I used to give horrible advice when it came to clients. I really did, it’s not a lie, and I will totally own that. I used to say that you (as a writer) should be a chameleon, and as a chameleon, you should be able to be a lot of different things to a lot of different people. And while I still maintain that it’s an important strategy as you’re establishing your business and trying to keep food on the table, it’s not a recipe for longer term happiness.
And, if I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that happiness is really important. Like so much more important than I ever imagined. You can make happiness from nothing, but it’s a lot easier if you just find the people who help feed that happiness. This is a lesson I’ve taken from COVID and I want to pass it to you.
This goes for your personal life, your professional life, your recreational life… it goes for everything. If you’re surrounded by a lot of miserable cunts who couldn’t care less if you live or die, well, it’s hard to generate your own little island of joy. If you find yourself around people who are pretty pleasant and who kinda like, you know, get you, the whole process is a whole lot easier.
And that’s why I’ve come today to correct myself. Because you don’t need everybody to love you. You just need the right people to love you. This is meant to be for your writing life, but it also can be applied to your generally squishy people life.
We’re Not For Everyone
I have long known that I wasn’t for everybody. I knew I could be intense, I could get lost in my own head, I had a variety of interests that make most people’s eyes glaze over. I knew all of this about myself, but I also knew it was just kinda how it was. This is just who I am.
And while all of that stuff was true, there was a falsehood in there. One I wholly believed and it crippled me. I thought I was among a small minority of people who were this potentially unbearable. I thought I was rare and gifted in my level of general inability to be loved by others when I let it all hang out.
I was so, so stupidly wrong. I suffer terribly from Imposter Syndrome and I’ve written about it many times over the years (you can find blogs about it here, here, and here). It ebbs and flows, but this year has been a real fucking winner in that battle (that’s sarcasm). I think that’s where I got the idea that I was an insufferable taint of a human…
The truth is that NONE of us are for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re a writer, an accountant, a fucking trust fund hippie… doesn’t matter. You’re not for everyone. And that’s ok. It takes a lot of different types to make the world turn, and you can’t be everything for everybody. It’s just not possible.
Get some healthy expectations will you? GOSH!
… But We ARE Glorious Among Our Own
I’ve been a digital writer for most of a decade now and I’ve learned one ineffable truth. There’s only one person like you in the whole goddamn world and you’re super fucking glorious to someone.
I mean, I think you’re an asshole, but what does my opinion mean? Nothing.
There are niches upon niches upon niches of people in this world. Social media and digital marketing has driven this point home to me harder than you could possibly imagine. So what if the biker gangs of the world don’t want to hang with you? You’re more of a ship in a bottle type. Fuck ‘em.
This goes doubly when it comes to being a working writer. There are going to be clients who really don’t like you. I mean, some will absolutely loathe your very existence and be kind of salty that you get to use up oxygen. I’ve had those clients and they’re impossible to please because what they want is something that I cannot ever be. What they want is someone else, even though I’m alarmingly sexy, disarmingly talented, and remarkably fond of curse words and bad jokes.
You can’t be everything to everyone. I may have already said that, but I still mean it. I mean, we’re about 750 words into this thing, I have no idea what I was writing ten minutes ago…
Anyhoo. My point, if I have one, is that I was fucking wrong, you deserved better, and I failed you. So, let that freak flag fly, my friend. Be who you are. There’s no other motherfucker on his planet who is just like you.
Tips for Flying That Freak Flag
As per the usual format, I’m gonna give you some kind of advice that you can actually use. I’m good for more than useless platitudes.
Letting your freak flag fly is a delicate balance. You don’t want to be a walking cartoon, but you do want to let potential clients (and humans) know that you’re not a blank slate. Try this stuff:
1. When you write (or otherwise communicate), do it freely. Take a big, deep breath, and reach down to your gut stuff. Speak from your metaphorical diaphragm, let whatever’s rattling around in your brain bubble up, so long as it makes sense in the context you find yourself in.
For example, I may have a piece to write about making paint choices, since I still do home improvement content.
I once got an AI-generated Facebook status (from one of those many weird tools on the Internet) that said my status should be “In the Maldives, the water matches my hair.” I think about that a lot. Probably a lot more than is reasonable or sane.
Anyway. I got this message from the AI-bot and I think about it a lot, like I said.
If I were to have a piece on this year’s colors of the year (I might have that slated for today) and one of them is aqua, AND there was a photo of me with the article, I might talk about this very story. I might say, “This year’s color of the year from Sherman-Williams is an aqua called ‘Potatoes By Starlight.’” And then I might mention the time I got a message from an AI-bot about my hair matching the water in the Maldives.
I’ve not been to the Maldives to confirm this prophecy, but I have no doubt it’s accurate. In fact, there are days that’s the only thing I am pretty sure is true…
See how all that just kind of rolled out as a story? Well, that’s what communicating freely is about. Weave a little bit of yourself into everything. It doesn’t always come naturally, so I recommend practicing a lot.
2. Use the Words You Use. As writers, we’re sticklers about language. In fact, I think sometimes we’re far too stickler-ly about it. There’s no functional difference between a lot of words, like “often” and “regularly,” for example. Those words are basically the same, but they sound a lot different, and they give off different smells.
If you mean “regularly,” but you think the proper thing to do would be to use the word “often” to avoid the dreaded “-ly” ending, you’re trying way too hard. Use the words you use. Your words have power, even if you don’t like it. Your diction has meaning, purpose, and a place where it fits. It’s easier to find the fit than to force yourself to write in a way that is against your own nature.
As long as it’s the proper dialect for your project, use the word that you use naturally. Stop trying so damn hard to impress people who probably don’t give any shits about which way you go.
3. Remember It’s Ok to Have a Personality. You are who you are, and that’s actually pretty cool. There’s not another writer in the world just like you. In fact, I get more work because I’m voicey than because of anything else in my credentials. People love that they read me and hear ME when they do it. They know these words were shart from my own word hands and not from some potentially generic person that might not even be alive.
Inject your interests, your thoughts, your own expressions, anything you can squeeze into the requirements for your work. Trust me, you’ll come out so much better and your readership will eat it up.
Give your words life. Give your conversations life. This is the way.
You’re never going to be everybody’s Cup O’ Noodles. Some people are on low sodium diets, or they’re allergic to wheat, or they just really can’t stand that artificial chicken flavor. It’s ok. You’re SOMEONE’S Cup O’ Noodles, and what I’ve found in all these years is that it’s a LOT easier to find those people who jive with you rather than trying to stuff yourself into a mold where you’ll never really fit.
So go find your people, be they clients, coworkers, friends, or lovers. Find your people. You will never regret it. (We’ll talk about how to do that next week)