Writers are often naturally curious and flexible, able write about doughnuts in one article and cloud computing in the next. Because of our insatiable need to continue learning on a mosaic of topics, we sometimes fall into one industry or another, because we love it just “that” much. Couple that with our recurring “oh-crap-I-still-need-to-live-in-the-real-world” realization, and we often gravitate toward industries that change frequently or hold some sort of personal interest to us.
The phrase “jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none” often applies to writers for that reason, but it doesn’t accurately describe the emotional side or the attraction we have to certain industries. For example, I had a great experience working for an internet company, so I’m making it a goal to keep up on top of trends in “search” because it’s fascinating to me and practical. It’s what we “do” every day and what every writer should pay some small bit of attention to because it affects everything from blogging, finding source material, shopping for holiday gifts online, etc. Additionally, I make it a point to keep up with entertainment industry trends–to see where the market is shifting and changing–for my fiction and project management work. Science fiction may not be that popular now, but it will probably be again. Trend watching is something all writers do naturally, in order to write both topical and factual articles that readers will want to read. In my opinion, there are two dangers to getting sucked into the trends, however, that affect our critical thinking and our ability to write to the broadest audience possible.
Simply, the “fan” trap is what happens when a writer loves an industry so much, that they lose focus.
Filter Industry Jargon and Buzzwords
This is one of my personal, pet peeves. Writers, passionate about industries, sometimes speak a second language. Industry jargon is part-and-parcel to any industry you’re working in, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that your readers understand what the hell it is you’re talking about. Abbreviations, acronyms, inside jokes and other words used to describe internal processes, products or even some forms of technology make your writing inaccessible and in some cases–gives the appearance that you’re an elitist. Separate from l33tspeak or LOLspeak, this is the other end of the scale. This phenomenon is what happens when you’re being too professional; a side effect of living and breathing the industry you’re working for.
One industry that is inundated with jargon is travel. Not sure if you’ve seen the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding or not, but there is a scene where the main character has a short scene where she speaks completely in travel jargon. Do you know what a rack rate is? How about the shoulder season? Yeah, I didn’t either until I came across this Hawaii website that breaks down travel jargon into words we can all understand.
I should note, that this is not a “negative” in all cases. Some writers have to include jargon in order to tailor their article to their appropriate audience. The side effect I’m describing here (infusing your work with industry jargon without bothering to filter it out for a broader audience) is unintentional and something to watch for.
When Personal Experience Creates Knee-Jerk Reactions
A darker side to the “fan trap,” is what happens when you recognize your fan-ness and wholeheartedly immerse yourself in the waters of that industry. For example, say you’re a diehard environmentalist and your experiences working to “save the planet” have only come from a few groups that don’t have a political component to them. Now you’ve finally found a way to write about your passion for all things green, and find you need to cover politics as a component to your articles. Drawing from your past, you unconsciously (or sometimes, even knowingly) let “what you’ve learned” color how quickly you react to headlines. Here, the “fan trap” occurs because you forgo research for your emotions, reacting to what’s going on instead of taking your time to think about what you’re writing.
Naturally, we all draw from our experiences, it’s part of our psychological makeup and how we remember one thing to the next. Writers, though, have a different challenge because we often have to step outside ourselves to determine our “target market” or slant. Being objective allows us to provide better information in a factual article, otherwise we’re providing a highly opinionated piece, an editorial. Truly, I’m sure many of us can argue whether or not objectivity is even possible on the internet, but when you let your personal feelings get the better of you and publish “on the bandwagon”–it’s time to take a step back and remember to do your homework. You’ll be glad you did.
Knee-jerk reactions are often evident in entertainment, because it’s all too easy to fall in love with what you enjoy so much. Taking the gaming industry for example. If you haven’t already heard, Wizards of the Coast released a new fourth edition of Dungeons and Dragons that’s compatible with miniatures. How does this apply to the “fan” trap? Well, in the gaming industry, sometimes fan opinions on how “cool” something is are based on who publishes it. In my opinion, Wizards of the Coast is the company that everyone loves to hate because they’re the “biggest” guy around. As evident by blogs and forums, their own customers will come out and talk negatively about their products, but then turn around and buy the next one.
Unfortunately, the same can be said for game designers, writers, artists and other business owners as well because it seems like everyone freaks out the minute Wizards of the Coast lifts a finger. There are some professionals who believe that this company will either make (or break) the industry. Period. You can’t argue with these folk; you can’t even politely remind them that, as a work-for-hire, you’re often not privy to internal financial reports and other data that sheds light on how any business is doing. Far be it from you to remind the rumormongers that they really can’t speak to the “truth” of what goes on at a company they’ve never worked for. Thus, they fall into the “fan trap” because, like all the other fans out there, they’re allowing themselves to pass judgment based on a rumor instead of the facts.
These types of positions are really harmful for freelancers, because in order to continue getting (and finding) work it’s essential to remain somewhat neutral on these topics. Some of the most successful freelancers understand the trends in the industry, but continue to book contracts regardless with soluble companies. (Key word there is “soluble,” so you get paid.)
Solely basing your industry knowledge on rumors, conjecture and outdated financial data is a real detriment to your career, regardless of what industry you’re in. Infusing your work with jargon can also be a challenge, especially if you’re shooting for a broader audience. In the end, remember that objectivity are the keys to professionalism regardless of how much you love what you’re writing about.