We’re told not to take fiction writing into account when we evaluate the credentials of a freelance writer. This is a mistake.
People dismiss fiction writing as frivolous in relation to serious business needs; the work of mere imagination and not a compilation of facts. Yet it’s my imagination that gives me the flexibility to see inside the heads of a writing assignment’s target audience. Imagination also helps me review my work from the customer’s perspective and pinpoint ways to maximize the job’s ultimate impact.
At one company, I was in charge of writing custom material for new resident books we provided to multifamily properties. These books contained amenities and guidelines sections, home care tips and information about neighborhood features like schools and parks, along with government services such as driver’s license and vehicle registration procedures packaged with a comprehensive entertainment section. Our clients had previously been suburban communities, and our standard introductory paragraphs focused on the “peace and tranquility” one finds in these places. But I was working on a new community located in downtown Seattle next door to CenturyLink Field. There’s nothing tranquil about living in this place, especially during football season when Seahawks fans get so raucous that their enthusiasm registers on seismographs! By imagining myself as various people living in downtown Seattle, I encountered the energy and activity that fuels their lives. I pitched a customized variation in our introductory verbiage and got it approved over the objections of others—not fiction writers—who didn’t see a need for the change.
For these same publications, our staff wrote sample introductory letters from the property management companies. I researched these organizations to ensure my examples conveyed a distinct tone corresponding to our client’s current marketing and corporate image. I put myself into the heads of property management executives and figured out how to meet and exceed their expectations. My colleagues focused on writing generic, “feel good” copy. We placed these letters in a single document and let the client choose their favorite. The companies almost invariably chose the letters I wrote for their publications.
I can imagine myself as a young mother with a missing child, a delusional man contemplating a failed life, a middle-aged detective trying to solve a murder, or a thirteen-year-old boy or fourteen-year-old girl facing extraordinary problems—these are not mere flights of fancy that have no relation to business. Imagination is vital to my function as a writer in all settings. Fiction stretches writing muscles just as exercise forms an athlete’s body. In the end, it’s the total preparation that counts.
Facts are facts, but imagination makes the sale.