Two things happened today which crystallized something for me.
I hitched a ride to a radiology clinic for a steroid shot in my hip. Long walks are painful lately and physiotherapy offers diminishing returns. So I agreed to a jab of cortisone deep in the bursa, a procedure preventing me from driving myself.
(The hip still aches as I type, with one thumb and a forefinger – arthritis has a lot to answer for.)
My Uber driver was a talker. In the ten minutes it took to reach the destination he’d covered the Salem witch burnings, trench warfare and JK Rowling’s impact on popular culture.
We arrived at JK Rowling via his question “what do you do for a living?” I had my laptop with me so I suppose it was a natural segue from Salem.
I don’t mind a chat, so responded “I’m a writer and I work in marketing”. But, as is often the case, he took the word ‘writer’ and sprinted to the realm of fiction, giving me his hot take on themes ripe for exploration.
I’m glad I live close to the medical centre.
It’s tiresome when people respond to my job description by asking for published titles. I’ve never said I’m an author, a subtle but real distinction. Yet claiming to be a writer seems to imply I live on royalties. I find myself defending the word, justifying the claim in the absence of hardcover proof. It’s tempting to drop the noun, which clearly confuses people. Perhaps I should reply simply with my current job title, or say I’m a copywriter (and then find myself explaining that role). But these suggestions bring me, in a very round about way, to my point.
Many formal qualifications grace my resume. Bachelors of Arts and Laws, Masters of Public Administration and another sneaky post-grad in journalism. None of the years spent in lecture theatres pointed to a future in marketing. Yet this is where I live now, as a strategic communication consultant, and I’m happy to be here.
Most recently the University of YouTube and Google Grad School have taught me how to build websites, segment email audiences and know why and when to invest in SEO. I respect data and am in awe of the clever people who know how to gather, interpret and use it. And as for graphic design? I worship at its alter and yearn to grasp kern, colour and 2D like my creative colleagues.
But here is why I’ll always say “I’m a writer and I work in marketing”.
Today, officially, I didn’t work. Even so, I lugged my laptop to the radiology clinic to write while I waited, and continued to tap away for hours afterwards, long into an achy Friday night. I had stories to tell and ideas about how to tell them. I needed to write them. Immediately. Not because of deadlines, but because I had to get the words out of my head and into the cloud.
The first piece responded to a big change happening where I work, a change that is unsettling for many of my colleagues. I’d taken some photos and had ideas about how to caption them with messages to reassure and ignite imaginations. So I devised a plan and wrote accordingly.
Then I opened a half-done tender bid, at face value a dull and dry affair, a table of questions and check boxes to inform a selection process. It certainly didn’t allow for wizards, witches and warlocks. But there was still scope for imagination. I read the supporting documents and researched the customer some more, trying to walk a mile in their shoes. I read the past ten annual reports published on our website and dug into the blog archive. I relished the opportunity to flex a rusty muscle pumped often in a past life. The task called for answers that cut through corporate structures, to paint our history and culture and vision with the right facts, presented clearly in well-formed sentences.
Time will tell if I succeeded. But I enjoyed trying. Immensely. By the time I closed my laptop, the take away Chinese food I’d ordered earlier sat soggy on my kitchen bench, lukewarm.
The notion that my words, and my way with words, might earn my organisation new business, is thrilling. Having my name attached to a narrative is not what inspires me to write. Ideas and people and purpose motivate me, and there are days when my fingers itch to do the telling. Being valued and paid for my skills, and given agency to use them, is the pinnacle of my writing journey so far.
And therein lies the crystal. It might be a hard sell, but this is my truth.
I’m a writer and I work in marketing.