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Confessions of a Hired Gun: Being Bulletproof

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There is no dearth of articles philosophizing the craft of writing. Unfortunately, at least 97 percent of them have absolutely nothing to do with the act of writing. Instead, the vast majority focus on the mysteries of the creative process, the sundry neuroses that inhibit writers, the unreasonable demands of markets and 99 other problems that attempt to explain and rationalize why mediocre writers aren’t published, much less paid.

Why? Preaching to the choir is a hell of a lot simpler than converting the heathens.

I fall into the later category. I’m a freelance writer. I freely admit that every word I write is geared to a specific audience, and that audience changes with every new project. That doesn’t mean I have no principles – it’s merely a recognition that specific audiences read specific articles or stories geared to their specific tastes. Some would call me a writing whore ( in fact, some have) because I have no problem switching gears between fiction, criticism and copywriting. It’s all the same to me – stringing words together is what I do. It’s just the mindset that changes. If that makes me a whore, so be it.

I see it a bit differently. I prefer to think of myself as a hired gun. The qwertyuiop keyboard is my weapon of choice, words are my bullets and I never miss. That’s the beauty of freelancing – I’m afforded the luxury of deciding who my clients are, and just as importantly, who my targets are. As with everything else in life, there’s a trade-off. When you’re not beholden to any one special interest, it’s easy to become a thorn in the side of all special interests, however noble your intentions may be.

So how do you reconcile those conflicts? Do you wrestle with self-doubt and fears that you might actually piss off somebody? Or do you throw caution to whatever ill winds might come your way, and write what is exactly your gut is screaming for you to write?

There isn’t a pat answer. There are, however, a couple of clues that serve you well regardless of the idiom in which you’re writing. First, you have to realize that the universe is not hanging on your every word. Your audience could give a rat’s ass about your desire to alter civilization with that book that’s in your head and you will one day actually write. They could care less about your personal turmoils and neuroses. They want to be entertained and/or informed.

Period.

You have to be bulletproof if you want to write for a mass audience. You’re a constant target, and the trick is to keep the reader guessing where you’re going next. The methods you utilize to pull off that trick are up to you. All that matters is that you connect to your audience. And that requires a willingness on your part to wear disguises at times. Obviously, it’s difficult to inject a personal remark into a copywriting gig. But that’s where the fun comes into play. It’s also where we can work our own touch of personal subversion into everything we write.

Years ago, I wrote a script for a training film for a fast food chain meant to instruct employees as to how to conduct an in-store birthday party. It was an assignment boring beyond words. To make a long story short, I turned it into a parade of cliches, with the lead character, Timmy, uttering the immortal words, “This is the best birthday ever!!” as we fade out.

The client loved it – to the tune of a four-digit payment for what I wrote as a satire. My perception of the script and their purchase of it were diametrically opposed, but they loved it, and I ate for another month, and slept without any pangs of conscience.

Assignments like those leave me free to do what I want, to say what I think means something. Even at that, I still think in terms of reaching a global audience. Way back in the early ’80s , I got it into my head that I could reconcile all the divergent aspects of pop culture in a single magazine. The resultant product was called Pulse (subtitled “Tomorrow’s Trends Today’) and while it lasted only five issues, it opened myriad doors to me.

I am by no means trying to tell people how to write here – there is no formula for that beyond the individual soul. I am going to tell you how to sell your work, though.

Care to listen?

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About Ray Ellis

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=diana+hartman diana hartman

    I am pleased to tell you this article is being featured in the Culture Focus today, August 31st, and tomorrow, September 1st.

    Diana Hartman
    Culture Editor