When I changed careers I knew I would have school fees to pay even though I have been writing (and doing a share of content writing) for a long time. The difference was that I was shifting from writing articles about themes that mostly just interested me professionally to a focused content marketing career. It has proven to be a challenging transition.
Writing for myself vs professional writing
When I write for myself, I write to share an idea, an argument or something I find interesting. The result I have in mind is to share something interesting with you and hope you find it interesting too.
Content writing is a little different. On the one hand, I believe strongly in writing as a blogger. What do I mean by that? To me, writing as a blogger means sharing something with your audience in your voice. It is not, as Nathan pointed out recently, “flogging”, it is something real.
When I think about great marketing writing, I think about articles that share something useful in a personal voice, not jargon filled PR language (I am being introduced to PR as a recent addition to my projects and it feels very different).
At the same time, marketing writing has a tangible objective: add to the business’ bottom line. Marketing writing that doesn’t help the business make money in a meaningful and measurable way isn’t particularly effective. With that in mind, my goal has been to learn to write material that converts more effectively and intentionally.
Although my previous body of professional writing continues to draw traffic, I wrote those articles to inform, educate and satisfy my curiosity about the stuff I wrote about. I wasn’t always writing specifically to convert readers into customers. That happened mostly organically because customers were often drawn to my content and reached out to me because they felt I would be able to help them.
Making those school fees count
In my current position, our emphasis is on measurable performance. We focus on producing content that generates leads that our sales team can convert. Writing that sort of content isn’t as easy as it may have seemed to me when I began. I like to think I write fairly well but writing well isn’t enough. The writing has to achieve a tangible result. That is the purpose of my professional role, ultimately.
This is where those school fees come in. “School fees” are those experiences you go through when you learn to write more effectively. Just being a good writer isn’t enough.
You have to learn to adapt your writing for your objectives and that can feel like starting from the beginning. It can feel a lot like those early, bewildering years in first grade, although with stubble and a family depending on you being a quick study.
Making the transition to this approach can be challenging. It isn’t uncommon to write something I feel is particularly insightful and informative only to receive feedback from my boss that it falls short because it doesn’t adequately address a particular set of needs. Sometimes the feedback can be tough because, after all, I write “fairly well”, right?
I think a big source of frustration is that I have an attachment to my writing. How can you not have an attachment to your work when it is an expression of your personality shaped for a specific purpose? That personal investment in your work is what differentiates it from a stereotypical PR publicity piece and gives it meaning in some way.
Writing something that people really resonate with is a great feeling, probably second only to writing something that feels meaningful in the first place. Sometimes those hits are surprises, too. I’ve written a number of articles that I wouldn’t have thought would have been particularly interesting and turned out to be pretty popular.
As with photography, you don’t usually see all the misses in between because they don’t make it to publication. In between all of those is a series of creative crises, intermingled with short growth spurts.
These school fees can really bite at times although they tend to be worth it in the medium term even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time.
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