone I have never attempted to write articles of any sort. The closest would be my blog, but in truth that too is something I do for fun, which is why I type up a psot, hit spellcheck, and then post without any real editing and in most cases without even a second read through.

Fiction is a love and while I hope to one day find a bit of success I do not want it to become so serious that I cannot have fun doing it. I already have a tedious job, so why create another.

Merry Jelinek said...

Hi Travis,

Well, you about said it all there. "I already have a tedious job, so why create another?"

That's pretty much where I stand with this, too. I'd like to do articles, but on subjects I enjoy, not just for the paycheck. I'd rather just work on fiction... but either way, I know that I'd rather have a meaningless job than turn writing into something that I hate.

Thanks for stopping by.