Friday, April 2, 2010

7 Things a Marketing Agency Taught Me About Writing Fiction

I used to draw a hard line in the sand between my day job – a copywriter for a marketing agency – and my fiction writing. I don’t know why. They both require creativity, focus, and craft, but it took me a while to see that they really do complement one another. Here’s a list of what I’ve learned so far:

1. Don't wait for inspiration. I show up; I write. Period. Sometimes I feel like it, and sometimes I don’t. I can’t imagine telling my bosses or a client that the muse didn’t visit me that day. Whether the creative spirit is hovering over my keyboard or not, my job is to show up and do the best I can do. Frankly, this mindset was the only way I managed to finish the first draft of my mystery.

2. Sometimes the best thing to happen to your writing is to have someone say they don’t like it. It’s frustrating, but you learn to kill your darlings quickly in the marketing world. If it doesn’t hit, it doesn’t hit. Trying to figure out what went wrong and then doing redoing it can make for a much stronger end result.

3. Don’t take it personally. This is a tough one, because my words are an extension of my talent and myself, but a critique is not about my talent and it’s not a reflection on my personality. It’s feedback about words. I have a whole lot more. They can be changed, usually for the better.

4. Make every word count. People don’t read marketing materials – they scan them (if you are lucky). If I’m writing copy for a tradeshow booth, I have three seconds to catch an attendee’s eye. For a banner ad it might be even less. Every word I write has to pull its weight, and the same goes for the novel. In my mystery, I had a lovely chapter where the heroine and her romantic interest go on a date. It was quirky, human, and I was happy with it. But nothing happened. It didn’t advance the plot, and I’m not writing a romance. So out it goes.

5. Don’t miss deadlines. Just don’t.

6. Writing and editing are not the same craft; both require work. This was a revelation to me. When writing, I have to turn off the Inner Editor, or I get incredibly blocked and nothing gets on the page. I look for different ways to play with words and images, characters and storylines. Yet when I’m editing, it’s the opposite. I hack and slash until a body count of listless scenes, useless characters, and terrifying plot holes litter the landscape. There’s a reason people edit with a red pen.

7. Never assume. In our agency, I’m usually the last line of defense before something is published on the Web or hits the printer. That alone strikes enough fear into me to be detail-oriented. It pays off in other writing as well. Never assume someone will “clean up” your writing if you know it isn’t good enough. Put the best you possibly can out there.

So what about you? What in your day job has helped you in your creative pursuits?

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