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Business? Creative? It’s All Writing.

 

Early in my career as a creative writer, my attitude toward business writing changed. What I realized was this:  Business writing and creative writing are so similar, they are often the same thing. This realization helped me (and will help you) make more money doing what you love (which, if you’re reading this, is to write).

Because writing skills are so transferrable, you can use them in practically any genre of writing—whether that be science fiction, creative non-fiction (CNF) or even business writing. What does this mean for you? It means that if you’re a creative writer, you can easily pick up a few business writing tasks and find a steady side income.

Transferring your skills is easier than you think—I’ve done it myself, and the payoff is not only in additional money, but in better writing skills. To help explain, here are some of the ways business and creative writing are one and the same.

Business documents are a form of creative writing

Think of a business letter sent to customers to describe a rate increase. If you’ve ever received a letter like this, you’ll know it’s bad news—at least for you, the customer. Even so, messages like this are necessary. Businesses need business writers that can creatively angle their messages to make them fit their needs.

This seemingly basic concept applies to all sorts of business writing—whether that is writing a letter that contains negative information in a more positive manner or convincing top executives to provide funding for a grassroots campaign.

The bottom line is this: business documents are written to convey a specific meaning. They elicit certain emotions, feelings and thoughts—just like creative writing.

And no, business documents aren’t written to hide the truth, and neither are stories. As a skilled author, you’ll take creative license to convey the necessary message. Enter the mind of the creative writer—thoughts like “Is this the best word to use here?” and “What is this sentence really saying, and is it what I mean?” are key questions not only in business writing, but also creative writing. Honing the skills to answer these questions in either genre (let’s call business writing a genre, since in a way, it is) will help the other.

Knowing your audience applies in business and creative writing

The concept of knowing your audience is important in business writing. For example, companies spend lots of money paying proposal writers to write documents that are specifically targeted to their intended audience. A strong understanding of audience is also required for creative writing.  In both forms of writing, one of your thoughts while drafting a piece should be “Who is my ideal reader? What does this reader look like, what do they think like?” Having this image of your target reader in your mind will help you draft a stronger piece that is more in-tune with your intended audience, whether your writing is for business proposal or a short story.

Asking the right questions to know your audience will help you leap outside of your comfort zone and target a broader readership, which can be a great skill in both business and creative writing. If you’ve already mastered this skill for one form of writing, you can easily use it in another form.

Researching is applicable to all genres

Whenever I begin writing a business document, I inevitably do research. It’s a good average to say that for every page, I do at least one hour of research. But the same can be said of research when you’re writing creatively—whether that is fiction or CNF. Even if you’re drawing from experience, you need to know background, details, settings and other facts that create the backbone of a good story and unite it as a cohesive entity.

It is the same for business writing. You must know the background and the details, even if they’re not explicit in your writing, just so you can angle the writing correctly to make it truthful and believable.

Paying attention to grammar and spelling

Lastly, every writer’s favorite: grammar and spelling. For both business and creative writing, your grammar and spelling skills must be up-to-par. You’ll need to make sure your creative writing is top notch, because a piece is more likely to be rejected if it’s not polished. Some agents won’t even look at a piece if they come across too many errors.

In business writing, it’s much the same—spelling or grammatical errors, even if all the facts are solid, will lose you credibility, which comes at a high cost. The outcome could be that employees don’t read your manuals and have trouble learning a new system, or it could be that top executives don’t bid on your proposal, and your client loses funding.

So take a chance!

As you can see, learning the ins and outs of one form of writing can open the doors to other forms, allowing you to expand your repertoire as a writer and make more money. It worked for me, and many other writers I know. Although I had always written creative short stories, I didn’t have much luck with publication until I obtained a full-time job as a technical writer and began working part-time as a freelancer. Solidifying my skills in business writing grew my skills in creative writing, and I began publishing my work.

So take a chance and try something new. You may surprise yourself with how transferrable your writing skills are. Business? Creative? No matter—it is just writing, after all.

Me, and Angelina Jolie

About a week ago, the left side of my face went totally numb. Actually, that’s a lie. I could feel everything–my son poked my cheek, eye, and forehead to test this–but I couldn’t move it a bit. Unless you count manually blinking your eyelid using your fingers. What’s a grown woman with a career, a child, and her own house to do? That’s right. I called my mom. I said, “It’s happening again.” She laughed, and made me take a selfie.

The last time it was the right side of my face, and it was when I was eight months pregnant with my son. I had gained so much water weight that the nerves in my face were compressed, causing Bells Palsy. Here it was, once more, only this time I wasn’t pregnant and I hadn’t gained weight.

It’s probably the one thing Angelina Jolie and I have in common: Bell’s Palsy. Well, that and a love for trying to save the world. And although I haven’t been able to track down a photo of Jolie with a drooping face, I’m sure she wore it better than me. When she shares her photo, I’ll share mine (trust me. it’s not flattering).

So after scaring everyone at work (they thought I was having a stroke), I went to the doctor’s office. Boy, was that a treat. Since it’s relatively rare, many of the staff had never seen the condition. I was a novelty, and (after asking me for permission, of course) the staff members came to see my face. My primary care doctor, who remembered me from when I was pregnant, joked, “Most of the time, it goes away. Like last time. But if it doesn’t you can always join the circus!”

Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind.

“What causes this?” I asked, and, to save the crumbs of my dignity, I reminded her that I was quite a bit lighter than when I was pregnant.

The answer: they don’t really know, but there are a few common factors. After ruling them out, she suggested Lyme disease.

“But I haven’t been bitten by any ticks!” I said, not convinced it was Lyme.

“Maybe, maybe not. But we’re going to treat you with an antibiotic, just in case. Then again… hmmm…it could be stressed induced. Your blood pressure is up to pre-hypertension levels, and looking at your records, that’s far from normal.”

Stress. I could hear the arch-angels singing in my head.

“Stress! How?” I said, desperate to prevent this from happening again. (If you don’t understand why I was desperate, please google images of people with Bell’s Palsy. It’s not fun grocery shopping when you look like Igor).

“It lowers your immune system, makes you susceptible to viral infections and crazy side effects that wouldn’t happen if your system was on-par. So, voila. Bell’s palsy.”

And there it was, my eye-opener.

These past few months I’ve been dealing with a corporate position that’s taken its toll for a number of reasons, including the following:

  • Limited time to take on new freelance and writing work
  • Mass corporate layoffs of 10% of staff (1,500 employees)
  • Negative impacts on my personal life (I’ll post about this later!)
  • Increasingly limited agency over my own work

I’ve always thought I dealt well with stress. And perhaps, on the outside (ha! ha!), I did. But internally, I am suffocating myself for the likes of a position with a company that may potentially be going under. Bottom line? It took the physical manifestation of my stress to  (literally) hit me in the face before I realized that I am not okay with my current situation, and changes must be made.

Thank you, peripheral nervous system, for the very rude wake-up call.

How (My) Stories are Born

I’m sitting in my bathroom, thinking. It’s where I happen to do a lot of my thinking. Maybe not the best, but a lot all the same. Living with a full household (partner, young son, and 6 rescued animals) doesn’t provide much in the aims of privacy. You’d better think fast (impossible) or you’d better find a place that lets you take the time. So far, there are two places that allow me to do this: the bathroom, and pretending to be asleep in bed. It’s noon, so bathroom it is. I even brought my pen and paper.

So here I am, and the topic of the day is: mallard ducks. You see, someone told me a golden nugget of a story over dinner, and I haven’t been able to get over the idea in my head. One day, this person was in their bathroom (fancy that!) taking care of business (probably not thinking much at all) and their fancy feline friend (aka kitty) pushed open the bathroom door and came waltzing in.

Kitty was carrying a full-sized mallard duck. The person gave a shout, grabbed the duck amid much fantastic flapping, and shoved it through the window, where it promptly coasted to the ground and waddled away, quacking its reproach.

At the time, I listened to the story and laughed, snorting some water through my nose but catching it just in time with a napkin. But now, in the semi-quiet of my bathroom (oh God, my son is calling for me, I better hurry up) this idea that has taken hold and grown over the days blossoms into something more.

How would your typical, household cat catch a mallard duck, let alone drag it into the house? Unless the cat was huge, massive, or super-strong. SuperKitty. Or unless the mallard duck didn’t really mind being taken by the neck by a diluted household predator, was content to go along for the ride. Unless…

So as I sit, I’m thinking of this story and answering these questions. I jot them down in chicken-scratch scribble, because I’m trying to hurry, and they grow from there. From simple answers, to scenes, descriptions, characters…

And that is how my stories are born.

Struggles of a Freelance Writer

I’m sitting here in my yoga pants at 8:49 a.m. this morning, and am totally considering ripping my hair out.

As if that would help. I’d only be bald and stressed.

You see, I’m at a strange place in my writing career. I work full time and go to school as an MFA student full time, and I’m also taking in freelance writing work on the side of both these gigs. That doesn’t leave me with very much time to do anything else. Hence, the status of my poor, sad, in-need-of-work website.

But the freelance work is out there. It’s calling to me. Just yesterday I got a call from a client based in Ohio, looking for editing and writing assistance with RFPs. Did I want to take this project on? Well yeah–what a great opportunity with a high-profile client. Could I take this on? Well… sure, if I wanted to never, ever sleep. Ever. What’s a freelance writer to do?

In times like these, I turn to my best friend Google for a nice, long chat. So this morning, after getting my six-year-old on the bus, I sat down to see what Google has to say about this whole freelance writing thing and that great escape artist, TIME.

The results were encouraging, but barely. Many blog posts and websites strongly encouraged writers to up-and-leave their 9-5 positions to take on freelancing, if that was where the heart lies. That’s great, but there are problems with this for some people, me being one of them. So I decided to make a list of my objections to leaving my full time job, and then think about what they really mean. I came up with two main problems:

  1. I’m a single parent with a mortgage and a house full of stray animals. I need to support all this, and while freelancing can certainly do that for me, it’s risky.
  2. My full-time job provides health insurance, which I need for my child and me. I can’t raise him if I’m not healthy, right?

After writing these down, lighting some candles, and doing some yoga, I’m back at the computer.

Item #1 is most certainly the result of fear. I’m afraid of the risk, I’m afraid of the uncertainty that will come with giving up a position that’s provided stability (and good money!) for so long (even if it is slowly sucking the life out of me because it is so corporatized). I have a fantastic support group that I could rely on, should I be in desperate, desperate need. But things have always found a way of working out in my favor in the past. I can work through my fear.

Then we come to item #2. This is a valid concern… the world, as we know it, is in shambles, for a multitude of reasons, healthcare being one. Healthcare and the surrounding debate is being used as a political tool, rather than being seen as a valid, necessary aspect of life. Rather than a right, healthcare in the United States is a business, a for-profit endeavor that allows others to make money off of someone else’s illness. There’s so much wrong with this, but I’ll save that for another post. What it amounts to is this: my concern about being able to care for me or my son is valid, but if I step back, the picture is bigger: my insurance through my company right now is not a given. My company just fired our CEO and CFO, so there’s doubt as to which direction the business will go in next. The take away here: nothing is guaranteed.

After yoga, after thinking through my concerns a little bit, I’m starting to realize that I need to take the plunge. For my sanity, for my sense of well-being, I need to pursue my expanding freelance business.

Wow. I wrote it. That’s scary.

But here goes. I’ll start the preparations, and I’ll keep you in the loop as I venture into the world of full-time freelance work.

Namaste!