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Perspectives Guide Writers

Joan-Marie Moss

If you're looking for a profile of a writer, you'll look long and hard -- and be very disappointed. Writers rarely fit well into boxes. They come in all shapes and sizes. The only common denominators they share seem to be that they use ink and paper (or digital data) to communicate with others and that they are rarely satisfied with the project they have just completed.

When the Bloomingdale Writer's Group formed in 1990, that diversity was most pronounced. The people who joined that group included people who admittedly wrote for the pure pleasure of putting their thoughts on paper, those who dreamed of achieving fame and fortune with the creation of a blockbuster first novel, and those who worked full time as freelance writers.

Frequently the group's discussions focused on what might required to become a successful published writer.

It was surprising how many of those members were afraid that success would happen to them. These were the people who wrote breathtaking prose and poetry then "put it in a drawer" afraid to expose it to potential criticism. Yet others, neither more nor less talented, attacked their work with a vengeance realizing its value would be predicated on its being purchased and read. Each of the 35 members of that group approached writing with a very unique and personal goals, expectations and methods. Each defined their ultimate success differently.

Some ultimately got their work published. Some never tried. Some were paid for their work. Some were happy just to get their names in print. While each one of those members worked diligently together trying to achieve excellence, consistently the group perceived one simple distinction between themselves: Those whose work had been published and been rewarded with some monetary compensation for their efforts and those who had not.

The writers who had been paid for their work, approached writing from a distinctly different point of view than those who received no compensation. Those who worked for corporations in 9-5 jobs, writing sales materials, business plans, technical manuals, training programs, press releases and such rarely joined this writers group...preferring to move on to PRSA and other professional groups supported by their employers. Some worked as freelancers. Unlike their corporate counterparts, they frequently working on several projects for more than one employer at a same time and were recognized as professional consultants rather than as employees. Although their work may require grueling 60-80 hour weeks, they found frequently that they were not recognized as legitimate working writers.

Many freelancers submit completed works "on spec" to magazines -- although a surprising number of them maintained that they do not write anything unless they are reasonably assured that payment will follow. Notably those who work for newspapers and businesses, meticulously attend to the business of earning a living. Either way, they normally don't rely on a single source of income. They work as stringers or correspondents for newsletters, newspapers and magazines. They write promotional pieces for their communities and local businesses. They may even expand their services to include desktop publishing, research, or teaching.

Writers are highly creative and curious, avid students of the world in which they live. Published writers take their writing seriously enough to get out and find -- or create -- markets for their work.

To become successfully published, those writers found, requires a keen eye for holes in the marketplace. This demands constant contact with the market. It requires sensitivity to the psychological and emotional needs of potential clients. It relies on the ability to sell (oh, horrors!) one's skills and the benefits that others will gain from the efforts of the writer.

From the day when the first writer discovered how to preserve ideas and communications on rocks and papyrus for future generations to enjoy, a mystique has haunted those who aspire to being writers. The mystique is almost oppressive at times.

"I'm a writer. . . ." the author begins.

"Sure, you are. . .isn't everyone?" the audience thinks as their eyes become suspiciously glassy.

One writer put it very well, "Much of my time is spent showing people that writing is not glamorous. It's hard work to find just the right words to convey a complex idea or to sell a product. Yes, lots of people write. They spend a great deal of time trying to find, and follow, a formula that may or may not work. My job is to call forth all my skills and understanding of how the English language works, how words affect people, what people want and what motivates them to action. But that's not the end of it. I then must create a piece that is so compelling that my intended audience will buy, read and respond to its message. That takes a lot of time and it takes a lot of creative energy."

Rarely is a great feature article or brochure or sales letter a product of top-of-the-head thinking. Great writing requires much research and a keen understanding of subject, the market and the ultimate reader. Much of that work is never seen by anyone other than the writer. Yet truly great writing inspires strong reactions from readers while appearing to be totally effortless. This is not a skill that's learned overnight. And it's not one that can be executed without a great deal of refinement and practice. One advantage of writers groups is that participants get immediate first-hand feedback from peers who understand what they're trying to accomplish.

Writers tell us that one of their biggest challenges is juggling countless bits of information, works in progress and future projects, without neglecting the normal demands of a business and family life. . . all the while maintaining a positive outlook while remaining receptive to criticism and rejection. It's not at all uncommon for writers to spend a mere 25-50% of their time writing. The rest of the time freelancers spend creating paper trails, studying the market, studying their subjects and finding ways to sell themselves to potential clients. . .and attending to the needs of family and friends who simply don't understand what they could be doing that's so important that they can't stop to play.

In today's rapidly evolving information age, writers can no longer rely simply on their ability to put pen to paper with elegant flourishes. Serious writers invest a great deal of time and money keeping up with latest technological developments: computers, software, internet and business trends. Without these tools writers find it difficult to compete in our sophisticated market that demands so much more.

At first writers may try to juggle all aspects of the business alone. But as writers' businesses grow, it becomes obvious that one alone swims upstream. That's when they may begin to look for agents or brokers to handle the sales, accountants to take care of the bookkeeping and secretaries to handle office administration. That's when many start to reach out and look seriously at projects that allow collaboration, at some level, with other professionals.

As the Bloomingdale Writers Group grew, the members learned a great deal from each other's various perspectives. Those who wouldn't have considered sharing their work with others, discovered the joy of watching others enjoy their masterpieces. Some found the courage to market their work. Those who focused on creating marketable pieces re-discovered the satisfaction of writing for the sheer joy of creation. All found their work improved remarkably.

But it soon became apparent, that those who aspired to becoming freelance writers, those who focused on the goal of marketing their work, rarely remained active participants in the group for more than a 2-3 years. They learned in the sharing of work and dreams with those less business-minded, to re-capture some of the thrill of finishing a piece written "just because". But they soon found that the business end of writing was critical to their success. What happened was simple. Freelancers, who must dedicate a great deal of energy to being business people and marketers, soon discovered that their market couldn't be found in a writer's group. And so, before long, they began looking elsewhere. They moved into professional organizations and went to events where publishers and business people who buy writing talent would most likely to be found. They discovered that the time spent meeting with other writers would be best served by getting in touch with people who needed their services and were able and willing to buy their services.

Freelancing is not an avenue for the weak-hearted. It takes guts, perseverance and a thick skin. Writers who aspire to becoming freelancers learn quickly that even the best writing may fail to find a ready market. Writers' have been known to receive rejections without explanations and critiques that can be much more brutal than the critiques of their peers. If their work doesn't cut the mustard, aspiring freelancers learn quickly what needs to be done to make it saleable -- or they go into other lines of work.

Those who don't view their work as a business, too, need a thick skin and great determination. They may not be pressured by the need to make a living, but they do need an intense inner drive and the courage to step beyond their fear of rejection. For these writers, even the thought of having someone else read what they have written is frequently overwhelming. But they do learn. And, in the process, their creativity takes on new depth and sensitivity.

While those who see their writing as a business rarely have the time or inclination to look back on their successes, those who prefer to write for their own enjoyment tend to be highly critical of what has been done. Writers at all levels of development characteristically consider their greatest work to be that which is yet to be written.

No matter what perspective or drives influence a writer's work, it's rarely easy. But writers share a common bond. They enjoy a deep inner satisfaction because they interact and chronicle the everyday life of the world they live in.

© Joan-Marie Moss and 1999-2015