Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Just a Little Writing Assignment

All right, so I love to write. Stick me in a room with a (preferably obscenely expensive fountain) pen and a (preferably obscenely expensive leather-bound) notebook, leave me alone for days, and I’ll be perfectly content. You don’t know how thrilled I am that email (yea! Let me write that answer for you) has become the communication device of choice over the telephone (egad! You expect me to articulate a reasonable answer to that question via my vocal cords?). Some of us, I guess, are born with pencils in our hands. Writing has always come easily to me, much more easily than speaking. That doesn’t mean I think I’m much good at it, but when you love something, you don’t really worry about whether or not you’re good at it. I love chocolate. Do I have to be any good at eating it in order to do so? (Judging by how many articles of clothing have been ruined by chocolate stains, I’d say "no.")

However, send me an email that says, “We need the math catalog letter by Feb. 26th,” and I am thrown into an utter state of panic. This message means I’m responsible for writing a half-page letter that will serve as an introduction to my company’s math catalog. I sit and stare at this email for a moment, writer’s block setting in as I try to compose a response to it. Soon, I'm deeply immersed in the five stages of grief:

1. Denial or disbelief
“What? A catalog letter? You expect me to write another one of those? Didn’t we just do that? You mean catalogs come out more often than once every ten years? I never said I could write marketing pieces, you know. I could swear someone told me we weren’t doing a math catalog anymore. In fact, I could swear we never have done a math catalog. Are you sure such a thing exists?”

2. Anger
“Why the hell do I have to write this stuff? Don’t we have a marketing department? Catalogs are a marketing function not an editorial one. You mean I have to write one of these EVERY SINGLE YEAR?! What the fuck? Whatever possessed me to take this job? Whatever possessed me to go into publishing? I was going to be an accountant, dammit! Accountants don’t have to waste their time writing catalog letters."

3. Bargaining
“Okay, if I don’t have to write this thing, I promise I will never, ever crack any editorial v. marketing jokes again. If someone else will write this piece for me, I promise that person can have my first-born son. All right, you’re right, I know, I’m never going to have a first-born son. How about a dozen fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies instead?”

4. Depression
“ What makes you think I can write this? No one’s gonna like it. No one’s gonna read it. No one’s gonna read our books. As a matter of fact, I can tell nobody likes me. All the other catalog letters are ten times better than mine. What good am I? I can’t do this. Is this all life is: being assigned tasks we can’t possibly complete? It’s all so pointless, isn’t it? I don’t blame all those people who kill themselves."

5. Acceptance and Hope (Finally!)
“Well, I might as well get to work on this thing…hey, this isn’t really so bad. What if I go with this theme this year? That just might work. We’re publishing awesome books here. A good catalog letter will be like a beacon, people drawn to it, drawn to our awesome books. Everyone’s gonna be reading our books.”

This is not to say that the piece I write isn’t vetted through a husband, my friend The Platonic Editor, and everyone in my department before I submit it. And this is not to say that I stop thinking, “What the hell? Why can I write a blog post such as this one in no time flat, with nary a worry in the world (despite the fact it’s available for the whole world to read), but I have to spend at least two days worrying about this assignment before I can even compose the first sentence?” However, it is to say, “It’s done, and I’m pretty happy with it now.”


ZoesMom said...

So funny and so true! I go through the same thing so often. I don't write catalog letters, but I recently spent at least a week agonizing over a powerpoint presentation which I sailed through once I actually started.

Eva said...

This post was so awesome! :) I have an unhealthy affection for course catalogs (I like planning ahead and using multi-coloured highlighters), but our little 'introductions' didn't change. I know, because the international relations one still referenced the first Gulf War!

litlove said...

I love your five stages of grief! A friend has set me up to read her aunt's poetry and give some 'useful help' and I'm still at number one at the moment... Well done you on getting that letter written!

Emily Barton said...

ZM, oh God yes, Powerpoint presentations. They're worthy of ten stages of grief.

Eva, which just goes to show I guess some people actually DO read these things!

Litlove, oh what comfort to know that you who write such beautiful, thoughtful reviews of poetry are stuck when it comes to such an assignment.

Charlotte said...

Me too. Love, love, love email.

I usually go through the five stages of grief when I have to send invoices: it's like, "can't you just intuit that I need to be paid? You mean I have to TELL you and add tax?"

Brilliant post, Emily!

Anonymous said...

I have always hated writing marketing copy, until I worked here. And then I had to write so much of it (am definitely familiar with many of your stages) that now I just put on my 'write cheesy nonsense' head and I can churn that stuff out by the yard, with my tongue firmly in cheek. The best of it is, it's impossible to be over the top in writing US marketing copy, so you can really pile on the lard.

Dorothy W. said...

This made me laugh! I sympathize. Writing a blog post is SO much easier than, say, writing an essay assignment, or a recommendation letter, or -- God forbid -- writing a response to a student essay.

Courtney said...

Yay for a completed task. Moreover, I go through these stages on a very regular basis with my writing for work...I have no idea why it's so much easier to blog than to complete tasks for which we are paid to do, but it is...

Emily Barton said...

Charlotte, thank you. And oh yes, it isn't awful to have to ask people to pay you?

MFS, where can I get one of those "write cheesy nonsense" caps?

Dorr, oh, I have no idea how you manage to write responses to student essays.

Emily Barton said...

Court, so much for the theory that money is the great motivator, huh?