I’m not a professional writer. Yet. I’m trying. It’s very odd to me that the thought never crossed my mind of how great an emotional investment this is. I’m taking requests from people, researching, developing, turning an abstract idea in to something tangible. Then add on the layers of voice. Is it informative? Is it opinion? Is it a lackluster attempt at humor? The demand always changes and a good writer knows how to wear the appropriate hat at the designated time.
I used to compete as a slam poet here in Salt Lake City. For those of you that are unfamiliar with what competitive poetry entails, it goes a little something like this-you have 3:10 to perform an original piece. There can be no props, no borrowed sentiment and no matter what, the clock never stops ticking. It’s alright to read a piece from paper, but if you’re trying to win, thats as close of a guarantee as you can get to losing. So you perform you piece. Salt Lake City has a huge indie arts following so the crowd is always going to be bigger than you expected until you get up to the microphone. Then it just looks like the inauguration Trump visualized in his head. Out of that mob of folks, you also have 5 judges.
As someone who has also spent a great deal of time hosting slam poetry events, I can tell you with certain knowledge that judges are selected by how little they know about competitive poetry. Judges that are more nervous than the poets are prefered. Each one is given a placard to score each piece on a scale of 1-10 and always with use of the decimal to prevent ties.
So there you are. Stage facing a sea of strangers, spot light so firmly planted upon your face that it seems the light is coming from your eyes, a stop watch, 4 confused judges and a piece of poetry that you have practiced to the point of memorization not only of words, but dramatic breathes, subtle hand gestures, perfection.
You can guess how the rest goes. Poem is delivered, scored, next poet does the same, over and over for 3 rounds until you have a winning poet with a higher score than the others. It is more fun than can be explained. It is the essence of life. When you step back and look at it from a more practical viewpoint, one question seems to forever bob up to the surface.
Why would you create something that had to travel the chaotic oasis of your soul, make camp in your heady mountain brain long enough to ride coach to your fingertips and be scribbled out on paper, then take this child of divinity, hold it up like Simba on Pride Rock and ask people to score it? Do you really enjoy a self propelled knee to the genitals that bad?
It does seem crazy, but that’s why slam and open mic poets are far from a dime a dozen. It takes a level of confidence that shares a fence with healthy narcissism, a passion like your first kiss and skin as thick as Robert Mueller’s dossier on Kelly Conway.
What does this have to do with freelance writing? Nothing, besides the fact that the two things are exactly the same, albeit your audience is virtual and you’re being paid to care about whatever labor of love you birth. As a participant I can tell you, they are very much alike.
Just like every poet is going to lose their train of thought or go over their allotted time and earn a low score that is going to drop them out of contending in the very first round, so are the articles, papers, columns and insights that I flog to companies in need. Rejection is going to happen.
Here is where I can’t decide which is worse: standing on a stage in front of hundreds and making eye contact with the judges as they hold up your scores or receiving the bitter sweet rejection letter just ripe with back handed compliments. You know the ones-“Thanks for submitting, and while this article would look great lining your bird’s cage, we were looking for something a little more robotic and out of touch”.
When I was a slam poet, for every low score I got (actually for any high score or middle score as well) I would pound a beer on stage and bow to the audience. When I get a rejection letter, the routine isn’t quite so figured out yet, and yes I thank the Lord of Heaven and Earth that that is because most of my work has been accepted.
I have to figure something out, and quick. While I am completely devoted to this industry and have decided that this is where my legacy will issue forth from, you can only watch Christopher Robin whilst eating Baby Ruth ice cream so many times before the feel good wears off.
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