“…that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet…” Yes, but if you ask for a tulip and get a misnamed rose instead, you may be a bit disappointed. I don’t think anyone would dispute Juliet’s claims that a name, a word, doesn’t really get at the essence of a thing. Calling a rose a tulip doesn’t change the essential rosiness of the rose. There are even times, such as with Romeo’s last name, when the word for a thing can get in the way.
What do you do?
One of the first things that people usually ask is: “What is your name?” Followed hard on its heels by “What do you do?” These things are pretty tightly wound together, because I think when people ask “What do you do?”, they’re really asking “What additional name should I apply to you? How can I distinguish you between the other Shawns that I know?”
It wasn’t so very long ago that people tended to end up with surnames related to their work–such as Smith, Carver, or Cooper–or their relationship to other people–Johnson for John’s son and Carson for Car’s son. I think people still want the comfort of having a name for someone else that defines them, a kind of mental shorthand for thinking about and remembering other people.
What do I do?
I have lots of ways that I can answer the question: “What do you do?” I could say, “I’m a writer.” Unfortunately, this only conjures up a very vague and general idea of someone typing away at a computer somewhere, probably wearing glasses, like I do. I could say, “I’m a freelance writer,” in which case, the person might picture me at home, in my pajamas, writing away, perhaps with a cup of coffee. Ultimately, the answer to this question doesn’t matter too much when making small talk at a party, but when looking for prospective clients as a freelance writer, the name that I choose to describe the work I have done and will do is essential.
If I describe myself as a poet, then a client looking for a technical writer won’t give me a second look, because they’ll most likely imagine me swanning about in graveyards, flirting with some wasting illness. If I describe myself as a technical writer, and a client is looking for someone to write humorous ad copy, they may not be interested, because they’ll imagine me as someone who doesn’t focus on what’s funny and entertaining.
I struggled with this question of what to call myself when I first started considering freelance writing work. I’ve done many different kinds of writing in my life, from blogging to poetry, playwriting to short stories, and I’ve even got a novel rolling along slowly in the background. Professionally, I’ve written instructional content, but most people aren’t really sure what that means.
The name I chose
Ultimately, after hashing it out with an acquaintance of mine, I settled on the name “Technical Content Creator.” As far as I know, it’s a fairly novel name for what I do and want to do, and that may have its downsides. “Technical Content Creator” doesn’t conjure up a particular image, but, for me, I think that’s its strength. My hope is that it will function as a kind of speed bump. That when people encounter it, they’ll pause for a moment to consider what it means.
On the other hand, sometimes it’s easiest to just say, “I’m a technical writer” and leave it at that.