Writing for a living can be the best, simplest, most rewarding and easiest job in the world. But at times it can be the most frustrating, soul-destroying, confidence-sapping, horrible job as well. And sometimes the most difficult thing is just sitting down at the computer in the first place…
I’m lucky enough to be able to write for a living. And I do consider myself very lucky indeed. It’s something I love to do – I’ve always loved to do – and to be able to make money from it, and earn (just about) enough to pay the bills, means I get to do something I love for a living. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Well it should. But unfortunately, there’s a double-edged sword to put up with.
The trouble is (come closer, I shouldn’t say this too loud) sometimes I kind of hate writing for a living.
Sorry, I know I should sound more grateful – after all I get to do something I love for a living. What could be better than that? But it can be the most frustrating, difficult, tedious job in the world as well.
Because sometimes the words just don’t come
How many writers out there have never sat for hours on end staring at a crisp, white Word document or piece of paper willing the words into existence, yet the words just don’t come. For whatever reason you can’t quite focus, the words don’t appear to you and instead you find yourself subconsciously flicking a paper clip round the desk or scrolling Amazon for products you can’t afford because you haven’t finished your assignment!
It can be so frustrating knowing the ideas are in there but you’re somehow unable to release them. So you write a sentence, hate it and delete it. Write, hate, delete. Write, hate, delete. And repeat some more. And then you go and make a cup of tea. Then write, hate, delete.
You know the words will come eventually, and they’ll likely flow like a damned waterfall. But until then you have to wait, tear your hair out, swear at your laptop and keep flicking that paper clip.
Because sometimes the assignments suck
Writing is a business, like anything else. And making money out of writing invariably means that you have to write something that doesn’t particularly interest you. It would be great if I could spend all day writing my own stuff and make enough money to live on. But I can’t. So I have to take assignments from people who want me to write things for them.
It could be a press release, a corporate customer email, a product description or a boring article about ‘the best ways to maximise power usage for your IT infrastructure and get more out of your data centre space’. Not exactly thrilling stuff. But it matters to the people who want it written, so I have to make it matter to me and produce something that people will want to read.
And when I get into it, I generally find a strange, unexpected interest grow inside me as well. But mostly it’s pretty bloody boring.
Because the internet makes you lazy
Nowadays, research into pretty much any subject is as quick as a simple Google search. Everything is there in the web, you just have to sift through the layers to get what you want. But way back at the start of my career, when the all-powerful internet was still in its infancy, research was a far harder thing. I remember one of my first ever feature assignments was to write a profile of former Formula 1 Racing driver James Hunt.
I worked in an office where we didn’t have the privilege of having the internet on every single machine – there was one computer in the middle of the room where you could log on. And you had to wait your turn. When you did get online, it took an hour and a day for each page to load. And when you did get there, the results were pretty poor. This was in the days before Google (if you can imagine such a time), and Ask Jeeves was a crappy counterpart.
So I did the only thing I could – I went to a library and looked through books. Imagine…
But nowadays, with research coming so easy, it almost takes the challenge out of it. It makes us lazy. Who among hasn’t thought ‘I’ll just Google some stats later’ rather than putting a real amount of mental elbow grease into it?
Because deadlines make you lazy
There’s nothing like a deadline to focus the mind. If you have two hours to write up your piece and get it in, somehow you’ll find the resolve, you’ll dig deep and you’ll get those words written. But if you have a week to write your feature… well, if you’re anything like me, you’ll sit on your arse for 6 days, play lots of GTA V, drink lots of tea, mess about on the internet… and then write the assignment 2 hours before the deadline hits.
Of course the most sensible thing to do would be to get in early, get your research done and write it straight away. Get the work done now, and then you can relax. But like a lazy kid who has a good six weeks to do their summer homework, you know you’re gonna spend that last day of the holidays stressed out, panicking and cobbling something together.
It might just be me (though I bet it isn’t), but deadlines make me lazy, because they don’t really become deadlines until you come close to missing them.
Of course I could try and do something different. I’m sure there are other jobs out there that are less frustrating, less stressful and much easier to do. And pay a hell of a lot more. But then they wouldn’t be as much fun either!
Anyway, I’d better stop rambling on and subconsciously deferring – I have an assignment to do, and I’m already past the deadline…