Finally, my writing is my work

If not here, where?

If not here, where?

Sometimes I feel like I’ve been writing forever and have little to show for it. And that’s mostly true. Three decades of professional writing, editing, and publishing have provided me with a plaque for my wall (which is stored in a box), a file of clippings and samples, and an unwavering commitment to the Oxford comma.

I’m not complaining. I’m happy with how my writing career unfolded. As a journalist, business, and technical writer, I’ve had opportunities to write in many different styles and situations, and meet and work with people from all over this country, and beyond this continent. As an instructor, editor, and mentor, I’ve helped new writers of all ages (including children, teens, and retirees) discover the joy of impacting others with words. I’m blessed to be able to say I’ve made a living doing what I love.

But that income has exclusively come from writing other people’s stories. Or helping them learn to write their own.

My writing…short stories and full manuscripts, some factual and others fictional…has always been an after hours activity. What I did during my time off. For the fun of it.

There was always the plan to publish my writing eventually. But I didn’t have much sense of urgency for it. I’ve been content to keep my writing on the side while I earned steady money writing for others. I would get serious about publishing later. When I was older. Someday.

The problem with putting my writing off until later was the risk someday would never arrive. The problem with putting it off for decades was finding myself middle-aged and unable to provide an adequate answer when asked “what have you written that I might have read?”

“Probably nothing” just wasn’t cutting it anymore.

For the past few years, as my illness forced a slow down, and then a full stop to my career of writing for others, my writing stayed right where it had always been…on the side. I’ve been focused on, actually obsessed with, getting back to work. Work, for me, continued to mean writing for others to provide me income.

Over the holidays I finally realized that my definition of work must change. Life has revised my plan and is waiting for me to notice.

I have two choices. I can continue to fight for the way I thought things would be at this time in my life. Or I can choose to see this new plan not as a limitation of what I previously wanted, but as a liberation. Freedom. Opportunity.

Joseph Campbell said “you must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.”

With that mantra I’m officially declaring that I have ceased writing for others (Janda Writing and Consulting is closed as of January 1, 2016) and I will be focusing solely on my own projects. I’ll continue with plans to mentor other writers and offer advice and instruction, but those will be on the side. My writing is now my primary work.

I’ll be revamping this website to reflect that change and, hopefully, this shift in focus will provide me more time to blog. My writing goals for 2016 include completIng the final revision of my current work in progress and readying it for publication, offering a couple of writing classes, and reviewing older manuscripts.

Someday starts today.

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How NOT to hire a great freelance writer

Some companies treat hiring a freelance writer like hiring an employee or a temp–drafting a list of must have traits and experience and then excluding any writer that doesn’t fit that mold. But a great freelance writer isn’t an employee or temp. They are a supplier. When you contract with a freelance writer, the content they provide is a product that you, for whatever reason, can’t or choose not to create in-house. You are outsourcing, which is a completely different and yet familiar business arrangement.

Contracting with a supplier doesn’t start with an interview. It starts with a meeting where you explain your content requirements and the writer describes how those needs will be met. The goal should be the development of a comfortable business relationship that is profitable to all participants.

As you conduct your search for a supplier to create the content you need, there are a few things you should NOT do if you want to hire a great freelance writer.

1. Insist that a writer is an expert in your field, industry, or product, or has previously written for your industry.

It sounds ideal doesn’t it? It seems logical that the best freelance writer to hire is someone who already knows everything about the subject. But a Subject Matter Expert (SME) isn’t the best choice for your freelance writing project.

Why? Because…

  • Being an expert in a subject, field, or industry, doesn’t make someone a great writer, a good writer, or even a passable writer.
  • You already have SMEs on staff.
  • An SME who does happen to be a decent writer may use jargon and may have trouble converting complicated processes or concepts into straightforward copy that readers can understand.

The best choice for your freelance writing project is an expert writer. An expert writer is a professional capable of conducting research, interviewing your SMEs, coordinating with your personnel to obtain feedback and approval on drafts and revisions, and delivering finalized content on time.

2. Decide in advance that you will only hire a freelance writer who is a journalist, or is not a journalist, or who has a particular degree, or specific industry experience.

You can find a lot of advice about hiring freelance writers and much of it is conflicting. One person may urge you to hire a former journalist because they have experience interviewing and researching and writing about topics they previously knew little or nothing about. But another warns against hiring a former journalist because they might be adversarial and focus on facts. This one says you can’t go wrong if you hire writers with a college degree in English, or Communications, or Marketing, while that one claims you should only hire writers with an advanced degree in a field for your industry or decades of industry work experience.

It’s possible to find a great freelance writer with any or many of those traits, but it’s bad advice to insist on a particular background and exclude in advance any writer that doesn’t have the desired title or certification. What’s more important is the ability of the freelance writer to produce good content on your timetable.

3. Expect to get all three points on the fast-cheap-good triangle.

Professional writing is like anything else your business buys.

  • If it’s fast and cheap it might be adequate but it won’t be good.
  • If it’s fast and good it won’t be cheap.
  • If it’s good and cheap, expect it to take a while.

Don’t waste time chasing the fast, cheap, good writer mirage. Budget for a professional, find a professional, and contract with a professional. Isn’t your business worth that?

To hire a great freelance writer, look for someone who is an expert in the field of writing–someone with a demonstrated ability to organize, research, interview, and write well, and with a history of meeting deadlines. Don’t make a sometimes difficult process worse by refusing to consider a writer who could be exactly what you need.

 

Listen Up

In my former life as a writing instructor and coach there was a homework assignment that I gave students to help them create more authentic dialogue scenes. Students were required to spend 15 minutes in a public place such as the local college campus, mall, or park, and listen for snippets of conversations from people passing by them.

At this point someone in the class would start snickering because we’ve all done this. We’ve all caught parts of conversations and repeated them later to family or friends or played them over in our minds wondering what came before and after what we’d heard.

Writing students easily guessed the second part of the assignment. Fiction writers were supposed to create a story around the dialogue they overheard. Creative Nonfiction writers and Journalists were supposed to present what they heard in its actual context, setting the scene for the reader and often adding commentary on its meaning and relevance.

But writing what we imagine or surmise is not the purpose of the exercise. Listening is.

Listening is a critical skill for writing well.

This is not only true for fiction writers, creative nonfiction writers, and journalists, but also for business and technical writers. After writing dozens of procedures, instructions, manuals, or training presentations, technical writers can make the common mistake of thinking that they are the expert and that the client or committee of co-workers should be doing the listening as the professional writer explains what they need. Instead, the professional writer’s first task is to listen to what the client or committee is saying.

Only by listening can the writer be certain of what to write, how to write it, and who they are writing it for. Only by listening can the writer discover what questions to ask to fine tune the request. The knowledge gathered by listening and asking is essential for producing the content that the reader needs and wants.

Listen first. Ask questions later. Write only when you’re sure of what you know.