How Content Writing is Eating my Soul but I Still do it Because My Perfectionism Won’t Let me Quit

Every morning I deluge myself in positive phrases, but by evening I always know they are bullshit. When I slide out of bed in the morning, I overwhelm my brain with a shot of happiness. “I am a professional writer.” “I get to write for work today.” “All of my client scrounging has paid off.” This glow suffuses me as I make an opulent breakfast, enjoy coffee with a cat on my lap and do the next day’s Yoga with Adrienne in the 30 day series I’m trying. (This is procrastinating, by the way). But when I sit down at the computer, my heart gains 30 lbs and slides into my gut, which suddenly needs a pastry.

I cringe at the description of my content writing assignments. “Salesy content,” the lover of words within me throws up a little at this misappropriation of an already disliked noun. I try to console myself with the idea that I am going to be an expert of arcane topics. Ask me about truck customization, clay chimineas or the latest in detox diets. I can tell you everything. While that knowledge fills me up with a small glow, it dims at regular intervals.

In researching for my articles, I stumble across my twins, the other writers who scratch out a living using their amazing word synthesis and writing skills to blog for someone else. Looking up yard machinery leads to a wealth of summary articles. This is what an earth auger does. As I read it, I suspect the person who wrote it was like me, writing content for a pittance. It’s well-written, correct and yet obviously devoid of any love. No one played with those words, twisting them into fantastic shapes. They plopped onto the page like nuggets of poo, the excrement of a writer’s brain. Or at least that’s what I think is happening. Because that’s how I feel when I write this content.

There is a draw to this type of writing, but it is small to me. I enjoy searching for other writers’ content to supplement my views. Linking to authority sources like the Mayo Clinic or The New York Times connects me with a network of writers, a community of hyperlinks. I love when the words flow seamlessly from my fingers. But I cannot help feeling as though writing this way stifles me. When I want to do my favorite things, make the words dance across the page, use sentences in ways that they are not meant to be used or come to an astonishing conclusion that only makes sense in my mind, I don’t. Because it’s not the place nor the time. Nor is it worth my time. To make enough to pay my rent, I already have to move on the the next assignment.

So why do I continue? I like attaching the label “professional writer” to myself. I can’t envision myself as the sensitive artist who only wants to write “art” and speak from her soul. I can’t pay rent, which is already subsidized by my boyfriend, without this gig. Giving up seems like failure. Retreating is a fatal personal flaw.

I used to retreat because I thought I wasn’t good enough. I left my dream job after 2 years because I couldn’t fix a broken mission. I couldn’t make the engineering work or the vendors back down or do anything that I needed to do to make the mission succeed. Or so I thought. I ran away because I couldn’t grapple with the fact that I couldn’t do it. And here I stand again, on similar ground, but something within me feels changed.

When my heart drops into my stomach, I want to leave content writing forever. Those of you who don’t know me well might not recognize the key word in that previous sentence. It’s “want.” I “needed” to leave my old job. I needed space to piece myself back together. I needed time to convince myself that my failures weren’t enough to drown me. Now I just want to go. The leaden feeling in my fingers and the ache in my heart is not directed at my own failings. I suspect it’s actual distaste for the work.

But using “distaste” makes me feel like a pompous asshole. The hole in my heart seems the work of someone too sensitive to survive in this world. This isn’t good enough for you? A large part of my brain demands an answer. A tiny bright part answers ‘yes.’ Am I allowed to say that? Am I allowed to say that writing about titanium wedding rings sucks? Am I allowed to ask for a job that makes my soul sing and my words dance across the page once more? Better, am I allowed to abandon my guise as a professional writer and return my work to the place in my heart where it used to reside? Can I do something else as “job” and let my writing be something else?

My perfectionism says no. This is what you have always wanted, it claims. You are a professional writer, it says. I say that I am starving, not for food in my middle class existence, but for something to fill me up. The word “professional writer” is not as nourishing as I believed it would be. It tastes hollow and stale, this version that I have baked.

The small bright part of me tastes the emptiness in what I have created. It gives me permission to go seek that which fills me up. It says to let go of the content writing. It says to embrace the unknown and jump in. It calls me back to my pages I’ve deserted for others’ needs. It calls me back to myself.

Can I give myself permission to go?

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