When people ask me what I do for a living, and I say I’m a writer, I love how bowled over they look. Wow! What do you write? My stock answer is anything but porn. You should see the let-down looks when I explain I’m a digital marketing copywriter.
By night, I keep a blog, write creative essays and stories, and am even working on my second book. But I earn my living by writing things with no byline. I don’t mind a whit: For me, the writing life is less about credit than curiosity. That’s why I know more than your average Joe about things like CDMA technology, ice dams, and skincare for chemo patients. It’s not because I’m a telecom expert, a builder, or a dermatologist. It’s because I’m a writer.
Remember your first book report? I do. Mine was on Pete Rose. Baseball was not my sport, and the name Pete Rose meant nothing to me. This was the late 1970s, so no Internet. I went to the school library and the city library. I checked out books, periodicals, and microfiche. I interviewed baseball fans in my life. I checked the sports pages. I studied details of Rose’s face and uniform—the way his hair stuck out of his hat, stick-straight like Peppermint Patty’s, the loop-de-loop of the P and the R in his signature. In other words, it was way more than a book report. And when his gambling scandal hit the headlines a decade later, nobody had to explain to this non-baseball-loving girl a single thing about Pete Rose.
I still don’t love baseball, but I’m kind of possessive about Pete Rose. In a strange way, he’s one of my babies. Every topic I have ever written about qualifies as “one of my babies.” The mixture is odd, from erectile dysfunction to energy-efficient toilets and from zero-down mortgages to the marriage rituals of the Yanomamo in the Amazon. But you know what they say about variety. It’s absolutely true.
Want to be a good writer? Stop worrying about the byline. Be curious about everything. Probe and snoop. Good writers know lots of stuff. They are not skimmers. They are footnote-readers. They bother to check out page 47 of the annual report, the “About Us” sections on restaurant menus, and more than just an article or two about whatever subject hits their assignment pile. Their appetite for interesting information is insatiable. For good writers, half the fun is the research. The other half isn’t seeing their name printed under the headline. It’s the writing.