On Value and Advance Payment

Confession: Big writing jobs scare the living daylights out of me.

But you’re a professional writing major! I hear you say. You shouldn’t be afraid of writing–you should LOVE big writing jobs!

More Typewriter
“You post pictures of typewriters,” you say. “You should not fear writing.” But oh, the secrets typewriter photos can hide…

Seems like, huh? But I’m petrified. And yesterday, I smiled and nodded and kept my hands from shaking while I accepted two flashdrives and a sheet of paper detailing the biggest job I’ve ever received.

And that started me asking some questions. See, I’ve done plenty “real” writing jobs. Articles for writing periodicals, devotionals for a kids’ book–pieces I’ve signed contracts for. (Which is another terror we can talk about later; contracts are scary!) But this piece feels different. Bigger. More important.

Why?

Probably two reasons: I received an advance for it, and it’s longer than three pages.

Don’t laugh, because I’m dead serious. Just holding that advance payment in my hand started a series of shudders down my spine, because, Oh heavens these people are paying me and they haven’t even seen my work and what if I ruin this and what if I miss my deadline and what if I spend the money and then they demand it back and I don’t have it and I ruin my career forever and…

You get the picture. And see, I’m not usually terrified of writing jobs. (Okay, if they include interviews, I am. Interviews are scarier than contracts.) Usually, I’m only terrified of my own writing, because there’s the possibility of my spending years on it and then finding that no publisher wants it. At least when I’m handed a writing job, I know that someone wants the material.

But this is a Very Big Job, I remind myself. A Very Important Job.

And that’s when I realised: I’m devaluing.

See, when people say, “What do you write?” I’ve come up with an answer, finally: “I want to affirm the value of the individual.” An abstract, lofty concept, but one that I see more and more in my writing. And here I am, devaluing readers subconsciously by ranking my writing as “important” or “not so important” or (heaven forbid, but it happens) “Meh. I can whip this out in half an hour the night it’s due.”

Writing advice always includes one point: Know your reader.

And if I write for my reader, calling one piece more important than another really comes down to placing value on my readers. “This is important. These readers deserve my best–I hope my best is good enough for these important readers!” or “These readers don’t matter much; this piece isn’t that important. These readers will be satisfied with mediocre work.” Or (heaven forbid, but it happens) “These readers couldn’t matter less to me. I’ll pop this out and maybe proofread, but I doubt they’ll even care about that, because they are not important readers.”

….wow. What an arrogant perspective! How dare I class one reader lower than another? Don’t they all deserve my best? Don’t my blog readers deserve the effort I put into my highest-paying  commissions? Don’t kids reading devotionals deserve the same care and attention I pay to literary magazine subscribers?

Child
And really, how could childen not be important? Look at that face!

I thought that advance-payment cheque represented my greatest fear this week, but I was wrong. Advance payment for a big job is terrifying, but recognising my own nature is worse.

Today, I thought I feared failure, but I don’t–I fear my own arrogance.

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2 thoughts on “On Value and Advance Payment

  1. You’ve written such truth here. I know I often think of my writing (especially the college papers…) in terms of what I can get away with, rather than the best effort I can make. But people are people. All are valuable, and every reader matters no matter what piece of yours they’re reading. Thanks for reminding me.

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    1. I agree –college papers are especially hard. I didn’t even think about those when I was writing, but I do tend to reduce those–and the professors reading them, or students I present them to in class–to a grade on my record.

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