When I was a new writer-for-hire, I was always eager to serve when the phone rang or I received an email from a prospective client. It might surprise you to hear that now, as a developmental editor and writing coach, I often recommend people do not hire a writer at all. I’ve noticed that three of the most common reasons people want to outsource or delegate their writing are the very reasons they should do the writing themselves.
“I know how to write, but I don’t have time.”
Many busy people hire writers to help them with projects. That makes sense if you are a presidential candidate or CEO of a major corporation, and you need to produce a full-length book. But if you are a professional sharing your expertise in a blog post, five-page paper, or your website, you will have the greatest influence on readers if you can reveal how you think. Displaying the workings of your mind can help you win the ideal job or consulting clients, impress colleagues, or build a brand beyond your industry.
The sense that you lack time to write often indicates a deeper problem: lack of time to think. When that’s the case, you will not save time by hiring someone. If you cannot communicate your ideas clearly to the writer you hire, you will waste a lot of time and money in circular conversations and major revisions. Invest time in reflection, and you may find that you don’t need a writer; an editor or proofreader may be enough.
“I don’t know what to say.”
If you have nothing to say, why are you writing? The answer to that question points you to the remedy. I find that my clients have plenty to say, but they have trouble selecting from an abundance of data and information. It is a frustrating exercise to try to write about a topic without an audience to address, a point to make, and a goal. The more knowledgeable you are, the more frustrating it is.
Before attempting to compose a draft, jot down your intentions. They might be as mundane as, “My manager wants every sales engineer in the group to write one blog a quarter to justify the budget to her manager.” Imagine a specific person who will read your piece. What do you want them to think, feel, or do? Then use a mind map, an outline, or just clusters of unrefined sentences to come of with a plan of attack.
“I’m not a writer.”
Published material faces competition from a multitude of sources. You may fear it takes dazzling writing to get the attention of your desired audience. That belief has even created a “grey market.” A former colleague of mine works as a confidential ghostwriter for full-time marketing copywriters! Remember that while those dazzling writers were developing their writing chops, you were studying, practicing, and building relationships in your discipline. What a writer can learn through journalistic research can’t compare with reports from your informed analysis and work experience.
If there’s a critical voice in your head that taunts, “You aren’t a writer,” ask yourself what that means. Some excellent writers discount their talents simply because they are bad spellers. Other professionals are disappointed to find their educational experiences failed to provide the skills to write for business or publication. Maybe you learned to write one way for your high school English teacher and another for your thesis advisor and now you are lost. Once you know what “not a writer” means, you can find a solution. Take a short course in the kind of writing you want to do. Engage a developmental editor. Maybe all you need is to read a few good models and practice, practice, practice.
You are more than a vessel for information who needs a “creative” person to translate what you have to share. Your voice is unique — and it matters.