Just a Writer

It inevitably happens. Someone I work with reduces my contributions to those of “just a writer.” This proclamation is almost always delivered by a person who is not only a mediocre writer, but prone to denigrating others to divert attention away from their limited skills and accomplishments.

Maybe they think I toss words into the air, hold up a piece of paper, and magically the words assemble themselves into logical sentences, ready to be stamped “final” and plunked on a website, posted to a blog, or poured into printed piece.

Writing is hard work. It’s not a mindless tactical exercise like shuffling papers or putting a checkmark by a task, indicating it’s been completed. There are over 171,000 distinct words in the Second Edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary, which can be cobbled together in infinite numbers of ways. Adding a word can drive enthusiasm or quell interest.

The words I choose, therefore, aren’t random. The sentences aren’t haphazardly gathered into paragraphs. And the order of paragraph not based on my initial thoughts. Before my fingers tap a key, I consider the purpose of what I’m writing. If it’s for one of my blogs, most likely it’s a stream of consciousness, an account of a recent adventure, or maybe an observation based on a recent news event.

If it’s for work, I consider the target audiences, their pain points, state-of-mind, and conceivably what they may already know about the product, service, or topic for which I’m writing.

Writing with soulAs a marketer, I’m thinking ten steps ahead, mulling over what words would motivate readers to click, call, request more information, or purchase. I contemplate the key messages, considering whether they have the potential to reinforce, alter or change the audiences’ behavior, viewpoint, and sentiment.

In the same vein, I deliberate as to whether I need to supplement or replace current content, utilizing social media, blog, web, video, fact sheets, backgrounder, ads (online and traditional), infographic, and much, much more.

When strategizing on how to roll-out a new product, service or procedure, what I write could be construed as “words on paper,” but they form the recipe for driving the desired actions, ranging from educating to selling.

Just as a composer isn’t just a musician, I’m not just a writer. I’m an architect that sculpts using analogies to create mental pictures, short phrases to quickly move readers through a passage, or compound sentences to fuse disparate ideas. And sometimes, I break grammatical rules. Because writing is a reflection of one’s style. Not a hard science.

Every writer fanaticizes about the perfect editor who not only improves the quality of their work, but transforms them into better writers. I’ve had editors who’ve poured so much red ink over my work, I felt like I was parting the Red Sea in search of what I’d originally written. After recovering from the shock of my prose being drenched by a red pen, I delighted in the how the shrewd edits turned my “darn good” piece into a “masterpiece.”

Some people fancy themselves editors, going beyond looking for typos, grammar, and sentence structure. They make gratuitous changes, altering the meaning, and in many cases turning a succinct piece into overwritten dribble. A few years ago, a video script I wrote was revised. The resulting script ended up with 18% more words, 230% more passive sentences (going from 7% to 16%), and a drop in readability from 9thto 7th grade.

Worse. The opening, which was written to grab listeners’ attention, expanded from 59 words organized into four snappy sentences to 84 words broken into five paragraphs comprised of six lackluster sentences. No doubt the pseudo-editor felt the changes improved the script, but it also turned my 100% active sentences into 16% passive, and dropped the readability score two grade levels.

I was told, however, that “I’m just a writer,” and shouldn’t be so protective of my work. I should be gracious and happy when someone makes changes.

It’s not that I’m particularly protective of my work or adverse to critiques. I’m committed to writing marketing content that can help achieve the objective of educating or entertaining, influencing perceptions, driving behavioral change or encouraging activities. I don’t write for myself (except for my personal blogs). I write for clients, stakeholders, and companies. And, yes, I take pride in what I produce, extensively rewriting to improve the flow and meaning.

When someone takes a pen to my work, they have the potential to enhance, dilute or modify the intended cadence and meaning, subsequently, achieving or foregoing its objectives.

Consider what would happen if someone made changes to a legal brief, medical treatment plan, system diagnosis or user manual because they had access to the document and professed authority without the wisdom and restraint. Would the brief be enforceable? Would the patient get worse, and the system fail? How many people would toss the user manual because it no longer made sense?

Just a writer isn’t just a writer. They’re a lawyer, physician, analyst, novelist, journalist, screenwriters, marketer, researcher, educator, administrator, and many other professionals who depend on the writing to effectively document, communicate, and influence.

Consigning someone to “just a writer” because a percentage of their job is putting pen to paper (or keystrokes to computer) is an insult.

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One comment

  1. “For it would seem – her case proved it – that we write, not with the fingers, but with the whole person. The nerve which controls the pen winds itself about every fibre of our being, threads the heart, pierces the liver.”
    ― Virginia Woolf, Orlando

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