Writing in a Corporate Environment

superman typing

We are lucky. As writers, we have many avenues for expressing ourselves. For example, we could start a blog post with a long, boring list of poetry types and fiction genres and so on, which is probably where you thought I was going with this third sentence. Please slap me if I ever get that boring and predictable.

Nay. I assume you’ve already heard of Haiku and will now move on to the steak and potatoes.

Being a bestselling novelist is the top of the pops for writing cachet. Successful screenplays will get you more free cocaine and hookers, but the average consumer is unlikely to know who wrote the latest Transformers script. They certainly know who Stephen King and Dan Brown are.

For most of us in the real world, getting noticed for our work, much less getting paid, is a challenge. Going into journalism is perhaps the most obvious path to writing for money and getting your name in lights (if people’s laptop screens count as “lights”). Unless you have been living on an island and thought the Panama invasion was still going on, you know that staff journalists are an endangered species and that most bylined writers are freelancers now. This is great for everybody. The news and entertainment organizations don’t have to pay health benefits and can grind you up like old newspaper in a shredder, and you… Okay. Maybe it’s just good for them.

However, the least glamorous, most anonymous and unheralded writing you can do is corporate writing. It’s also the steadiest paycheck.

Corporate writing doesn’t earn you a byline. Chances are, the reader will never know your name. You write training manuals and reports and summaries and evaluations and proposals and other documents read by other people in other office buildings. No one cares about your personal expression. Your writing voice is The Company.

Then, every two weeks, they hand you a check. And you go, “Yeah, boy,” because now you can pay rent and stock up on cupcakes and buy stuff you don’t need on Amazon.

If you’re thinking of taking your writing skills to the corporate world but need more 411, here are some pros and cons:

Pro: Duh. I already told you: paycheck. And you don’t convince anyone to let you write for money. They give you stuff to write.

Con: They give you stuff nobody else wants to or can write.

*

Con: You know how sometimes you just don’t feel like writing ‘cause you’re tired and not in the mood? Guess what. Deadlines don’t care about your mood, and neither does your boss. You gotta suck it up and write for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, or they’ll find someone else.

Pro: You learn to meet deadlines. There’s no procrastination when a client needs a report by 2 p.m. and you got the assignment at 1 p.m. You’ll end up managing your personal writing time better, too.

*

Con: Sometimes you hit The Wall, and I don’t mean that quasi-religious song by Kansas (it’s on their Leftoverture album). I mean, sometimes your work is repetitious in ways you can’t imagine if you’ve never done cubicle writing. Like last year when I had to write about 85 unique evaluations based on 85 nearly identical data sets in one week. My desk still has the indentation where I smacked my forehead into it around report #60.

Pro: You learn discipline. You power through, and you feel like a professional knowing that lesser humans would have cracked.

*

Pro: Everyone thinks you’re smart. Unlike math experts who don’t get to show off their number skills very often in conversation, writers have opportunities to strut their stuff every day. During a recent meeting, I fumbled in search of a word, and a co-worker from another department was so happy. She said she feels nervous speaking in front of us and was glad to know we have our inarticulate moments too.

*

Pro: You are often surrounded by like-minded people who can’t find a damn agent, either. Misery loves company?

*

Pro: You learn new writing skills, like composing the dull-sounding stuff I described above. Hey, you can do something you couldn’t do before!

*

Con: After staring at a monitor all day, the last thing you want to do at home is stare some more.

Pro: I have no pro. Trying to get motivated after work writing all day is my biggest struggle, only ever overcome through discipline and inconsistent bouts of inspiration. Then again, I haven’t tried the cocaine-and-hookers route yet.

 

Talk to me!

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53 responses to “Writing in a Corporate Environment

  • thecontentedcrafter

    I wrote an education curriculum manual once. I put my name on it as it was the curriculum according to me. It was a hard slog to get completed and I decided I would never accept another such assignment – the cons far outweighed the pros. I decided to become an artist and crafter instead of a writer 🙂

    • ericjbaker

      I admire people who work in the plastic arts. Whatever it takes to paint, stitch, sculpt, etc., I don’t have. I’m glad you found your passion for expression and creativity!

  • Kevin Brennan

    This makes me want to stab my eye with a quill pen.

    I used to edit cardiology papers. There came a point when I realized they were all exactly the same, and my little fiddlings with them would be noticed by no one — except the lead author, that is, who always thought I had destroyed his crystalline prose.

    But you said it best. Paycheck.

    • ericjbaker

      Yikes. Save the eye stabbing for the day I do a post on Italian splatter films. They’re big on eyeball gore over there. Zombi (1980) is a good place to start, if you’re looking for ideas.

      I like being a corporate writer, at least in the context of a 9 to 5 job in an office. I’d rather get paid to write than do something that makes me miserable, like sales. My phone rarely rings except for people following up on messages I left, and I get to push words around. I mostly get to avoid office politics as well.

  • diannegray

    You’ve managed to neatly wrap up the life I had for fifteen years before I quit my day job and started creative writing full time (19 months, 24 days and 7 hours ago). The one thing I could never find a Pro for in the corporate world was the convoluted and never-ending ‘approval process’ – argh! 😉

    • ericjbaker

      I’m kind of lucky in that way since most of my writing assignments flow in through a well-defined system and are the end result of products and services already closed. The rest of it typically spawns from my own recognition of internal needs, and my boss and his bosses are open to what I come up with. I also spend part of my day editing marketing collateral and similar stuff. A high volume of fast-turnaround projects, rather than one giant thing that needs to go through a thousand people and steps.

      Congrats on the full time creative writing and for putting the corporate world in your rear-view mirror!

  • Gwen Stephens

    Nice to get a glimpse of another writing profession. Thanks.

    • ericjbaker

      I can see how some people would recoil at the idea of cubicle writing, but I think it’s a good gig if you have the discipline. As I mentioned in one of my comments above, my phone hardly rings, and they mostly let me do my thing because we have a well-established system and because I am self-managing. The editing part of my job, which used to represent a far higher percentage of my day, definitely made me a better writer.

  • nrhatch

    In my book, anonymity is a “Pro.”
    Fame is over-rated.

    Just show me the money!

    • ericjbaker

      That’s the other part. I don’t get caught up in “owning” my writing, because as soon as I submit, it’s not my intellectual property anymore. It’s very simple and I don’t ever have to think about it again once I turn it over to the proper authorities.Next!

  • shelleyhazen83

    Journalism is indeed one of the more rewarding ways to get your name noticed, but the pay – even for staff – is dismal. I did it for 5 years. Doing it again now, actually – but as a freelancer. Anyway – I totally agree about writing for money eliminating the “but I’m not inspired to write” excuse. Editors say “so what?” Deadlines are excellent motivators in my opinion. But I have to admit, corporate writing sounds like a draaaaaag. 🙂

    • ericjbaker

      To your last point, it can be a drag if you don’t have that grind-it-out mentality. When interviewing applicants, I’ve described the work to them as an “intellectual assembly line.” You have to think and concentrate, yet it’s not particularly engaging and must be produced under tight deadlines. The way I look at it, I get paid to push words around, and that’s not too shabby at all. I’m good at digging in and plowing.

      I studied public relations in college, working my way through in various retail jobs (the most flexible hours available for a college student who still needs full time work). after graduation, I quickly found out that starting jobs in PR firms typically paid 5K to 7K less than I was getting to count cash register receipts and unpack shipments. 7K less than a retail job! Appalling.

      If you want a byline and some control over your career as a writer, freelancing is the way to go. I hope it holds you over until you write that blockbuster horror novel!

      • shelleyhazen83

        I think the writing profession is woefully under valued and it reflects in the pay. I tried to break into magazines – I once got an offer of $50 for 1,200 words. Ridiculous. Never tried business or corporate writing or copywriting but I’m sure it’s much more lucrative. I actually went back to journalism – and hopefully THAT will support me until I write that blockbuster 🙂

        • ericjbaker

          Insane. $50 for 1,200 words… and all the time spent on research, interviews, fact-checking, etc. At most, you’re getting $5 an hour.

          Most people would call what I do copywriting, but, practically speaking, I don’t write copy. I write internal documents and reports and summaries for clients. I’m probably splitting hairs with this distinction as far as anyone else is concerned.

  • L. Marie

    Ha ha! You’re singing my song. I write school curriculum (first, second, fifth, and sixth grades) and have deadlines every two weeks or sometimes every week. Deadlines, rubrics–I’m well acquainted with them. And yes, sometimes, I feel like screaming. And some days, it’s hard to be motivated to work on my novel. But novel writing is so different, I look forward to doing it–like I look forward to dessert. It’s my reward after a hard day of trying to work within guidelines.

    That’s another con by the way–working within guidelines. Though that’s a discipline, sometimes, it’s hard to break out of that mold when you switch to novel writing. I have to keep reminding myself that I don’t have to write between 75-200 words.

    • ericjbaker

      That’s a great way to look at… rewarding yourself for showing writing discipline (without adding calories). Writing guidelines in a corporate setting… they can be tricky on the legal side, but I enjoy finding ways to say things within limitations. It appeals to the creative problem solver in me.

  • Anonymous

    Wow…it was like this was written for me ! 😉

  • ygm17

    I wrote training manuals for a couple of years, mostly ‘soft skills’ like ‘time-management’ and ’emotional intelligence’. Absolutely loved it and wouldn’t mind getting more of that work to be honest. Great post Eric 🙂

  • Janna G. Noelle

    I do a bit of curriculum and report writing in my job but not enough to make it, or my own writing waiting for me after work, a drag, thank goodness. Although I did years ago write my graduate thesis by day and a novel my night (no drugs and hookers required), so I’m at least somewhat of a sucker for punishment.

    • ericjbaker

      Since a research library is your candy store, I suspect you have a high tolerance for such punishment.

      None of it is ever a drag for me, but there are surely times when a non-writing assignment is necessary for mental health. That’s part of the reason I developed a few training programs at work. So I could deliver them! Sneaky. No employee ever suggests something that doesn’t benefit him in some way.

  • brickhousechick

    Very interesting. Someone has to write those training manuals, reports and summaries, it may as well be you and – $$$$$$$! I admire you for doing it. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  • Jill Weatherholt

    Many years ago, I had to write a training manual and I hated it. Perhaps that’s what drove me to fiction writing. Although I don’t spend my day writing like yourself, I’m in front of a computer for the majority of my day. I can relate to wanting to stay away from the computer once at home. I solved that conundrum by grabbing a fancy pad and pen and going to town in a comfy chair.
    Like you, I do it for the paycheck and more importantly company paid health insurance…but cupcakes sound nice too!
    Thanks for your entertaining post on my blog, Eric!

    • ericjbaker

      Thanks for having me! I look forward to this Friday’s spotlight.

      I think what I like about corporate writing, at least what I do, is the puzzle-solving aspect, i.e., translating esoteric or R&D type stuff into end-user friendly language. I think only writers truly understand what it means to write for a specific audience.

  • Sue Archer

    Great post! My corporate day job involves a lot of writing and editing, and I love focusing on the learning aspect of it. This is why I’ve become involved in a lot of user experience design (for help documentation), plain language, and writing and delivering training sessions. A lot of my topics are technical, and I think it’s a challenge to write in a way that is understandable (and even interesting – gasp!) for the audience. That part of it is never boring, because you are using your creativity and skills to help people connect with the material.

    • ericjbaker

      Holy smokes. That sounds a lot like what I do! You have the exact attitude needed it make it work. It’s rarely glamorous or action packed, but we still get to use our creativity in subtle ways.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • livelytwist

    After staring at a monitor all day, the last thing you want to do at home is stare some more. Roger that!

  • Huw Thomas

    Good post. I spent about eight years as a journalist and similar on the other side of the fence doing everything from promoting a European funding programme to a disaster relief charity!
    It can certainly be hard to sit yourself back down in front of a screen to work on the novel after sitting at a computer all day but it is a different experience. Corporate writing teaches you a craft, novel writing is more art…. (well, that’s what I tell myself).

    • ericjbaker

      For sure, it’s a different part of the brain that gets stimulated with each form of writing, which is probably what makes it possible to do both. My practical concern is eyestrain more than anything else.

      I’ve wrestled with identifying my fiction as art or craft and ultimately decided it is entertainment. I endeavor to write well-crafted (there’s that word) stories that are enjoyable and intriguing. If people get my subtext and motifs, great, if not, that’s fine too, as long as they found it entertaining.

      Thanks so much for stopping by to share your insight.

  • Linda Condrillo

    . . . “getting your name in lights (if people’s laptop screens count as “lights”).” Oh this made me LAUGH. Great article!

  • Richard Leonard

    Love my job. I get to write the same thing in two different languages for two different audiences. 1: computer code for a computer to read. 2: The same thing in English for the benefit of other engineers and another variation for the customers. Often wonder which audience is more picky about the grammar and syntax. It’s not always the computer!

  • 1WriteWay

    Great list of pros and cons, Eric. I do a little bit of writing in my job and am often asked to edit reports, etc., but mostly I work with data. The upside is I’m not having to write stuff I don’t want to write (I did enough of that in grad school). The downside is I’m still in front of a computer all day so returning to the computer after hours is difficult, although I still manage to do it.

    • ericjbaker

      I suspect that is a common experience for writers. That is, a writer’s skills, interests, and educational experiences are likely to put her in front of a computer in an office rather than, say, doing roadwork or construction.

      • 1WriteWay

        And yet I once met a young writer who purposely took summer jobs in road construction for the sake of material. I wish I could remember his name because I remember that alone made me want to read his stories.

        • lectorconstans

          Theodore Sturgeon worked in construction. At one job he drove a caterpillar, which gave rise to “Kiildozer!”. That’s just one example. Then there’s Eric Hoffer, “the Longshoreman philosopher” (but writing was just a second job)

        • 1WriteWay

          Interesting. Thank you for mentioning them 🙂

        • ericjbaker

          No doubt there are exceptions to every likelihood. Generally speaking, though, the average writer who discusses writing on an internet forum or blog can probably relate to the eyestrain associated with working in an office and then going home to write some more.

          This could make an interesting, unscientific poll.

        • 1WriteWay

          Indeed, and the young writer I mention is from a class I took … (cough) … 20 years ago 😉

  • lectorconstans

    Does that list of pros & cons mean that when the latest company brochure assignment is dropped in your In-Box, you don’t get to go off and Court the Muse until she graces you with the Wand of Expression?

    There should be a monument somewhere – a small statue, perhaps – dedicated to the writers of User’s Manuals. Far too may seem to have been badly translated from the Chinese.

    Speaking of screenplays, I’d heard that after the studio gets its millions from distribution, then pays the actors, the producers, the behind-the-screen multitudes, and so on, there’s little or nothing left for the writers.

    • ericjbaker

      If only writers knew a thing or two about negotiating. Alas, it does not seem to be in our make up. No doubt the paycheck size from a screenplay is contingent on the writer’s clout, leverage, and swagger. Which maybe three writers in Hollywood have. The rest are like you said: standing on the sidelines while others divide up whatever money has been made.

  • Hollis Hildebrand-Mills

    Hi Eric: I was just about to start on my next three blogs, when I happened upon your string of blogs here. And Superman caught my eye,

    Yes discipline. There was a time I worked on painting for four hours a day. Period. My studio is in town (1 hour away) and I would rush up the stairs to my studio, throw open the door and work. Just work. After four hours time, I would clean up the brushes, lock the door and drive home for 1 hour.

    I did this for two or three years. I did not have to have the creative spirit move me. I told people who asked “What if you are not in the mood?” I would say “I have to be!”

    Your day job as you said, teaches that sort of work ethic. And you get paid. And even though it is the company’s voice, it is a voice. You are using a muscle there. Remember, as I always say, Jackson Pollack believed that creativity comes from restrictions. Mine are that my studio is far away and I have to drive…

    • ericjbaker

      The idea of having a studio separate from the house is appealing. If I should ever achieve the kind of writing success necesssary to afford a personal studio, I think I would acquire one. I’d prefer that it looked like a painter’s studio as well (at least my fantasy version with unfinished wood floors, hardly any furniture, and a steep a-frame ceiling). Maybe three miles away instead of 50, though. My muse can easily be the space around me.

      You’ve actually touched in something I want to blog about, but… there’s that word “discipline” again.

      • lectorconstans

        I think that’s a good idea. I’ve been reading about Gustav Mahler, When he was composing in Austria, he had a little hut (literally) built, by a lake, and later, another one. There’s something to be said for having a separate workspace.

        But then there’s that discipline thing. I really must try it, one of these days.

      • Hollis Hildebrand-Mills

        Thank you. You inspired me also to rethink those dull gray paintings we always see and can’t get a grasp of.(At least I can’t) They are doing exactly what you and I said they are to do: to make everything equal.(to exaggeratedly take out anything that stands out) Maybe it’s extreme. Like Warhol was or any art movement is. But I do think that is their purpose!!!!

        Glad I gave you something to blog about and think about too.

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