🌪️ My new book is available for pre-order! Reserve your copy.

I have no idea what I do for a living

I made my first meager webpage in 2003. It was about a year later when I was 15 I realized, “Holy cow, I can make money off this.” That’s what I did ever since.

But sometime around 2020 I started to wonder if this was what I wanted to do anymore. I felt tired of it, and the problems were always the same. To add to that, I came to the realization that no website can make a substandard service or product no one wants into something they do want.

Starting around 2021 or 2022 I struggled to answer when someone asked, “What do you do for a living?”

“I’m a web developer.”

“I’m a web designer.”

“I’m an author.”

“I’m a copywriter.”

“I’m a web copywriter.”

“I do SEO work.”

Lately it’s been, “I’m a website consultant.” A word I tried to avoid.

Part of this stems from what I want to do, what I think I should do, and what I make time for.

I make time for clients’ website copywriting work. The bulk of what I do is “Ghostwriting blogs and stories that people can publish to make their sites better.” “Better is defined as “Get more visitors.”

I struggled with this again when someone asked for a bio recently for a piece that’s being published soon in a magazine.

My Twitter bio cheekily reports, “As seen on the Internet! Justin spends much of his time writing books, posts, and website copy for nice people.”

My LinkedIn profile says I’m an SEO copywriter. I’m whatever you need me to be wherever it suits my interests, it seems.

My Glass bio is, perhaps, my best summation: “Justin is a website consultant, copywriter, and narrative nonfiction writer in Indianapolis.”

I quibble with the order of these things, insofar as I hope I can reverse it over time. But, for now, that’s what I do in the order of what pays the bills.

That’s probably normal. John Quincy Adams once seriously considered foregoing law school and his early political work for studying literature and writing poetry for a living.

I spoke to someone earlier this week who said she has no problems with defining who she is and what she does, but she struggles to get people to recognize who she is and what she does. I remarked, “I have the opposite problem. Seems everyone knows who I am and what I do except me.”

A man in search of something to do

I oscillate between doing too much and doing almost nothing. Sometimes I’ll have dozens of clients, numerous side projects, and do something crazy like get involved in politics or chair a group or join some club — all in the same year. I’ll start a podcast! I’ll take up painting! I’ll pursue cake baking! All things I did for a hot minute.

Then I get tired, realize I’m not independently wealthy enough to sustain that or do any of it exceptionally well, and dial it back to nothing. My good friend Tony once remarked, “You’re very good at burning things down and starting all over again.”

Now when I think about joining a service group or getting involved in a campaign or some cause, I stop and think, “I’m probably not going to be able to make much difference here.” So I pause and refocus my attention on something else. And even then I’m not very good at that.

My current labor of love is my Tri-State Tornado book, and this has proven frustratingly challenging to devote time to. Some authors, like John Grisham and Tom Clancy can reportedly work on their books a paragraph or two at a time whenever they get a free moment. I believe Grisham once remarked he can work on an idea in the checkout line at the grocery store.

I can’t do that. I need long, uninterrupted blocks of time. Ian Fleming remarked he never had much trouble coming up with words. They just sorta flowed from his fingers on to the page. He’d bang out a James Bond novel in the span of a few months, often in under two or three drafts. He, of course, had the luxury of being a rich, white, British man in a villa he built in Empirical Jamaica with servants and copious amounts of drink and cigarettes. Minus the drinking, nationality, smoking, servants, wealth, and time, I’m more like Ian Fleming. We’re both white men and I don’t struggle with putting words to paper.

Writing this book, which I’m about 30,000 words into, has been the hardest writing project I’ve ever worked on. It’s getting harder as I struggle to find small century-old details I want to know that aren’t seemingly recorded anywhere. If and when I ever do another book, I’ll make sure there’s a wealth of sources first. This was more of a, “That’s a neat story. How hard can it be?” It should have been, “There’s a lot of material here. Is there a story?”

I’m setting myself a deadline of completing a good, submittable draft of the book by November 2023. To get there, I’m starting to look around at what’s wasting my time and not serving my interest in pursuit of that goal. A task that increasingly feels like austerity measures.


Want to know when stuff like this is published?
Sign up for my email list.

Photo of Justin Harter

About JUSTIN HARTER

Justin has been around the Internet long enough to remember when people started saying “content is king”.

He has worked for some of Indiana’s largest companies, state government, taught college-level courses, and about 1.1M people see his work every year.

You’ll probably see him around Indianapolis on a bicycle.

Leave a Comment