In this week’s Prosperous Writer E-zine, Christina Katz relates her experiences at the recent Associated Writers and Writing Programs Conference in Washington, DC. She asked the participants in a social networking session whether they see themselves or their writing as a business. The result? Only 20% of the attendees raised their hands. She was shocked.
I am a freelance writer. Writing is my business. And if I had been in Christina’s audience, I would have raised my hand. But I understand why so few people did.
Claiming an identity as a business person is scary.
Doing it in public is even scarier.
1) Claiming an identity is a commitment. It demands action.
You cannot say you are a writer if you don’t write. And no matter how good a writer – or cook, coach, crafter, singer, stylist, designer, or widget-maker – you are, you cannot say you are in business unless you market and (hopefully) sell your work.
2) Selling your work feels a lot like selling yourself. Especially for artists, and especially for women.
Putting a price on your work makes a statement about the value of your ideas, your time, and your creations. And negotiating the value of your work can be off-putting, not to mention downright frightening. Why? We don’t want to confront our own assessment of our value and we don’t want to open ourselves up to scrutiny. As long as your work is a hobby, you don’t have to find out what it, and, by extension, you, are worth. Safety first, right?
3) Business has a certain connotation. It is cold and detached. Impersonal. It can be ruthless. Business is dirty and corrupt.
I know these are stereotypes, but these qualities spring to mind without warning when we think about business, and there’s the rub. Claiming we are in business means getting past all that emotional baggage. We want to believe we are thoughtful, creative, and socially aware. These traits are hard to reconcile with our knee-jerk beliefs about business.
4) Businesses pay workers for performance, and motivate increases in production by offering larger and larger incentives. Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us calls this Motivation 2.0
Unfortunately, lots of studies in psychology show that paying people to do tasks they find inherently meaningful and intrinsically motivating is apt to backfire. Athletes paid top dollar for their performance fall out of love with the game. Kids paid to color pictures stop coloring because coloring isn’t fun anymore. Writers worry that being paid to write will mean they no longer find it gratifying, energizing, and expressive. We don’t want money to mess with our mojo. We – incorrectly, I think – equate selling our work with selling out.
5) Being in business ups the ante. As long as we don’t claim we’re worth too much, no one will call us out. We can dabble, bumble, and fail at a hobby. The stakes are low. Giving ourselves permission to dabble, bumble and (possibly) fail at our work takes a lot more courage. But risk-taking is vital to any enterprise, including writing.
I am proud to say I am a freelance writer. I recognize my work has value and ask others to recognize it, too. That doesn’t make what I do less gratifying, less energizing, or less noble.
I am an enterprising mama. As Merriam-Webster defines it, that means I am marked by an independent energetic spirit and a readiness to act. My enterprise is writing. It is difficult, complicated, and risky. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
How about you? What's your enterprise? Be bold and claim it. I double-dog dare you.