Creativity Versus Salability

Disney has produced some truly wonderful material over its decades of operation. Even so, after hearing and watching film after film, I can’t help but notice that Disney tends not to move away from general plots. For example, in the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Quasimodo dreams about leaving the confines of his church and being free to do bigger and better things. In Aladdin, Aladdin dreams about leaving behind the thief’s life for bigger and better things. In Hercules, Hercules asserts that, even though everyone else has quit or failed before, he will “go the distance”, become a hero and….you guessed it, go on to bigger and better things.

Now, I’m not knocking Disney alone here. A lack of truly new content is a problem just about everywhere writing appears–even reality TV is crafted around roughly the same ideas.

Why?

An easy answer is just that we aren’t very creative anymore, or that we’re just plain lazy. I don’t think this is the entire story, though. I think it very well could be linked more to money. When a producer is putting down millions of dollars to create a script or film, for instance, he wants to reduce his risks on the investment. One way of doing that is falling back on something that has proven itself before.

Any number of plots or characters might stimulate particular emotional responses in an audience. But as writers, we have to find the balance between what is new and what has been branded as salable. That is no easy feat.

The Editor’s Role

Editors have a bad rap. In the writing world, they’re often the stinky cheese in the refrigerator of fairness and creativity. But why?

During the editing process, it’s the editor’s job to tweak content in multiple ways. He first checks that everything is relevant to the topic and that the flow of the content makes sense. Then he starts making cuts or additions, trying to improve the amount of information or make the content more real to the reader. The final step is to check that everything is okay in terms of grammar, spelling and formatting. These steps often drastically improve a draft.

The trouble is, a writer takes writing personally. He gets attached to his creations, viewing them as little children who grow, develop and finally make their way into the world. When an editor starts fiddling with the content, the writer’s initial reaction is to wince rather than give thanks. It’s as if the editor is telling him he’s been a bad parent, as if all his careful effort still created one penny short of a dollar.

So the writer does what is natural. He shifts blame from himself to the editor, because it is only then that he can keep his self-developed illusion about his own mastery of his craft. The editor becomes the villain, and in the worst case scenario, the writer can’t help but argue with the editorial decisions as a means of defending his own ego.

The reality is, editors aren’t out for blood. They don’t purposely look for things to pick apart, and they certainly don’t like arguing with the writers with whom they work. They’d give their left kidney for a pool of clients who truly realized how much they want the writers to succeed.

So what does this mean for a writer? It means that, to really get good, collaborative effort going, to hone a text to the finest it can ever be, there has to be at least a little emotional distance from the writing so the editor doesn’t become the enemy. It is this distance that keeps the writer’s mind open to new possibilities, that lets him rationalize about what to do next and what writing path ultimately is best.

 

Has Facebook Created a World of Writers?

I’ll admit it. I’m a Facebook junkie. I usually have the site up and running in my browser as I’m working, and I check it pretty regularly on breaks. Although I don’t pay too much heed to the seemingly endless rope of changes Facebook initiates, I do pay attention to my friends’ statuses on the news feed.

Facebook is clearly social networking royalty, with even businesses having their own accounts. But from the content of the statuses I read every day, I see Facebook as much more than a social networking tool. It’s a daily, written journal through which people talk about their thoughts. Their hurts. Their dreams, frustrations and accomplishments.

Facebook has the potential to improve writing, although it can’t necessarily guarantee a particular level of improvement. For example, status messages are limited to a particular number of characters, so the site encourages users to get to the point and write succinctly. Real time chat pushes users to respond in a timely way, all the while getting users to consider the immediate connotations their words might have in the absence of body and vocal expressions. Even creating picture captions can develop writing skills, because users have to think critically about whether their captions accurately get the meaning and feeling of the picture across. Some people even correct their own grammar and spelling in posted status messages and comments to show they understand their mistakes.

I don’t expect or want Facebook to become a substitute for a good grammar or writing course, but the site is an example of how the right technology and ideas can promote massive amounts of writing in a platform. Coupled with such amazing social power, these types of sites have the potential not only to promote the writing world, but to change that world altogether.

The High Cost of Low Copywriting Prices

As a professional copywriter, I use a plethora of sites such as oDesk.com to find work, fill my schedule and maintain a workable budget. Each of these sites has its own advantages and disadvantages based on its functions and features, but one thing that I’ve noticed across the board is low posters and bidders.

A poster is someone who submits a project on which someone can bid. For example, the poster might be New Company A who needs someone to write the copy for the business website. A bidder is anyone who makes an offer to work on a poster’s project. When acting in this capacity, it’s pretty standard to submit sample work and, on some sites, a cover letter. Posters decide who gets the job after evaluating all the bids they receive.

The first problem I’ve noticed is that posters overwhelmingly undervalue the projects they propose. I see projects such as $1 for a 500 word article on a daily basis. For me, a well-researched article of that length requires no less than an hour, so I figure that, at the very least, I should get an hour’s worth of the current minimum wage. Now, I don’t know many people who can work for roughly a mere 1/8 of minimum wage. I know I can’t. Yet, this is what posters often are willing to pay.

blog job posting

Would you be able to work for $1 an hour?

Several problems I see perpetuate pervasive low project pay. First, many, many writers are just getting started in the business. These writers need a few projects that will provide good references, so they’re willing to work on the cheap in order to beef up their resumes and seem more professional. Secondly, other writers are out of work or don’t have enough projects to fill a full-time schedule, so they bid low to compete with the newbies and take the projects they can manage to get. Lastly, copywriting has the capacity for global applicants. Bidders from outside the United States can afford to bid low because $1 goes a ton further in other countries than it does in America. Subsequently, posters outsource their projects, putting in a pay rate that doesn’t support American writers because they know writers elsewhere will work for less. In fact, some posters specifically ask for applicants from particular countries, typically the Philippines or India. It’s all about the bottom line of reducing operation and production costs.

Let me emphasize that trying to embark on a new career or support oneself is always admirable. I’m also not suggesting that companies should accept defeat and fold instead of looking for the cheapest option that lets the business survive. Still, when writers accept jobs that pay far less than the content and time is worth in their current region, they end up devaluing not only their own work, but also the skill and profession of writing itself. They end up perpetuating the clearly rampant view posters have that writing services, although needed, aren’t something to choke up hard cold cash for. This has to stop, or writers always will find themselves under-respected and underpaid.

Does standing firm on a higher bid mean you might not get as much work? Yes. You WILL be underbid. A lot. But without a willingness to stand firm, others won’t get the idea that you and your art really matter. Efforts to reform education and put writing and reading funding at the forefront will fail, and nothing in society will change.

Do not give up. Value your words. Value yourself.

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Welcome to the official blog for Takingdictation.com!

As a professional copywriter, I created this blog with a few goals in mind. I wanted to:

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