Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Guess what? Writing is a specialized skill!

Why is it that so many non-creatives think creative jobs involve no special skill-set whatsoever? I've experienced it and just about every writer, graphic designer and photographer I've known has dealt with it.

It's that condescending attitude of, "Oh sheesh, how hard can it be? And why should you be paid a living wage to do it?" And my favourite: "I can do that much better than you."

You know what? Chances are, you can't. I don't just have a fancy piece of paper and years of experience to back me up; I have happy clients, editors, interview subjects and clients alike. And they drastically outweigh the number of people I've encountered who assume I'm just some hack who got lucky.

But for some reason - likely that I take everything so bloody personally - I let the non-believers get under my skin.

Cheapskates in Freelance-Land:
As a freelancer, it generally happens when someone you hope is a potential client finds out your rates.

If you're lucky: the conversation will end and you'll never hear from them again. One day, you may stumble across a poorly-written, cliche-ridden web page or brochure they put together. Initially, you'll feel anger. Then you'll laugh at them.

If you're not so lucky: you'll get the big lecture on how the service you offer isn't really all that special. "Oh, my Uncle Fred just bought a new camera. He'll shoot my wedding, thanks. You're much too expensive." Or maybe, "I'll look at getting someone on staff to do it. My personal assistant writes great letters!"

If you work on staff, it may happen in three cases:

1. With clients. It may come in the form of a micromanager who just doesn't quite want to give up the power. It could be someone who works in the creative field, but the job was farmed out for whatever reason by their superior - in other words, they're bitter and will do all they can to undermine you. Or maybe it's simply someone who recently discovered clip art and wants to wow you with their newfound design prowess.

2. With colleagues. Writers in particular may discover colleagues who work in more technical areas think you're just some hippie-dippy artsy fart who throws shit together at the last possible minute. Generally speaking, they resent you for having an arts-related degree and daring to be in the same room as them. They usually have limited interpersonal skills.

3. With superiors. If your manager or art director started out in the same profession you now work in, you will likely never live up to the incredibly high standards they set in the industry. They will nitpick your work and may even at times, do the work themselves from beginning to end without involving you in the process. In short, they'll constantly remind you who's boss. This is my favourite - it always makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

My point is, if you're a creative out there who's going through any of the above scenarios, you're not alone. If anyone has any tips for dealing with this sort of insanity constructively, I'm all ears.


  1. Hahaha, I was reading along and just waiting for point three to come up! Sigh. I have no constructive ideas for you. Many of the opposite number, of course, but nothing constructive. Although I do have a new mantra that I developed in a meeting yesterday: "Cool green margarita. Cool green margarita." It's a riff on the "calm blue sea" one.

    - Trace

  2. Great writing has always made my designs better. I can't ever think of a time when it didn't.

  3. On the flip side, you've got total amateurs who attempt to charge professional rates.

    Anyway, this post? Awesome. Made me think of the oatmeal's infographic:


  4. Back when I was still painting I would often get: "Wow, I you're so talented, I can't draw a straight line!" or "Wow, I always wished that I could do something creative." All appreciation for "talent" but would never pay more than about five bucks an hour for it...

  5. Thanks for the comments, everyone. Trace, I like the way you think. Margaret, I love that oatmeal bit on web design - a case of it's funny 'cause it's true. In fact, I think that one was emailed around one of the offices I've worked at.

  6. Oh boy, do I hear you on this one. My favourite part: "They usually have limited interpersonal skills." Sounds like a couple management types I can think of...