Last summer, a friend of mine who writes across genres asked me how my writing life was. I told him, Great! I'm writing every day and getting paid for it! Which is still true, and which I'm still extremely excited to be doing.
Then he asked me, but are you doing any real writing? I had to pause because I didn't actually know what he meant. You know, he said, creative writing (fiction, poetry, etc.)?
It never occurred to me to designate writing in this way.
I don't begrudge my friend. He is a teacher who also has to write daily, but it is reports, etc. He probably imagines that all people who write as part of their day-to-day jobs must feel exhausted by the tedious nature of the writing that's required of them.
Writing is writing: What's the difference?
As a medical writer, blogger, and commentator, nothing could be further from the truth for me.
I wake up every day feeling like I get to do what I do, not that I have to do what I do.
How awesome is that? Who else can say this about their writing lives?
There can be joy and pleasure and satisfaction taken from the pursuit of deliberate, informative, paid writing, too.
I have daily opportunities to write about useful topics and enjoy generous latitude doing it.
My clients are, for the most part, physicians or clinic managers. They don't have any desire to tinker with the work of a writer handling their "content" (marketing code word for "nonfiction writing published on the web"). As long as what I write is accurate and meets their directives (to educate patients, highlight their expertise, and open up a dialog with readers), they are pretty happy.
Which makes me very happy. As a journalist, I know it could be so much worse.
I could be working for a micromanaging client, or a strict editor who rewrites everything. These are more in line with the reality of contract writing situations.
Anyway... I'm getting paid. Paid to do something I love, while helping other people with their problems. What's not to love about that?
When is the work of writing not real?
So when is this not real writing? Likewise, poets, novelists, short story writers, essayists absolutely do real writing (I still occasionally dip my toe in this pond, but never as much as I would like). Many of them are compensated. Getting paid for writing, regardless the genre doesn't make it less real. In a lot of ways, it makes it more real.
How many days have I woken up with two or three posts looming on the schedule, which I hope will take just six hours to complete, but sometimes takes much longer?
Those posts also demand the work of keyword optimization, formatting, linking, and images... tasks I'm also required to perform.
This reality adds layers to my creative thought process: how do I make these words and images work double, even triple time?
It's not like I always have a deep knowledge on the subjects I write about. Typically I have a starting place in my mind based on experience or prior knowledge, but often I do not, so there is research in the front end that has to take place as well.
Being able to squeeze out three 1000-word (on average) blog posts, given these conditions, in eight hours or less is actually pretty hard for most writers to do.
Not to pat myself on the back, but I know some pretty well-paid freelance writers who could not do what I do: they would require a full day just to do one of these posts, without having to tend to the production tasks that follow.
If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck....
When the day is done, and the work has left my laptop for a blog platform out in the world, I do not feel like it is not real work that I spent my time doing all day long.
My wrists are tired (thank you, arthritis!), my brain is tired (thank you, multiple sclerosis!), and my back and neck are tired (thank you, bad posture!).
How are these also not tangible evidence of having done real work?
And make no mistake: the writing I do is absolutely creative in every sense of the word. Creativity, after all, is just another word for problem solving.
I don't think less of my poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction work these days because I don't get paid for some of it. I still love these forms and occasionally take time and space to work at them. I certainly don't think creative writing is less real than my day-to-day work as a writer. But I do think it's not helpful for us, as writers, to make these distinctions. Writing is writing.
No matter what genre you're working inside, it's all real: it still demands real effort and real creativity, regardless how or whether you're compensated for it.