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The line “It’s not you, it’s me,” might be the closest a human being can get to punching someone in the diaphragm without lifting a finger.

Red Terror

At nineteen I fell in love with a girl who liked her paramours to be super-feminine, so I grew my hair, went shopping for lipsticks in colors like Merlot Sunset and Peachy Queen, and made sure to invest in a pair of heels that inevitably led to two sprained ankles and a particularly ungraceful swan-dive down the steps of the Second Avenue F train station. She left me for a high-school senior named Kristen who wore glitter eye-shadow and whose graduation gift from her parents was a Honda Civic with a pink paint job. With my brand of forced girlishness that was far more gaudy than gamine, it was no wonder that my ex dumped me like a pile of awkward rocks.

Like most people, I’ve been in situations or relationships where I struggled, and inevitably failed, to fit into a role that just simply wasn’t me. These include high-school cheerleader, mentally stable girlfriend, and Phish fan. I cringe most at the last one.

I’ve lived that life of wanting to fit in. It was called high-school. It led to a pitifully small social circle, a fairly high SAT score, and a frightening tolerance for alcohol by my sophomore year of college. I thought the days of rejection and nights of The Cure and Kleenex had gone the way of the rotary phone. Needless to say, when I received what could only be described as a break-up email from a client today, my heart kind of broke a little.

Now, before any of you start to chortle, allow me to illuminate you to the fact that my period is over and I didn’t cry. Okay? This was a rational response. Really.

Home Sweet

Just like I knew when Kristen’s number started showing up in my ex’s beeper, and how her car would smell mysteriously of Love’s Baby Soft, I could see how this was going to play out. The client had hired me on for two projects, website text and press releases for their new location. I had researched their business extensively, sat down for a brief meeting with the owner, trolled the Internet for competitors, and churned out what I had thought was inventive and engaging prose. After the first two sets of revisions, complete with a terse note addressed to me and little explanation as to how to improve upon it further, I knew the client wasn’t happy. Despite the fact that I had been given little guidance on the project, I had thought I was fully capable of gleaning at least a remote idea of what they wanted for their homepage text. After the third set of revisions — and after following their notes with the exactitude of a surgeon, even repeating a word several times in one paragraph because that was how they wanted it — I composed an email asking for more detailed guidelines as well as additional deadlines for the project as a whole. A few days passed. I knew what was coming in the same way that terriers can smell storms.

Doggie
The email I opened this morning was surprisingly honest and gentle, expressing their lack of clarity on where to go on the project as a whole, as though my text forced them into the role of Goldilocks and made them realize that they really didn’t know what sort of a feel they wanted for the website after all. There were plenty of backhanded compliments that I tried not to wince at (I was called “creative” more than once in the same way one refers to the kindergartener who eats paste and says they’re a helicopter.) I was promised more information as to whether or not I would be kept on for the remainder of the project, but it had the same feel as being told “let’s just be friends.”

I was rejected.

I felt like the client had broken up with me even though I got a decent piece of text for my portfolio out of it and the knowledge that sometimes, as the email said, you’re just not the right fit. That’s not a criticism of you as a writer or an employee. After all, I turned in the work on time and listened carefully to what I was told with regard to how to make improvements. It wasn’t anything personal. At least they had the consideration to write to me and tell me that they were trying to solve the conundrum of where to go with regard to the site in its entirety. It wasn’t me. It was them.

But I couldn’t help sulking around and wondering what I could have done differently.

shame

Being able to adapt is a commendable trait. My business partner is of the mentality that, as professional writers, we should be capable of writing anything, our skills should make us little character chameleons, slipping from one medium to the next. I, however, respectfully disagree. Ouch. He just threw a shoe at me.

I believe that knowing your strengths is what makes you capable of greatness. No one ever told Superman to dance, Basquiat to write a sushi-making manual, or Pavarotti to knit a sweater. I suppose a more appropriate analogy is that no one told Pavarotti to beat-box or perform slam poetry, although both require a microphone and could be considered audio-arts. He knew he was an opera singer, a tenor, and didn’t attempt to stray too far outside of what he did best. Even if he had, he would always be known as a tenor specifically. Perhaps it would have been different if he had just said, “Oh, you know, I sing all types of stuff,” but it’s likely that then he wouldn’t have become the best at what he could do. Flexibility and compliance are certainly great characteristics to have, but I believe that honing your skills down until you are the ultimate foccacia maker, the unbeatable left-handed ping-pong player, the most knowledgeable stingray expert, whatever, is the most effective way of standing out, or, in my case, of avoiding the path of just another mediocre freelance writer.

stand out

My business partner seethes when I tell him that his style is identifiable, that the way he puts words together is unique and a sort of trademark that represents his body of work as a whole. He thinks this shows a rigidity and limitation. I think it instead allows him to be a commodity of sorts. If a potential client reads his samples they get a clear picture of how he writes, his style and flair, and they can easily determine whether or not it jives with their assignment. My hodgepodge collection that ranges from dry technical writing to over-the-top artist bios and sardonic articles only really illuminates the fact that I move my fingers fast and I’m willing to try anything once. Both can be said of my romantic life as well.

Although I’m not sure it was the correct way to handle the situation, I wrote the client back. I said that I hoped they would continue to have me write for them and that we would likely benefit from another, more intensive meeting to discuss specifics that would avoid another lengthy, drawn-out revision process. I wished them well and said I hoped to hear back soon. I haven’t heard back. Until I do I suppose I’ll just read the new issue of Cosmo, write in my journal, and wait by the phone.

Pavarotti

AinsleyDrew at gmail

Hi-ho, hi-ho

Drop down and give me one hundred and forty

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3 Comments

  1. “…they really didn’t know what sort of a feel they wanted for the website after all.”

    I’ve seen a number of projects crash and burn on this point. Doing a site requires an intensive introspective process that some organizations are unable to endure. Being forced into clarity is a traumatic experience, and often opens up internal rifts as well–these are invisible to the outside creative team (if you’re lucky) and can significantly postpone, or sometimes cancel, a project.

    Some clients, when seeing their initial ideas wrought into plain text in front of them, quail and back off. Their decider breaks, and they fuss around, fiddle around, and can’t be made happy with their own words. Sometimes you can shepherd them through this process, and sometimes they collapse, blame the vendor, and part ways. Often when seeing the results of the second (or third) vendor’s work, I have a feeling that they ended up getting tired and settling for something that they wouldn’t have dreamed of in our first meetings.

    Keeping the door open with your response was the right thing to do. It’s never a good idea to burn a bridge. You never know—they could be fully aware of their shortcomings during the process, and recommend you to someone else in the future.

    It’s good to do some self-examination, and to wonder what you could have done better, but sometimes it really is them, not you.

  2. Being rejected? Sucks.
    Being a Phish fan? Sucks more.

  3. As much as I would like to agree with your partner, I do think that anyone who writes for any length of time develops a voice that is distinctly their own, and that can be seen or heard in everything they do.

    I don’t think that necessarily inhibits your ability to give people what they want, it just informs the process.

    And that Phish fan part? Dude. I mean, really, DUDE.


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