Professional writing discipline – What it really means
It's almost inevitable when speaking about professional writing that somebody will mention the word "discipline". What new writers are supposed to make of this word is debatable, but the fact is that most new writers start with serious misconceptions of the amount of work involved in professional writing. "Discipline" actually refers to your work rate and performance quality. In effect, it’s a measure of your efficiency and ability to deliver.
Lets get this straight – You can either learn these things the hard way or the easy way. The unequivocal demands on professional writers are:
- Content quantity
- Content quality
- Meeting deadlines
- Time management
- Accuracy of information
- Creative content standards
- Standout market quality
These are just the basics, and when you find yourself writing up to 8000 words of SEO copy per day, you'll appreciate that "discipline" equates to hard work, and lots of it. All forms of commercial writing contain all these demands.
For creative writers, "discipline" is an imperative demand upon yourself which simply doesn't go away. Making a mess of your own book as a result of trying to meet deadlines or an unrealistic schedule is an own goal of hideous proportions.
For new writers, the issues are:
Quantity is always a problem. Most new writers don't have the physical stamina to deliver much more than about 5000 words a day, tops. When writing above your endurance level, the probability is that quality will fall off, probably drastically.
Quality assessment becomes a problem as a result of multiple inputs. Communication with clients who have commissioned materials is often off-key, and rewrites are practically inevitable. That puts a further physical drain on the writer and can be extremely frustrating.
Deadlines are realities for all forms of writing. The worst possible mistake is to attempt to cram a lot of writing into an impractical timeframe. Time management is the writer’s key to success. If you can manage your times, you can manage any workload. Never make the mistake of "scheduling by the hour" as if writing, content quality and editing can simply be managed like an appointment.
Information quality is also an incredibly important part of any type of writing. Anyone can write uninformed babble, but for technical writers, journalists and copywriters any kind of slipup regarding information requirements can be a real disaster. Editors and clients will quite rightly want to know what the hell that misinformation is doing in their text. This is another time management scenario, obviously, because you must check your information. You also need to check continuity and ensure that your text makes clear sense.
Many writers, particularly experts, make the incomprehensible mistake of believing that readers will somehow naturally understand what they write. Readability isn't something you can take for granted. Remember that any professionally written material is in fact intended to be read by somebody else, and that the poor bastard on the receiving end may have their own views about unreadable garbage. Don't expect to hear the end of this subject when the readers retaliate.
(My usual comment on professional texts is "Great, but written by an expert". A very large part of the role of a writer is to act as an interpreter of information for readers. You don't actually have to dumb down anything, but you do have to make information clearly comprehensible.)
Writing for the market
The point about standout market quality relates to the commercial realities of professional writing. The writing market is literally saturated. There are thousands of articles on any and every subject, and if you're expecting to be read by anybody, your content must stand out.
This is good news for creative writers, because it means they can use their creativity and individuality as professional assets. The other side of the equation is that clients, editors and others will attempt to dictate content. There's a very fine balance between high quality professional writing content and the formulaic rubbish which many people demand.
The simple fact is that formula writing simply does not work in either commercial or creative writing. Nobody wants to read the same old thing, but the fact is that the almost obsessively pedantic market often insists on formula. The reasons for this are mainly bureaucratic. The theory is that materials that were previously accepted will be accepted again.
This theory actually is quite correct in some ways – Publishers who should know better will accept formula materials as part of a "shopping list". Many of the fabulously uninteresting books you see on the market are actually written to formulas. They instantly wind up in the bargain bin, forgotten and ignored while good creative work goes begging.
Writers, however, want to be read and they need to be read. Commercial writers in particular must deliver content which does get read. Readability and reader numbers are in fact proof of their content quality in the same way that sales numbers are important book authors. A commercial portfolio of materials which don't stand out and didn't perform in the marketplace is basically a death sentence.
Standout market materials must have individuality, readability and creativity. This is actually a rather difficult situation for writers, because they will inevitably find themselves asked by clients to write materials which they consider mediocre and unlikely to be successful. It's a judgement call the writer must make whether it's worth writing those materials or not.
New writers, however, rarely have the luxury of even having an input into what they write. The "discipline" here is learning to tolerate the realities of professional writing. If you're a professional writer, you need to evolve a fairly thick skin to endure your initiation and learn the realities of professional writing.
The good news for new writers is that everything else actually can be self-managed. You can learn how to manage your content, your time and even in some cases your clients and publishers. Just remember that this is a discipline, and that any mistakes are just as likely to be of your own making as anybody else's. Be realistic about your writing discipline, and you'll have many fewer problems.