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Writers Get No Respect

I’m writing a book. You’re writing a book, too? Why am I not surprised? It seems that everyone and their uncle has written, is writing, or wants to write a book.

I’m writing a book. You’re writing a book, too? Why am I not surprised? It seems that everyone and their uncle has written, is writing, or wants to write a book. I say good luck to all of you. Now that I’ve been at it for a while I understand how hard it really is to do. I’ll hazard a guess that most writer-wannabes will never get farther than, “It was a dark and stormy night,” even though they could, if they could just find the time.

I’ve worked with words my entire adult life. As a marketing person I’ve written all kinds of things: web pages, brochures, white papers and press releases. I’ve compressed countless pages of copy into PowerPoint presentations and oodles of sprawling questions into tightly-knit FAQs. I’ve edited technical manuals and books. Why, back in the day, I even wrote copy for print ads (remember when software was advertised in magazines?). These activities never seemed to increase my cachet with upper management though. Why? My observation is that business people (in high tech) don’t view the ability to write as a talent. At best it’s a commodity service. After all, they can write. They could have done that ad, press release, brochure, what-have-you, if they had to. You learn how to write at a young age, there’s really nothing to it.

I contend that visual artists don’t have this problem. Most of us readily acknowledge our artistic limitations. I would never claim that my ability to draw a stick figure puts me in the same league as Picasso (although some of his stuff is downright childish). If your special talent involves drawing, painting, or designing with Illustrator you’re probably consistently praised for your work. I always found it particularly galling when I’d present a finished piece, something that incorporated my copy and the designer’s artwork, to the boss who would look it over and say, “Looks good.” Looks good? Did you read any of the words?

If they did read the piece at some point in the process it was inevitable that they would spend time re-writing it. These were important people with lots of important things to do who still, apparently, had time to spare to do a quick rewrite. On one memorable occasion, I used the word ‘massive’ in a press release. The CEO and I went round and round in an email exchange arguing the relative merits of that word. I finally wrote, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Massive is the word I want to use there.” His response, “Oh, okay.” He just liked to dust it up with the writer – because he could.

Software developers never have this problem. One thing that high tech business honchos know is that they don’t know how to write code. I should have listened to my mother and learned how to program. Then if I said, “I’m writing a software program,” the response would be, “Yeah? How about those Red Sox?”

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