You’d think I’d know what I want in a writing career after spending some ten years of cutting my teeth in wordsmithery. Ha. Ha ha. Hahahaha.
What happened instead is me flitting from one possibility to another, not really committing to an actual path. Do I want to pursue fiction? Or freelance writing? Am I looking to be an editor? Or remain a writer?
I don’t know.
But what I do know is that the past always triggers a sense of longing, no matter how terrible the experience, and boy did my writing career feel like the wrong call sometimes.
The upsides more than made up for it though, so join me in reminiscing the things I miss from being a nine-to-five writer.
1. You’re protected from major blunders
During my time in the aviation industry, we weren’t allowed to use words like ‘drown’ or ‘crash’, so you always had to reword terms like ‘crash the party’, or ‘drown your sorrows’.
Though it’s natural to sometimes forget about these limitations. You know how we lessen those mistakes? We don’t. It just happens naturally thanks to the hierarchical structure.
In a proper publishing house, your work will first go through a sub-editor to make sure there’s no typos, and that everything adheres to the house style. Then it’s up to the next level of editors before it reaches the final shot caller, most often the editor-in-chief.
And if that isn’t enough, it’s all hands on deck for proofreading before the magazine or publication goes to print.
So even if you were to send in a piece with a huge oversight, you’d have so many other pairs of eyes to help you catch it before your story reaches the public.
Even if something were to happen, it’s the editor-in-chief’s burden to bear. So yeah, I sure do miss having people look over my work.
2. Your team can make the impossible possible
You know this favourite assignment of mine about the mud pit wrestlers of India? To be honest, I had my doubts when I first mentioned it in our monthly meeting.
But my art director said it’d be a visually stunning piece, and my fellow writer had a contact in India, plus the photographer also had ideas on how to best present the story.
Even though I had the insights of a martial artist, I doubt the trip would’ve happened had my team not pitched in.
Imagine me covering a similar story today. I’d have no idea where to even begin. And that’s why I miss having a group of diversely skilled people around me.
3. You get to bitch to somebody that gets you
Do you always misspell ‘Philippines’? How about ‘broccoli’? And ‘gauge’? I still misplace the double-letters no matter how many times I look them up. And I get paid to do this.
I used to have cubicle neighbours who understood my plight. All I needed to do was roll my chair backwards and ask them if they knew how to spell a word. And that was much more satisfying than simply googling the answer.
Then there were the puns we used to bounce back and forth. That and spontaneous knock-knock jokes. I try to do the same thing with my dog today but she makes for a terrible audience.
Boy do I miss annoying people with my puns.
4. It feels great to be a team player
Spend enough time with the same people and you start to develop your own code. Sentences like ‘I’ll get you the Holi thingie after I come back from colour sep’ makes more sense among colleagues than they would with your dog, for example.
There’s also the few days in a month where everybody stays back till midnight without being asked, because we know it’s crunch time.
I’ve never been one for team games, but boy does teamwork feel sweet, especially when plans just come together.
5. You don’t need to wring your brain for story ideas
Sometimes the stories come to you instead of the other way round. An example being my time as a stringer for the local newspapers.
Never once did I have to pitch a story to my editor, because she was the one on the receiving end for media coverage on this product, or that personality, or a certain event.
All I needed to do was listen to the brief and be there to cover the story. And they always assigned me a photographer, so I didn’t need to worry about the visual presentation as much.
Yup, I definitely do miss being able to just focus on the writing.
There are benefits to flying solo too
It’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to striking out on your own though. As someone who’s had the privilege to try the many different arrangements within the publishing industry, I can say that they all have their pros and cons.
Here are some pros to working on your own.
i. No gatekeepers to hold you down
Sometimes it doesn’t matter if your story’s awesome, because the people in charge might hate it. Heck, even your colleagues might talk you out of it.
But when you’re on your own, you get to call the shots. Want to analyse all chess games played before the 18th century? Go ahead. Think you can make ultra-running exciting on paper? You do you.
One thing you’ll learn is that the market is a much more reliable indicator of your niche or story, rather than the approval of one person in the right seat.
ii. You get to be you
Remember what I said about companies banning certain words? They also do the same for your choice of topics. For instance, some publishing houses only print political topics from a certain angle.
Well you’re free from that as a solo writer. You can write whatever you want, whenever you want.
Want to be known as the guy who reviews chess games prior to the 18th century? You can. Want to repeat examples because you’re totally out of ideas since you don’t have a team behind you? You can too.
iii. You get to choose your clients
Provided you’re not living hand-to-mouth, you can very well pick the exact niche you want to be in, and that can be a very empowering way to go about your writing career.
Interested in travel writing? You can reach out to hotels and tour companies. Want to write book reviews? You can look at authors and bookstores instead.
And once you reach a certain level, you can even decide which jobs you take on, and which you don’t. How cool is that?
So which path should you take?
How do you approach a writing career? Do you take a chance with your own digital presence and go freelance? Or do you earn your stripes by climbing the publishing ladder?
If it were up to me, I’d tell you to try all the paths, especially if you’re serious about writing for a living. This is so that you’ll have a wider base to build your career upon.
Of course, don’t force yourself to join a finance publication if that topic bores you, but even then, you could learn a thing or two from writing what you hate.
However, what matters more is that you stop and smell the roses every once in a while, because if I’m going to be honest with you, writing this piece is making me wish I could go back and relive the old jobs that I took for granted.
Even the ones I hated.
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