Blogger in Residence, Aidan Bennett, discusses the significant difference that being a paid writer makes to your output and strategy.
Being a paid writer, as in one who writes for pay and not royalties, can be hard work. Copywriters, freelance writers, ghost writers and online writers, all have one main concern, brand management, the need to add in some way to the public’s perception of a brand, a product, a service, or an individual. As soon as you are paid by someone to write to their specifications, outside academia, grants or book advances, something suffers, your integrity. Your voice, that nascent germ of a good idea, that inspiration which spurns you on, is beaten down daily, mostly by brand management concerns and the necessity of keeping up appearances, impression management, and the need to keep all clients happy. To some paid writers, boundaries can be a preferable option, because they make the job easier in many instances. Boundaries remove the thought processes, the tangents and leave in their place a script, a set of instructions akin to an Ikea manual; indecipherable, always missing something crucial, but in the end, sufficient in constructing flat packed shelves.
We paid writers catch a lot of flak from those in the know, those who critique, namely academics and pursuits. A good copywriter acknowledges the typical criticisms and knows that it’s best not to hold a website’s About Us page up against the literary canon. As the saying goes, ‘Those who can do; those who can’t teach’. Most of us don’t even teach. We record and parrot back, but with a slick spin, marketing tactics designed to sell products and services, as such we incur the wrath of the academics and pursuits; we are taken to be the crude hired hands, the people who work away at turning the English language into monosyllabic grunts.
I’m far from feeling any pangs of guilt for contributing to the mass of advertisement and marketing materials already in the world and to the degradation of language. I’m not sure to what extent we hired hands should most probably legitimately feel guilt. We will always be a part of the fabric of literature, and increasingly more so in the modern age. We will continue to market and advertise goods, we will continue to sell insurances, televisions and microwaves, and we will continue to increase in number. Hell, we will even continue to use Twitter, to reduce everything down to a hundred and forty characters. Paradoxically we will continue to flourish, in doing our part to decrease attention spans, mining away at that which is integral to our work, until all that is left is one sentence adverts, constantly thrown out at people from all sides and angles.
Aside from catching flak, when you write for money, you quickly find yourself chasing clients, hoping to work your way up the food chain, hoping to land the client with the biggest pockets. If it’s your day job and you’re not simply moonlighting, you feel the wind against your back more so, the pressing need to move from pay cheque to pay cheque. You become a salesperson, a consultant, a professional, and in the eyes of some an expert. This, along with the rigmarole of coffee meetings, conference calls, conferences, industry events pertinent to whichever industry you may be writing about and the general maintenance of a professional image leaves little time for fiction, for imaginative works. You still have those moments, those pauses in your morning routine or hours in which you can’t sleep, when you’re hit by inspiration, but something usually eludes you, the time necessary to cultivate sparks of inspiration and ideas into something worthwhile.
There are always the holiday periods, the quiet periods, but depending on your age and circumstances, you’re liable to be taking your children to a family gathering over these periods, or chasing your next client in order to put food on the table. Those long hours necessary to wrestle a truly creative, free flowing piece of work run ahead of you, taunting you as you work out how to sell goods and services to specified demographics.
In the end though, any and all work experience is good; if nothing else myself and other paid writers can always take an extended break, try to be like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Salman Rushdie, try to move from paid writer, to legitimate, successful author.
Aidan Bennett is a local writer who runs, along with Krishan Caldwell, The Canberra Entrepreneur, an online platform profiling entrepreneurship and innovation in the ACT region. Aidan also works for the CBR Innovation Network, as a Marketing and Administration Coordinator. Both Krishan and Aidan are also Co-founders of a company, Start-Up Bloq Pty Ltd, which aims to get Australian schoolchildren involved in entrepreneurship and innovation. Aidan also works as a freelance copywriter. Recent notable achievements include interviewing the ACT Chief Minister, Andrew Barr MLA, about entrepreneurship and innovation in the ACT region.