Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Corporate Silencer

It appears I have silenced myself. I used to write all the time, but now, the only writing I do seems to be Facebook status updates and the occasional text messages to friends. It’s like I have nothing to say lately, or I am too busy editing myself and worrying about who my words will offend to manage to say anything . (Trust me, it’s happened, even with the minimal writing I’ve been doing.) Or maybe I just use up all my words on the status updates and text messages.

The writing at work doesn’t really count. There are parameters and word counts and assigned topics and the output has to go through multiple levels of client approval. That part is fine. I actually like the boundaries and the challenge of word counts. I love a deadline. During content approval, my clients generally make only minimal changes to the content, usually based on compliance issues. I breathe a sigh of relief that the copy is done and approved and ready to go to graphics and the production timeline is being met.

And that is precisely when, depending upon which of the three bosses the project is with, things can go ridiculously wrong. I love working with Boss 2 of 3. We make things happen. He actually tells me I am a great writer. He trusts me to get things done and on time, respects what I do, and gives me the latitude to do it. The end result is something of which we can be proud, and together we have worked on a several video scripts, websites and the exhibit content and writing for a historical interpretive center. Sadly, I don't get to work nearly enough with Boss 2. Boss 3 of 3 is almost as easy to work with, but I don’t work him very much. However, Boss 1 of 3, the partner to whom I directly report, is another story.

Boss 1 of 3 tends to become interested in projects about five minutes after the client has approved them. When he asks to see the final copy draft for project such and such, the timeline is doomed and my heart sinks. The manuscript is delivered. A meeting is scheduled. After several reschedulings on the company calendar, (four being the average) the meeting eventually happens. The production timeline begins to slip from “on-time” to “crunch-time.” That’s about when Boss 1 decides to rewrite things. His edits start with “I don’t want to micromanage this, but…” followed by a litany of how this should say that and that should say this, but I am free to wordsmith it. The smartest (and fastest) thing to do at that point is to rewrite the piece to whatever he just said and redeliver it to him. The fun part is when I get to call the client and tell them that the content they just approved has been redone and they need to look at it again. And quickly, because now the project is behind schedule.

And usually, this is still not enough. Approximately 75 percent of the time, Boss 1 rewrites it again – back to the original version I wrote, which was based on his first set of instructions. But he got to pee on the bush and mark his territory. I got to jump though his hoops (the fitness portion of the program), feel my frustration rise (the test of patience), and watch a project slip behind schedule (let the tap dancing begin!).

Project after project. Year after year. The confidence is drained. Self-questioning is high. I take it back. The writing at work not only counts, it is likely the problem. The urge to leave for lunch one day and just never return is constant. Perhaps my next major piece of writing (If I can muster up the energy) should be a tutorial on how to be a soul-crushing, demeaning boss. I am qualified for this assignment, with nearly five years of direct experience. Of course, what is really needed is the survival guide to keeping sanity intact while maneuvering the bull.

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