Can I call myself a writer if no one knows what I really sound like?
Since kicking off my copywriting business in 2019, I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words across dozens of different projects.
And whether it was for sprawling, info-rich websites or one-off social media posts, I have (for the most part) poured myself into every word. The work means something to me and I care about what I write for my clients.
But in all those years of “content creation”, what have I written? Where are the words that are a genuine reflection of me?
And why, after asking myself this question for well over two years now, am I still not writing them?
“What’s the worst that could happen?”
– My Gobshite Hubris, probably
If I’m honest with myself (and you, dear reader), it’s because I doubt that anything I personally have to say has any real relevance or merit.
As a writer, I find that sentiment quite… sad? Why shouldn’t I share little pieces of myself – my thoughts, ideas, feelings and experiences – on my own little corner of the internet? What’s the worst that could happen?
As it turns out, my brain is very keen to reassure me that this would, in fact, be a very bad idea. There are, apparently, so many reasons why I shouldn’t do this! “Look at all these reasons!” my inner-critic exclaims. “Don’t even think about it!” it shrieks, “go back to doom-scrolling Tumblr and coveting William Morris wallpaper samples!”*
In the spirit of being very daring, I’m now going to do just the opposite – in fact, I've already begun. Right now, I’m writing something so deeply self-indulgent, so silly, so fermented in my own authorial voice (bleugh! See what I mean?) and then… I’m going to publish it on my blog. That’ll show me!
So, why do I not want to write anything in my own voice?
I shouldn’t write stuff that doesn’t serve a “proper” purpose
I’m a professional writer. That means the vast majority of what I write is for other people – for my clients.
I love what I do. Connecting my clients with their audience with words is my jam, especially when I can make those words a genuine reflection of who they are and how they help people.
Naturally, if I’m writing someone’s website, I don’t sign my name at the bottom. If I’m writing a blog post for my client, it’s their name that appears under “author”; not mine. I’m not credited (publicly) anywhere – and that’s how I like it.
The content that my clients commission from me serves a purpose; it does whatever my clients need it to do. There’s a distinct point to writing it in the first place.
But what if I decided to write a blog post about how much I get out of caring for my 80+ houseplants**? No one’s asking for it, no one’s paying me for it, and it doesn’t serve a “genuine” purpose.
Hang on a minute, there…
If I were to play devil’s advocate with myself, I would argue that writing about the co-dependant relationship I have with the Calathea in my bathroom does serve a purpose. It allows readers, however few and far between, to get to know me a little bit.
And what if my silly blog post about the meditative power of misting Monsteras was actually just a teensy bit interesting? Silly, self-indulgent and deeply irrelevant, but also… mildly fun to read? What a concept…
I shouldn’t write stuff that breaks the sacred rules of good copywriting
If you’ve ever had a one-to-one with me or heard me speak at a network meeting, you might’ve heard me talk about guidelines for writing good content.
Content that you (as a business or organisation) put out for your audience needs to be one of three things:
Both of the above.
Forget trying to sell your service with a blog post. Focus on giving your reader something valuable. They’re deigning to read your words, after all; make it worth their while!
You can’t expect to write about financial planning and break the internet. But you can write a blog post on how to sort out your pension that folks will read because it’s genuinely useful.
Never assume someone’s going to read your stuff just because you think they should. Use every trick in the book to keep your reader’s attention and crucially, make it all about them.
This has all served me pretty well as a professional writer. So how do I go about throwing all of that technique, training and best practise out the window – and still write something worth reading?
I can imagine it now… I’d end up going on about myself endlessly, I’d forget to centre the reader, I’d get overindulgent about my prose. I’d be boring. At least I’d be safe from selling myself to my readers – in fact, I’d probably end up doing the opposite. I’d make folks think I was a crappy copywriter. I’d tank my own business!
Hang on a minute (again)
Let me just re-don my devil’s horns… If I’m confident that no one’s going to read what I write because of all the sacrilegious “law-breaking”, why not have some fun with it? Why not create a little porthole into my big stupid lovely brain? Instead of trying to sell myself as a copywriter, why not just… talk? Just share. Just write, just because.
Couldn’t hurt, could it? Not if no one’s going to read it? After all, if a deeply self-indulgent blog post falls in a forest and no one’s there to read it, does it even make a sound?***
I shouldn’t write stuff… because what if it’s bad?
For the sake of my worryingly high word count (and definitely not because this is edging close to some pretty deep personal shit…), I’ll keep this one brief.
I don’t want to write something that has so much of myself in it, only for it to fall spectacularly on its arse.
Writing is about being vulnerable. Like any creative endeavour, you’re putting yourself out there when you decide to share something you made with the world. And this blog post about my fear of failure that I’m sharing with you? Yeah… I’m feeling pretty vulnerable.
Success and failure are subjective. It’s up to each of us to define what messing up or smashing it out of the park looks like. I’ve got a pretty good idea of what failure looks like for me, and why. Maybe I’ll write about that one day.
What if what I write is bad? But what if it’s good, though? What if it doesn’t have to be either; it just is?
What if I let myself write something just for the sake of it? That’s a hell of a question, and one I’d like to start exploring how to answer.
Well. No time like the present.
* The bastard truly has got me pegged, there
** You know, that’s not actually a bad idea for a blog post…
*** RIP to that poor, mangled metaphor