Identity crisis

What am I? A copywriter? A journalist? A writer? A wordsmith? A freelance commercial writer?

This excellent post on a fellow copywriter’s blog poses that very question and, like me, is unable to come up with a satisfactory answer. Every one of those phrases has some kind of unsatisfactory connotation.

For me, a copywriter is someone who produces words intended to sell a product, whether that product is a whoopee cushion or a political philosophy. It’s not me because the work I do isn’t always about selling stuff.

Am I a journalist then? Sometimes, yes, but not often enough to describe myself as such. And certainly not exclusively so.

A writer is someone who’s had at least one book published and has thus earned the right not to qualify his job description. That’s how I see it anyway – and, rather more importantly, others seem to share that view. If someone asks me what I do and I say I’m a writer (trying desperately not to sound like Sir John Gielgud describing himself as an ActOR) their eyes inevitably light up with genuine interest. “Oh really? What kind of writing? Fiction? Anything I might have heard of?” Their palpable disappointment when I spell out the unglamorous truth is hard to bear for both of us.

A wordsmith then? I don’t think so! That’s one of the few words that actually makes me feel slightly sick. It would be like calling myself a scribe or a penman. It’s just wrong.

A freelance commercial writer is the phrase used by Peter Bowerman in his excellent book The Well Fed Writer. I think he’d be the first to admit that it’s hardly the most beautiful phrase but what it lacks in elegance it makes up for in accuracy. So maybe that’s the one – although it will take some getting used to if it’s going to become the phrase I use to describe myself.

But that in itself doesn’t make it the wrong phrase – sometimes we just need a bit of time to adjust. I remember having to fill out a form on the day I started as a junior reporter on the Dover Express newspaper a ridiculously long time ago. The form was nothing to do with work, but I had to indicate what I did for a living – I think it might have been for a video rental shop.

For a few delicious moments my pen hovered over the ‘occupation’ box. Did I dare call myself a journalist? Eventually I took the plunge and wrote the magic word. I blushed as I handed in the form, convinced that the person to whom I was handing it would take one look at what I’d written and laugh in my face. Strangely, they didn’t.

The irony of not having the words to describe my occupation is not lost on me so it’s time this ridiculous shilly-shallying ended once and for all.

My name is Martin and I’m a freelance commercial writer. Well, it’s better than word-whore I suppose.

This entry was posted on Thursday, March 18th, 2010 at 6:15 pm and is filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “Identity crisis”

  1. Lynfa says:

    I say I’m a writer even though I haven’t published a book. Even then you have to define, right? Are you a novelist? A poet? You get the point. I’m a writer because that’s what I do for a living. I write. Not much else. This may, of course, change…

  2. Johnny Laird says:

    How about “scribe”? 😉


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