25 Years of Writing - 7 Lessons

A long time ago, I was the communications director for BBDO Europe. I was very young and it was super fun working in international markets. But of all the duties I had at BBDO, writing is what put me on the map.

Not so long ago, I was also happily married and raising two beautiful daughters with my husband. I’d left the agency and now spent most of my time writing and working along side my husband in our own successful business.

It was a great life. Really, like a dream come true.

But you know what they say: ‘stuff’ happens.

(That’s not exactly what they say, but you get it.)

The wheels began to come off of my perfect life literally overnight. My husband had a heart attack. And not just any kind of heart attack. Only 20% of people survive this kind of major event when it happens — and even those 20% are in big, big trouble afterwards. It’s called a “dissection of the aorta”. Basically the main artery that led to his heart just blew up one day.

Boom!

After that, nothing would ever be the same. He was so sick. Our relationship wasn’t exactly in good health either. I’ll spare you the the gritty personal details, but suffice to say I lost almost everything that mattered to me — including our business.

Everything went from sparkly and shiny to dull and dumpy in what seemed like the flick of a switch.

Gripped by the panic and despair and fear of a future that was looking increasingly bleak, I had no idea what to do. The bright spots in my life — my two daughters — they needed me. And with their dad being so sick and our marriage dashed against the rocks…well, it was clear that I’d be raising them pretty much alone.

Then one day, out of the blue, I just woke up. I decided it was time to get a fresh start. And that I should start with what I knew best.

So I started writing.

Out of that simple act, everything flourished.

Now I have a new business. Fantastic clients. Two beautiful, independent, artistic, creative daughters. I live in the French countryside in a cozy, wood-beamed house that is just made for writers.

Everything you ever wanted to know about being a pro writer - but didn’t know to ask.

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I’d lived the nightmare.

And now I’m living the dream.

I learned a few things along the way. Actually, a lot of things. But what I want to share with you today — my fellow writers — are the lessons I learned over the last 25 years about the power and possibilities of a writing career.

It’s not for everyone, but if you have the talent, the skill and the will, I’m here to encourage you to get started. Because if you can write, the world needs you. Why? Read on.

  1. People hate to write. Studies have shown that writing is one of THE biggest social fears out there. In fact, it’s right up there with public speaking. For a lot of people it’s terrifying or excruciating (or both) to put words on paper. So, if you are a gifted writer…if it’s something that comes easily to you…you should do it. You can help other people and have a great career.
  2. But writers are notoriously underpaid. Writing is a hugely valuable contribution because it’s so hard and people really hate it. Complicating things even further are all the technological bells and whistles surrounding writing. People get all caught up in the technology and forget what’s important — the content. All that technology in the world isn’t worth anything if it isn’t filled out with beautiful content, beautiful words, beautiful writing. It breaks my heart when I see people writing 500-word articles for a dollar. (Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but, if you’ve already been out there, you already know — not by much.) There’s a lot more potential there — if you know how to approach it.
  3. Selling yourself as a writer is not enough. Writers write. But in today’s world, if you’re really committed to a career as a writer, you need to piggy back writing with something else of value. For example, here at Slice, we help people with marketing, showing people how to use social media platforms, etc. Writing is the backbone of what we do, but it’s dressed up with other super valuable services. Even if you’re not really good with technology, you need to have a way to distinguish yourself from other writers. Understand that the value of writing goes beyond beautiful words. For most of your clients it will be about brand and reputation building, engaging with customers, bringing attention to their products and services. You have to understand how your writing adds value to your clients, so you can’t obsess about having the most beautiful words out there.

The best kept secret in writing: sometimes you shouldn’t write at all.

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  1. Find the sweet spot. When you write, whatever you’re writing, there’s always a sweet spot between promotion and information sharing. Every piece of writing is somewhere between the two — whether it’s a resume, an online profile, etc. You need to know where your client is on that continuum. So you can create content that will works for the client beyond just sharing information. Even if it’s ever so gently, there should be an invitation to engage. You don’t want to go to the other extreme where content is just thinly veiled promotional “puff pieces”. Because here’s the hard truth: nobody wants to read that stuff.
  2. Writers can’t (and shouldn’t) be all things to all people. The common ‘wisdom’ out there says “a writer is a writer is a writer”. That is just pure BS. Think about all the great cooks you know — they specialize. Some are great bakers. Others can really work a grill or a smoker. Some are short order cooks, others are gourmet chefs. Each of these skills are completely specialized. Writing is the same as cooking. You need to specialize in what you’re best at. Writing a blog is a lot different than writing a hard core sales letter. Or an advertisement. Or newsletter. Find your niche and work it.
  3. Forget everything you learned in English class. I have the most vivid memory of my 8th grade teacher. She had no eyebrows so she used a dark pencil to draw them on, so she looked (and was) very severe. Almost like a drill sergeant. But I’m forever in her debt because she taught me how to diagram sentences and paragraphs. She made me understand how to put information together so people could understand what I was trying to say. Which is the point of communication, right? But — at the risk of inviting her substantial ire — the best thing I did since then was forget everything she taught me about grammar and sentence length and paragraph length, etc. Paragraphs can have many sentences or only one. Sentences can have many words or only one. It’s okay to write like you talk. And not to get hung up on picture perfect grammar. As long as you communicate.    

Why you should forget everything you learned in English class.

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  1. Sometimes the best thing is not to write at all. When I sit down to write, the first thing I do is start talking into my computer’s voice recorder. Talking things out instead of trying to write them out will get your juices going, but more importantly, it gets the tone of your piece going. And it gets rid of the formality and stiffness you see in most professional writing. Boring, right? Start by talking and later, you can transcribe it and then work on writing. The end product is a more natural and more readable piece.

No matter where you’ve been in life — what dreams or nightmares you’ve lived through — if you are called to write, then you should write. And you should do it for a living. You’ll be providing an invaluable service to people literally paralyzed by the idea of doing what you dream of doing. And you’ll be getting the life you’ve always wanted.

What could be better than that?

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About the Author

Nicknamed the 'female David Ogilvy’, Sue Rice is famous for her exquisite writing skills and strategic savvy. A native Californian and Stanford University graduate, she launched her career on Madison Avenue in the 90s and eventually helped run BBDO Europe in Paris as their Communications Director. Now a 7-figure entrepreneur, Sue helps businesses create high-quality content that attracts clients, builds brands and skyrockets sales.