At my day job, they love me. After five years of writing Frankly Curious at a very intense level, I did learn a lot about professional writing. That’s something that people don’t usually understand: being a professional writer doesn’t mean you are necessarily all that good in what people think of as writing. But it does mean you have expertise in certain aspects of content creation. For example, you could tell me to write a thousand words about any subject at all, and I would have a publishable article for you within about four hours. I’m kind of like a robot. They can plug me into any assignment and it will get done.
To give you an example, back in late December, I had to write an article about OAuth. I had no idea what it was, but I did the research, wrote the article, and it was published. By that point, I was both writer and editor, so it wasn’t even much checked by my main supervisor (if that’s the right word). But by the end of January, I couldn’t even remember what OAuth was. I remembered having written an article about it, but I couldn’t tell you want it was. So I went back and read what I had written and it was a perfectly fine piece of professional writing. (For the record: OAuth is a really cool thing!)
So I’m good at my job. I have the kind of expertise that employers are desperate for. And so last Wednesday, I had a Skype call with what I refer to as the two Grand Poobahs of Quality Nonsense: Toni and Richard. I mean that in the kindest sense. They are both among the smartest and most creative people I have ever known — much less worked with. And they decided that I should take over the management of our freelance writers. This is mostly because Toni has far too much other work to do, and Richard is always coming up with new things to do. I’m going along with it because it’s what they want. But I’m skeptical.
Expertise in Writing! Expertise in Managing?!
It’s true that I have much expertise in writing and editing the work that I’ve been given control over. But this kind of expertise does not translate into expertise in managing a bunch of writers. And it isn’t just a matter of my getting work done. There are a bunch of freelance writers who need to work to get paid. I need to make sure that they are kept busy so that they can pay their rent and feed their kids and whatnot. It’s daunting. And although I’ve managed people before, it has never been like this. What I’ve done before I would call more “overseeing.” For example, I once managed seven Romanian programmers. But that mostly meant that I interacted with one of them about the general work that needed to be done. He then assigned tasks.
I don’t doubt that I am able to do all of this. But it’s clear that expertise in one area doesn’t imply expertise in another. My abilities as a professional writer came as a result of thousands of hours of work. My ability to manage these writers will doubtless be helped by my writing and editing experience. But mostly, I will be dependent upon being generally smart and having a decent understanding of basic management. And in a perfect world, I probably wouldn’t be put in this position. There are probably people who are much worse writers than I am who would be far better than I will be at this.
But I hope that through a combination of my current skills, some time to learn, and lots of understanding on the part of the Grand Poobahs and the writers I can reach an acceptable level of expertise. But that sure isn’t a given.