There Is No Muse

*Cross-posted on the Social Capital Conference blog.

You know what they call a freelance writer who waits for inspiration to hit before they put words down on paper?


The truth about writing for a living is that, in order to make a living, you actually have to write: on demand, on a schedule, whether you feel like it or not. Being a freelance writer is not a romantic, or noble, or often, even a very creative profession. But it is a job, and like most other jobs, you gain success when you can handle its demands with professional acumen regardless of any outside influences, including the desire – or lack thereof – to do the job in the first place.

Inspiration is great when it arrives ahead of a fast-approaching deadline, but writing for a living is often like creating a cauldron full of stone soup – sometimes you start out with nothing, but if you do your job right, you could end up with something substantial.

I spent a year as an op-ed columnist for TheLoop.ca, and in that time, learned the true art of stone-soup writing. Tasked often with writing about subject matter I had just been introduced to yet had to spin into something worthy of a reader’s attention on a very short timeline, the only muse I could possibly rely on was a strong cup of coffee and the hope that runny noses had cleared in time to send both of my kids to school for the day. Sure, I had practiced this kind of writing during my previous decade as a creative copywriter at a record company, but the pressure to write compelling, shareable and SEO-attuned pieces is huge these days. Not only did I have to write engaging and intelligent articles – on demand, about new and sometimes odd subjects – but I had to ensure that each piece met the performance expectations of my editor as well. In my previous life, I may have been required to write great liner notes, but I wasn’t responsible for guaranteeing their consumption. Writing professionally online comes with layers of expectations, and you really can’t blame a muse for not wanting the gig.

So you’re on your own.

In the end, the only way to write is to get to it – hands on keyboard, seat in chair. And the thing to remember is, hey, you’re good at this, right? It’s your job, yes, but it’s also your gift. As a professional writer, you can turn words into ideas, ideas into compelling, totally shareable and CEO-compliant articles, even when you don’t feel like it. The other thing to remember is that, like the cauldron of soup that began with one measly stone, words beget words, ideas beget ideas, until the page is full and the deadline is met.

And hey, that stone soup can often turn out to be pretty darn tasty.

 #socapOttawa is happening on July 26, and I'll be presenting a session called Beyond the Blog: Tips for Transitioning to Professional Writing Online, as well as a roundtable on creating great content even when you don't feel like it. Get your tickets! 


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