September 9, 2011Do you need to be passionate to be able to write?
I caught up with another freelancer this week and we got onto the subject of “danger words” in client enquiries. The classic is the phrase “it’s only a little job” which usually means “it’s an ordinary sized job but I have very little money”.
It’s also worth counting the number of buzzwords a client uses in their enquiry. One recent enquiry opened with “we’re looking to engage with a copywriting solution”. This solution politely rejected the client’s offer to get engaged. Knowing in my heart of hearts we were incompatible, I was sure I’d be jilted before invoice day.
My friend added another one to the list. ‘Passionate,’ he said. ‘Beware anyone who tells you they’re “passionate” about something. And if they want you to be passionate too, run a mile.’
I thought getting “engaged” was bad enough. But, apparently, everyone is passionate about what they do. And they expect you to be, too.
The word “passion” worries me.
In the course of my career as a freelance copywriter, I have met people who are passionate about design. Fair enough. But I have also met people who are passionate about carpet cleaning, picture framing, and even data entry.
If it’s your day job or your living, it’s possible — albeit unlikely — you’re passionate about data entry. But I’m still surprised every time I see a brief, enquiry, or RFP that asks the copywriter (occasionally: “copywriting resource”) if they are “passionate” about xxxxxxx.
Most people aren’t passionate about their own jobs — let alone someone else’s. So why ask?
It’s about engagement, stupid, or:
When people are passionate, they want to get engaged.
In other words, the client is looking for someone who understands them. They’re looking for someone who thinks the way they do. They’re looking for someone they can relate to. They’re looking for a relationship. And they assume this requires passion.
For some reason people think you need passion to be in a relationship. Anyone who’s ever been married will tell you this isn’t the case. For most people, a job’s a job. They might have a passion for numbers, but not merchant banking. But they’re in banking rather than teaching because the money’s too good. They are using their skillset to earn a living. Personally, I’m passionate about words, about writing, about books, about literature. Copywriting, less so. I simply try to do a good job.
Builders probably aren’t passionate about the houses they build, plumbers aren’t passionate about toilets. Frankly, you’d be worried if they were. That doesn’t mean they don’t do a good job building your house or mending your leaky pipes. They’re professionals, doing a job. No passion required. Just an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.
Why are passion and creativity inextricably linked?
It all comes back to the myth of the starving artist, the guy who’d rather buy paint than buy next week’s food. Unfortunately, when it comes to the “creative” professions, people believe you need to be passionate to do good work. Not just passionate about your craft, but passionate about your subject matter too.
Do you need to be passionate about something to write about it?
The answer is no.
Journalists sent to cover a story aren’t passionate, they’re objective. They might be passionate about writing — but not always about the assignment they’re given. They’re professionals who tell a story and convey information. Copywriters do a similar job. One week, you’re working on an ad campaign for women’s fashion (which you might care about), the next week, you’re writing long copy for the back of a cereal packet, or a 4000 word financial services brochure. Such is the life of a professional writer.
So should you be worried when someone asks you if you’re passionate?
My friend argued that people used the word “passion” to mean dedication to the job — dedication that could often be exploited for lower wages or poorer conditions. I’ve known chefs, for example, who work up to 12 hour shifts for near minimum wage in 5* restaurants because they’re passionate about food, even though practically any other highly skilled job would pay more and demand less.
So when someone asks you if you’re passionate, my friend decided it was because they wanted you to be dedicated enough to work for less, to redraft documents for free, to wait for payment, etc — and he considers it a danger phrase as bad as “it’s only a little job…”
Personally, I think people are just suffering from the illusion that you have to be passionate, rather than professional, to be able to write.
We don’t demand passion from plumbers, bank clerks, or reporters.
So why demand it from copywriters?
What do you think?