Creative differences are commonplace in our house. Usually, when egos and feelings are placed to one side, we accept that the ‘slight’ (aka constructive criticism) which was the spark for a petulant display has actually helped improve whatever it is we’re writing. Constructive suggestions and having to change text are part and parcel of a writer’s lot. But there are other, annoying, aspects of professional writing that are likely to result in more serious writers’ tantrums.
Changing the brief
A sure-fire way to set off the fireworks is for a brief/remit to be arbitrarily changed after I’ve already invested a lot of time working on it.
We were commissioned by a council in the north of Tenerife to write a series of articles about different aspects of the municipality. It was an area which didn’t get many tourists. The remit was to write the articles in English for an agreed fee. The team who commissioned us were seriously chuffed with the result, but that proved to be a poisoned chalice. They were so pleased, they wanted to show them off to their mayor. Unfortunately, said mayor couldn’t speak English. So, at 20:30 on a Friday night they phoned and asked us to translate the three articles into Spanish so the mayor could read them.
Our Spanish is good enough to communicate decently well – the commission had mostly been agreed in Spanish – but writing in Spanish is a different kettle of pescado. Plus, the articles had been written for an English-speaking audience, with nuances and cultural references only Brits were likely to get. They wouldn’t work as a straight translate.
Translating well involves more than just changing words from one language into another, but the council team couldn’t understand this, and a heated disagreement ensued, ending with us not being paid for the work we’d done.
Ripping the heart out of writing
Ask me to sell my soul to the gods of middle-of-the-road content is another tantrum prompter.
One of the problems I have with modern travel writing is that it has lost some of its romanticism. Commercial demands have stripped away much of the evocative elements of travel writing, often resulting in pared-down, functional articles which might suit left-brained readers more than right-brained ones. Personally, I don’t want travel articles to read like an instruction manual.
A while ago, Andy was working on a job that involved liaising with the travel editor of one of the UK nationals whose preference was for non-flowery writing, i.e. most descriptors stripped away. I’m not a fan of over flowery writing – some nationalities can’t get enough of it – but neither do I want robotic text that could have been written from behind a desk, or by AI, without the author ever having set foot in a destination. My reaction to working with briefs that veer too far down that road is ‘find someone else.’
I’m reading In Search of Scotland by H.V. Morton. It’s ‘proper’ travel writing; evocative, informative, and insightful:
‘Bit by bit an unbelievable vision uplifts itself, at first like a mirage which hangs uncertain in the air over a desert, and then, etched in toneless grey, as if painted in thin smoke against the sky, a phantom city emerges spire by spire…’
The above makes me yearn to stand in the author’s shoes. Isn’t that partly what travel writing is all about – to make readers want to visit somewhere?
Remove or add a couple of words
It’s something that every writer must deal with on a regular basis; it’s an integral aspect of the job. It’s one of those tasks that gets more and more difficult the fewer words are involved in the original text. Remove a couple of words from an article two thousand words long is easy peasy. It’s when it gets down to blocks of text that are only eighty to a hundred words in length where it can become messy, usually involving a complete rewrite as shifting even a single word may throw the whole text off balance. I couldn’t tell you the number of times someone has said ‘just take that bit out, it won’t take long.’ It’s the thinking you can just erase chunks of text without it having a domino effect that sparks bouts of eye-rolling exasperation.
Adding text is problematic for the same reasons. When we first launched our websites, accepting sponsored links (a piece of text linked to another website, usually a holiday company/airline/travel guide) was a lucrative business. It still would be if we did it, but it compromises articles, like trying to fit square pegs into round holes.
Stopping me getting into the zone
One area of being a writer which I’ve found to be very different from other jobs I’ve done is that I can’t dip in and out of it; I have to get into the ‘zone.’ The more creative the writing, the more that involves getting into a certain frame of mind – focussing entirely on whatever it is I’m writing. Anything that interrupts that focus can throw me out for the entire day, resulting in a ‘how can anyone work under these conditions’ type tantrum. If I’m working on website maintenance, photo management, anything that involves a technical process, then I can pause and pick it up again after an interruption. That’s not the case with writing. That might sound precious, but it’s just the way it is.
And I can generally only get into the ‘zone’ in the mornings, so I’m more likely to ignore phone calls and Facebook and text messages if they happen before lunch.
If this just sounds like I’m being terribly precious, that’s because I am. I know that.
It won’t stop me from throwing a tantrum next time one of the above happens though.