I am a writer.
That’s actually really hard for me to type out, especially on a day like today, but I guess it’s relatively true. Last year the CEO of a creative agency discovered this modest talent of mine and put it to work. Oddly enough, my talent with the written word also shown a light on my abilities as a brand strategist. I won’t bore you with details of either position but I will say that I was very simply hired, from then on, to work as a freelance copywriter and brand strategist with their organization.
I’ve been writing since I was a child, which is sometimes surprising to me. When I was in school, I excelled at mathematics. Despite loving to read, I almost never read the books asked of me in school. I was terrible with grammar and spelling and I loved run-on thoughts so, naturally, I assumed English wasn’t for me. I focused on pushing myself in my accelerated math classes and never looked back (well, of course, until now).
In the last handful of years, my memory has deteriorated. My family likes to share stories of rebellious moments in my youth or funny adventures we shared and I never remember any of them. Like those memories, I feel like every math formula I ever learned has gone and left me. Countless, sometimes tear-drenched hours of math study right down the tube. But you know what memory hasn’t ever left me? The memory of writing my first story.
I was in 6th grade when my teacher asked us to write a descriptive fictional piece. To this day, I can smell the candles lit on the fireplace mantel and feel the red velvet fabric of the drapes decorating the study. My story was a murder mystery with every moment absorbed by the description of random, sitting objects and how it played into the tragic events of that murderous evening.
When I turned my story into my teacher (name, forgotten), she was so taken aback by it that she pulled me from another class just to read it aloud to a group of 8th grade students. At 32 years of age, that would be an accomplishment to text home about but at 11 years old, I was mortified. The look in each of those threatening 8th graders’ eyes was a miserable reminder that I was not only unpopular but now sorely disliked. If I had as much as an inkling that I enjoyed writing, it dissipated in that one single moment.
Fast forward a few decades. Now I write for a living and, like everything else in my life, I have dumped a lot of passion, research and straight up work behind it. Before getting paid to write pieces, I wrote everywhere. In magazines from the seat-back pockets on planes, on coasters left behind in restaurants across the country, in notebooks I carried around in my purse and on several blog-styled websites. I used to grab a seat at bars packed with guests on a Friday night, just a hardback notebook and pencil in hand. I loved letting my mind explore the chaos around me, picking and pulling ideas and narratives from the cast of players at my disposal. My writings were imaginative though unfocused –but they were my expressions with only myself to play judge. Now, I submit pieces that are immediately scrutinized, and will go on being scrutinized until the project is complete.
Here, think of when you were six and you crafted a drawing for mom and dad. Think about getting home and happily pulling it out of your backpack, raising it up to display thick red lines and yellow squiggles. Then think about your parents grabbing the paper from your hands and telling you everything that was wrong with it. Anyone doing anything in a creative field (graphic design, advertising, writing, etc.) will tell you, this is always and forever how it feels to have someone critique a piece of your work. Our type of work comes straight from the heart and the talent of our own hand and imagination.
This all being said, I can deal with that. I can. It sucks. It’s hard. It even hurts sometimes, but its work. It’s business. You live, you learn or you deal. I can do that. I’m strong enough for that. But what if I added, now mom and dad tell you that the image you drew of mom walking the family dog was really an octopus riding a donkey. You’d be like “Wait, what? No. Excuse me, no. No, that’s mom. I mean, maybe mom doesn’t look EXACTLY like that, but that’s mom. I can do some work to make it look even more like mom, but that’s mom. Plain and simple.” Except it’s not. They aren’t backing down. It’s an octopus and they don’t want an octopus riding a donkey on the fridge. “Go back and draw another picture of mom,” they say. “And this time, make sure it looks like mom.” Like….whhhaaaaaat? I did this a few times. I did this song and dance with folks over their idea of a concept and mine, formulated through the study of business dynamics. In the end, they are paying me to do work and the client should leave happy but also, it should be correct and do right by your business. Right? I mean, if you decide you have a wholly different definition and view of mom (or octopuses, for that matter) than what can be found in, say, a dictionary or a photo album, that doesn’t make it the right version. Right?
My mother-in-law said something to me a few weeks ago that has been reverberating through my mind ever since. She said “you cannot force someone to have integrity. You can only have integrity yourself.” That’s true. Too true. Frustratingly true. I know that. I am seeking to honor that statement but I find it a difficult concept for me to grasp, knowing full well that it would assist me in being able move forward in my day, my project and probably my position. I put a lot of work into what I do. I am constantly researching business and topics that resonate within my field, stretching my knowledge with each word. So why should I not expect that of others? If I put countless hours into the continuation of my studies, pushing to do and be better and to deliver more, why must I then except being devalued by someone who knows less? It is infuriating. Obviously.
Well, Charlie, self-righteous much? Totally. Though I have played the backup singer for a while now. It was actually my little sister who recently reminded me that value, especially for women, comes from demanding you be valued. So, I have. I am. Or, at least, I’m trying. To feel like I can demand I be treated with value though, means I also need to add to my value. Now, I cannot just suggest where I see flaws in the design, I can cite them with tangible examples. But to what point? And at what price? But more on that next time. Right now, I need to find my grit, push past the pain and draw mom and dad a pretty picture.