Writers in Business: The Dangers of Dressing for Success

I have never wanted to be anything else but a writer as far back as I can remember. I didn’t aspire to be Shakespeare or Jane Austen, but I did want to spend my life manipulating language. As luck would have it, I was looking for a way to make a living just at the time when computers were revolutionizing how work was done, and writers were needed both to document how to deal with computers (which were even less friendly than they are now) and to translate technical concepts into everyday language.

Literary versus Techie

Since my father was an engineer, I didn’t have the prejudices against technology that I might have had if my parents had been English professors. So I ended up in a small software company with a product that was so hot that their sales people simply had to walk in the door to be handed a check.

My manager and all the other writers had degrees in English and were smart and highly articulate as were many of the software developers. We worked a 35-hour week, and the company gave us free tickets to the Metropolitan Opera, New York Philharmonic, Broadway plays and musicals, and hockey and basketball games. We had lavish group dinners and a gala Christmas party. Life was good, and, of course, it didn’t last. The only constant in technology is change.

Dress like a Manager and You Might Become One

As I grew more experienced and savvy, I began to realize that this temporary paradise I had landed in was also a business, and all the business rules applied – what you wore, for example, had a lot to do with how much you were paid and how much power you had over others. As writers, we had to dress well enough to bond with the engineers with whom we worked closely, but not so well as to put them off by seeming to have pretentions to management towards which many felt strong animosity (with good reason, it turned out).

Dressing appropriately also helped us avoid the danger of “dressing for success.” If you start wearing business suits and gold watches, you are apt to be promoted into management where you spend your days sitting in endless meetings with dull, quarrelsome people, writing staff reviews, and hiring and firing employees. You won’t be following your passion – you won’t be writing. The trick is to find a style of dress that makes people respect you, but does not lead you into a non-writing job.

Other Ways to Gain Power, Respect, and a Better Salary

In the next few posts, I will be writing about three techniques that can help you gain respect and a higher salary, even if you don’t become a manager. Once you have gained some experience, you may decide to become an independent contractor or a freelance copywriter, and then you are likely to have to wear a business suit at least part of the time since you will, in effect, be your own manager, especially when you are trying to gain new clients.


About Regina Domeraski

I am a writer and have been for as long as I can remember. I worked as a technical writer and now a marketing writer for high-tech companies, but my interests go far beyond technology and include writing as an art and a craft, creativity, film, classical music, and the mystery genre (after all, Hamlet is a murder mystery).
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