6 Phrases That I Will Never Use In My Creative Writing

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Since I started working as a professional writer at the age of 16, I’ve heard writing and other creative labor characterized in terms that suggest it’s magical in some manner, that it’s beyond common comprehension. And, although I won’t dispute that creative labor has an otherworldly quality to it, it also allows me to feed my family. It’s a genuine job, a legitimate profession.

This near-universal urge to elevate creative work to unicorn status denigrates it, as if it’s something we should undertake only if we have the time and resources to do so or a strong, rich patron on our side.

The entire thing is childish and, to be honest, classist. And the way we speak about it makes things worse. Here are six words I’ve used in the past that I’m going to try to avoid using in the future, as well as the phrases I’ll use instead.

Say this rather than that.

1. Say “work” instead of “labor of love.”

Last year, I discussed this with an editor, and he pointed out that by using phrases like “labor of love” to describe work, we’ve invested our hard-earned time in feminizing the profession. Now, there’s nothing wrong with feminizing something, but he meant it in the sense that the rest of the world regards female labor, namely, as unworthy of compensation. (The amount of money lost to women due to unpaid work is estimated to be in the billions of dollars yearly by Oxfam.)

2. Say “work” instead of “passion project.”

When I was working at a literary magazine booth with one of my co-editors a few years ago, they referred to our job as a “passion project.” It was just that for them — they’d just retired from a job they’d worked for most of their lives.

For me, a mid-career professional, the literary magazine was a part of finding more work: people who saw the magazine on my résumé hired me to lead workshops, write articles, and be a subject matter expert. As a result, it wasn’t even close to becoming a “passion project” for me. It was time to put food on the table once again. I’m paying for my professional affiliations. It was improving my résumé, professional reputation, and financial situation.

When I first heard them say it, I recall feeling embarrassed of myself. “What is wrong with me that I can’t get a genuine job?” I wondered. How pitiful is it that my colleague’s “passion project” is my source of income?” We were also one of the only companies that provided a stipend to our editors and authors, so it seemed completely inappropriate.

Photo by Brad Neathery on Unsplash

3. Say “work” instead of “hobby.” What is this, people?

“A pursuit… undertaken primarily for relaxation”…? Mates. Mates. When I’m writing, I’m not at ease. I’m considering my clients, my editor, and my target audience. I’m trying to figure out how the f*** I’m going to make this aspect fit with that narrative point, whether or not this will fly with an agency and then an acquisition editor, and what the synopsis will look like.

I’m not even sure how to respond to the example use they give. Is it “just” a pastime? Is it just a pastime? Would you please pardon me while I puncture your expectations?

Artists are in the same boat. “How wonderful that you can earn a career doing what you enjoy.” Are you serious, people?

Relax? Oh, I’m supposed to unwind? Perhaps I should go on a…

4. Say “self-imposed work date” instead of “retreat.”

I’ve recently returned from one of them. This is a time when you’re supposed to let go of all your worries, connect with your creative side, and let the thoughts flow.

This is not what occurs during a writer’s or artist’s “retreat.” When you’re among people, you’re conversing with other authors or artists, learning from them, and mulling over ideas. Every night, you go to bed tired. You have no idea where you’re going to put all of the information you’ve gathered. Yes, you may go bird-watching (see “hobby” above), but you’re thinking about how you might include that experience into a future book, or perhaps write an article about it; or create a drawing that captures the event for you.

If you’re alone, you’re working hard to stay away from your email; you’re doing your hardest to avoid social media; you’re trying to eat well and manage your time and attention span.

5. Say “work on it” instead of “play with it” or “work your magic.”

Someone in the graphic design industry suggested this one. She said that her customers often urge her to “work her magic” or “play with it,” to which she responds, “I’ll work on it.” When people come to my house and see my office or drawing station, they often remark, “This is where the magic occurs, huh?” “Yes, this is where I work,” I confirm.

No one can deny the thrill of finally, finally, nailing a creative project. It has a witchcraft vibe about it. But it isn’t “magic” or “mystery” that brings us there. Yes, the play does play a role at times, but that’s only because we’ve discovered via trial and error, experience, and experimentation (*cough* — work) that play aids in problem-solving.

6. Say “I’m willing to work at it” instead of “I’m motivated to accomplish it.”

While people questioned why I spent my nights and weekends working on short stories and essays when I was in my twenties, I felt it was hip and appropriate to reply, “I dunno. I’m compelled to do it.” I believed it made me seem mysterious, and therefore more deserving of companionship or attention.

Now I see why that is incorrect. I don’t write or create art because it tickles my brain, makes me sit up and pay attention, or makes me want to learn more about the world; I do it because it tickles my brain, makes me sit up and pay attention and makes me want to learn more about the world. I never want to stop learning new things, whether writing, watercolors, graphic design, or graphic storytelling. There’s nothing enigmatic about it. I like telling stories. I like discovering new tales and storylines. That is all there is to it.

Not all artists are the same.

Perhaps some people do turn to their work for solace. Some may view it as a labor of love for which they will never be compensated, to which I reply, why aren’t you being compensated for your time, training, and expertise?

And others undoubtedly don’t give a damn; their jobs aren’t on the line; therefore, they’re just hobby writers or painters.

You’ve undoubtedly noticed that my replacement sentences are very dull. In reality, they’re very much the same. You don’t believe you’re hitting it for someone who preaches about detail as much as you do, do you?

This is because art is a kind of labor. At least, that’s how it feels for this author.

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Author | Educationist | Speaker | Entrepreneur

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Danish Sayanee

Danish Sayanee

Author | Educationist | Speaker | Entrepreneur

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