The Internet: The Final Frontier (Now With More Tubes!)

My lunch. #TexasIsTacos

The Internet.  It’s like the final frontier, but for pictures of cats, other people’s lunches and memes.  Or, at least it used to be.  I feel like all this Russian stuff has really cost us our innocence, we the free people of the web.  I find myself sending pictures of cats to random friends, just to avoid all the angry news and “news” on social media.  I miss that golden era of oversharing.

It was inevitable that the Internet would grow up.  It had to.  All things, even Tubes, grow and change.  Otherwise they stagnate and die.  As much as it pained me to see how we found our collective online maturity, I think it will ultimately give us something much better.

Some Internet-Themed Ramblings

I didn’t really feel like writing about writing today, so instead I’m writing about the place we go to do the writing thing.  I mean, who uses a non-cloud-based word processor these days?  MONSTERS?!  I never could remember to save regularly on local WPs, the Cloud is my best freaking friend.

“Oh, you did the thing, but the power went out before your glorious lede was saved?  I gotcha, pal.”

So Cloud.  Much Wow.

I’ve been an Internet denizen since 1994, when we first got a text-based dial-up version of the Internet in my hometown.  We did it with money from a big grant, though being many years ago, my memory sort of doesn’t remember the circumstances.  But we had Internet.  For the first time.

And the really neat thing about the Internet and my hometown and 1994 is that a community that was, in many ways, completely isolated from the bulk of the world, suddenly was exposed to new ideas and different people and experiences it would never have had otherwise.

For me, the Internet meant freedom of thought.  A chance to be more.

For my home in the Ozarks, it meant a cultural upset.  It meant thoughts that might disrupt our way of life spread rapidly.  It meant that we would largely assimilate into modern American culture.  So, it was good and bad.

But, from those humble text-based beginnings sprang this amazing tool that everyone uses to connect to friends, family, ideas and experiences.  It’s just normal now.  Having a computer in your pocket is what you do.  Having a best friend or significant other thousands of miles away is no big deal.

My Predicts for the Future Internet

Having spent all of my formative years engaging with the Internet from devices that ran the gamut from desktop computers to Pocket PCs (sort of like an early smartphone, but without calling capabilities) to Blackberries and Smartphones, I feel like I’m a good authority on where this thing has been and where it’s headed.  This year has been rough for all of us, but I think we’re about to see a turnaround.  So, without further hesitation, my predictions for the Internet’s near future:

Social media will revert to photos of cheese and cats.  Hey, I love me some food porn and cat pictures.  I think we all do, deep down.  Social media was fun for a long time because of those deeply personal things we’d share, even when we didn’t think it was all that impressive.  When we give bits of ourselves freely to our friends, it’s an incredible gift that makes a huge impact.

Google will get better at filtering out the trash.  If you’ve been in the digital marketing world for any amount of time, you’ve heard of things like search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine results page (SERP).  Google has all kinds of algorithms that determine just where your site (or any site) will appear in the SERPs.  The problem there for a bit was that unreliable news sources were getting ranked because of a combination of user shares and clicks on social media and some sneaky sneaker gaming the system.  Google has to step up and become a bit of a parental figure to help quash any future issues like this.  I believe it can and that it will.

Teenagers will grow up and rejoin Facebook.  When I wear my marketing hat, I see lots of articles written by hand-wringers saying that teenagers are jumping ship from Facebook.  Of course they are, they’re rebelling.  In this new and crazy digital world, even leaving your parents’ social network might be some kind of rite of passage.  Give the kids the room to be all SnapChatty or whatever they’re into these days.  Ultimately, they’re going to reappear on the social networks where their family is because that’s what you do now.  Their jumping ship today doesn’t mean anything.  Worry when Millennials and Boomers start leaving in droves.

Echo chambers will stop echoing.  It was scary for everyone that Donald Trump was elected president (I mean, besides the Russians).  So much so that many people began to break away from their social circles to immerse themselves in private groups that were basically echo chambers.  These were very polarizing, causing so many people to turn on people who were once friends and allies.  But slowly, the echo chambers started to eat their own because they weren’t using the language perfectly or they weren’t able to maintain all aspects of their lives in an extreme way.  I think, I really feel, that we’ll see these echo chambers start to break down for the most part (there will always be some around) and more people re-establish their old connections.

MOAR advertising opportunities.  Last, but far from least, I see more ads in our future.  Lots of kinds of ads, stuff we’ve not even conceived yet.  Banner ads, social media ads, Google ads, YouTube ads, ads about ads, we’ll have them all!  But with so many ads comes a high level of annoyance.  That, I believe is where we’re going to be really putting in the effort next.  We know digital ads work, but we have to find ways to deliver them that are better.  Honestly, we need both better ads and a more pleasing way to push them to shoppers.  With a little effort, ad modules will get better and more discreet.  Less annoying ads make the whole industry happier.

Well, that’s all I have for now.  I may come back later and do Internet predictions number two, but only if it’s a rainy day and I feel more like napping than doing real work.

Who said that?

Go away.  I’m done with your stupid face.

 

Dressing for Writing Success: Beyond Sweatpants

Working from home, no matter your chosen (or had thrust upon you) profession, presents a number of challenges that we’re still all trying to figure out as a culture.  One great example of this is the subject of work attire.  Some are firmly in the “underpants and pizza grease” camp, while others dress for work every day they intend to.

Believe it or not, I’m in the second group.

Not only do I have regular video conferences, I find that I’m significantly more productive when I dress like an adult.  Mind you, it’s business casual around here, 24/7, and I may be wearing Chucks with my skirt and blazer, but this is what I’d wear to a job.  At least until I got fired for breaking the dress code.

Dress for Success!!

Just because I do a thing doesn’t mean that it’s automatically right.  I mean, it should, but I’m told that it doesn’t.  So, what I’m saying is that it does.  So put on a clean shirt and listen up.

There are several small-scale studies that show a laundry list of benefits to actually dressing for work, even if the hot seat is in your spare bedroom.  Improvement was shown in key areas like feelings of competency, authority and focus, depending on the study you look at.

But dressing for work does something else, too.  It gives you and your housemates very clear signals about what you’re up to at the computer.  If you’re in yoga pants and a sports bra, you’re probably playing WoW and pretending to work.  If you’re in a button down shirt and a blazer, you’re probably actually working.

Work-life balance is one of the most troublesome areas for remote workers, hands dow.  Anything you can do to make a distinction between Work You and Play You will help.  Learn how to turn your work off and use every tool at your disposal.  If you have to buy one of those neon signs that says “open,” then do it.

Finding Some Fashionable Balance

No one expects you to don a double-breasted three piece suit, but you should look like you’re trying.  Below, you’ll find my top tips for dressing for work when your work is your home.

  1. Employ lots of solid colors.  Patterns are ok, but they tend to look less professional than a nice, crisp solid colored shirt with khakis.  Choosing more solids applies to all forms of clothing, though.  There’s nothing to read into a red shirt or a purple dress.  Toss a blazer over that right before your next video conference and you’re suddenly a total pro.
  2. Sorta clean doesn’t cut it.  Look, I know what it’s like.  I have Parkinson’s and I also eat at my desk, so I can come away from lunch looking like I had a burrito explode in my face.  I mean, maybe I did.  But I don’t leave that evidence laying around.  Anything that won’t rinse out immediately requires a wardrobe change.  You might as well go back to the sweatpants if you’re gonna leave mustard on your shirt.
  3. Try not to over-accessorize.  I’m the queen of accessories.  I just love things that sparkle, which is why glitter bombs kind of backfire.  I WELCOME YOUR GLITTERY CHAOS!  But it’s easy to overdo it when you don’t have regular human contact to keep you grounded.  Check your look in the mirror, then ask yourself, “Do I look like a mall mannequin?”  If yes, take something off and try again.
  4. Remember that you have control of your climate.  One of the best things about living in Texas is that it never gets really cold.  One of the worst things about living in Texas is that it never gets cold, instead it gets frighteningly hot.  Take today, for example.  When I opened the back door to let the dogs out, I thought I was experiencing a backdraft, sans smoke.  Did I dress for 900 degree weather today?  No.  Well, sorta.  I dressed for 72 degree air conditioning because aside from hitting the mailbox later, I’m not going out in this ish.  I’m the master of my climate and thus, if I think it’s currently too hot for dress pants, I can do something to change that.  Your thermostat is your friend.  Use it.

Look, I’m no fashion expert by any stretch of the imagination.  Sometimes I do ok, but often, too often, I whiff.  But I do know one thing:  since I decided to try out working in work clothing, my productivity has jumped, my focus has improved and, frankly, I feel more like grabbing the bull by his cojones most of the time.

Off with you.  I’m working!  Can’t you tell from my special Chucks with the little daisies?!?

A Video Doorbell Changed My Life

If you’ve been a regular reader, you know that I don’t always go off on personal tangents.  But this one, I mean, it’s a Big Deal ™.  A few weeks ago, RIng dropped the price on its basic video doorbell.  I’ve been wanting one for a long time because I’m a scary hermit that doesn’t answer the door or leave the house.  What I mean is that UPS knows my address by heart, but has no idea what I look like.

So, anyway, when the price was dropped, I was poised to strike.  I mean, I was confident a video doorbell would make a difference.  It took all of 10 minutes to install once I got the frikken hole drilled in the brick on the front of my house.  If you have a basic understanding of power tools and a little extra time over your lunch break, this is definitely something you can handle.

How are Doorbells Related to Writing?

My ever-questioning horde, let me explain.  To start with, I have four dogs.  Four.  In Missouri, this was not considered totally crazy, but here in Fort Worth, Texas, it’s a different story.  People just don’t have that many dogs.  Nothing is really made with that many dogs in mind.  So I have to go out of my way to keep them calm and quiet so the neighbors two blocks over aren’t disturbed and call Animal Control.

It is what it is.  I try to not be annoyed by my new homeland.  It has a lot going for it, like a lack of winter weather.

Combine these doggos with my almost compulsive urge to order shit from Amazon, eBay and other merchants so that I don’t have to leave the house.  See, if I’m out there in the world, I’m not safe inside my ice cave.  And that’s just no bueno, you know?

in pre-Ring days,  I’d have a sign that people would ignore.  It said, more or less, “don’t fucking ring this bell or knock or I will cut you.”  Delivery guys were assholes and did anyway.  One, when I asked him why in the world he rang the bell that was covered by one such sign, countered by asking me how else I’d know my order was delivered.

The answer?  Uh, I get a text message as soon as you log it.  Jerk.

You don’t need much of an imagination to understand how loud and stressful this was becoming.  Between delivery people who didn’t understand how their own system worked and my easy to work up terriers, it was… it was chaos.  Loud, ugly, overstimulating chaos.

I couldn’t focus.  I couldn’t sleep for all the stress.  So, I did it.  For $99, I solved that problem.  Bitches like it when you solve problems.

Better Writing Through Quiet Doorbells

You know how it’s super annoying when someone interrupts you mid-thought and you have to stare at the page for 20 minutes to sort out what it was you were driving at when it happened?  Yeah, that’s what my dogs were doing to me several times a day.   It was affecting my work.  It sucked.

Today, when a package comes, I get a silent alert on my desktop and a vibration on my phone.  That’s it.  Most of the time, the dogs don’t even realize someone has been here.  That spells quiet time more often, fewer false alarms and so many more fully executed thoughts.

I have literally reclaimed hours of work time due to this doorbell.  It has paid for itself over and over again.

Just so you know, as part of the quiet installation I had to disable the bell on my doorbell.  In case you want to get one because I said it was pretty awesome.  That’s my special tip for you.

Now Go Write!

I know that I usually give you some sort of advice or whatever, but today it’s all doorbells.  Doorbells will change your freaking life if you get the right one.

Now go!  Go forth and write like the wind!

Some Days You’re the Butterfly, Some Days You’re the Windshield

There you are, flying around all glorious and free, flapping your obscenely painted, oversized wings, sweating glitter and promise, then BAM!  It’s all over.  That Chevy Citation ends you in truly epic fashion.  This is how I feel every time I do agency work.

Why?  Well, those kinds of jobs tend to practice “edit by committee,” where you’re not edited by one person representing the client, but half a dozen.  So you get things back that are commented all over, have requested changes from different people on the same item that are literally contradictory and there’s no one to go back to in order to ask specifics.  It’s enough to kill you a little bit inside.  Or at least smear you on a windshield.

But, as a pro, you can’t let that ish get you down.  At bare minimum, you have to pretend you can walk it off so you can function and write the other six things that are due that day.

Rub Some Dirt In It: Tips for Surviving a Brutal Edit

Now, some writers will advocate for drinking heavily and taking lots of interesting drugs in order to get past these kinds of things, but since I’m not that fucking person, I’m going to give you some real advice for functioning workaholics.  Edits aren’t the end of the world, even truly epic ones, but damn, they feel like it might be around the bend.  Rub some dirt in that shit with these tips:

1. Repeat “It’s not me, it’s them.”  Sometimes, people have the idea that editing a document means having to make lots of comments.  We know better.  Often, a good edit is just taking out Oxford commas or breaking up run-on sentences.  Clearly the corporate clients of your agency don’t really understand the process, so they’re bumbling along blindly the best they can.

2. Remind yourself that the only joy in corporate life is belittling others.  Working in a corporate setting, I’ve read, is sort of like sitting in a pressure cooker.  The people below you are always trying to undermine you in order to get your job and the people above you won’t retire, so you can’t move forward on your career trajectory.  You have little control over your own life.  The one thing you can do is make a writer cry, so you stick with your strengths.

3. Go for a walk on the beach with your laptop.  We writers have all been promised that we’d be able to go work on a beach somewhere, and it’s high time we did!  With the sound of the surf hitting the sand and the gentle “woosh-woosh” of the waves out at sea, it’s hard to be too intimidated by edits that have gone horribly wrong.  Watch out for those seagulls, though…

4. Take a kickboxing class.  Even if you haven’t yet reached “writing on the beach” level, you can still take those frustrations out on an innocent punching bag or trainer.  Take a kickboxing class and beat those edits out.  Imagine you’re punching the client over and over again (just the logo, not, you know, the person who did the edits).  Beat the fuck out of Coca-Cola, show Johnson & Johnson who’s boss.  Pound Walmart like you know you want to.

5. Check your bank balance.  Last, but not least, some universal advice for all sorts of writers.  When edits get you down, log into your bank account and check the balance.  Unless I’ve just had a client pay, I’ve found this to be the most effective way to motivate me to grab my big girl panties and move along.  Edits happen, they’re part of the process.  You don’t have to like it, but you do have to accept it.

Sometimes, those edits will mindfuck you a bit.  You’ll feel like the worst fraud ever and that no one likes you.  While this may be true, if you’re still making money at writing, then at least you can keep the lights on and the fridge stocked.  I don’t know you, you may be a tragic mess of a human.

Client work can be hard, it can be sad, it can be totally heartbreaking and doubt-inducing, but at the end of the day, it’s better than being a professional dog poo scooper.

How Are Your Pet Projects Doing, Writers?

I died about this time last week.

Obviously, it didn’t stick.

But that’s beside the point.  Sometimes, life presents these kind of moments where you have a chance to kind of look back and assess where you are.  I typically do this over Dead Week (irony is not lost on me), but being dead made me think that maybe this is something that should happen more than once a year.

For example, I’ve been letting everything in the world get between me and you.  You guys, you’re the best, and I’ve not blogged at you for like… well, too damn long.  And I have a lot of information packed into my brain that you probably could use for something.  Even if that’s an example of what not to do.  Like die unexpectedly.  Don’t do that.

We All Lose Our Way Sometimes

Last year, another death sent me reeling ’round about this time.  My good pal the Honorary Honorable William Bradberry shed this mortal coil.  I spiraled for a while because it turned out that I had never bothered to imagine a world where he wasn’t.  He was sick, it was a long march to ruin.  I had time, but I didn’t.

We had several group projects going that we never finished (and now we never will), pet projects that we’d touch for a while when work was slow, but never really had a good plan to focus them in with.  Some were pretty good, some were fucking awful.  But it didn’t matter, because sometimes you do the thing just to do the thing.

Anyway, when he passed on, I should have taken the time to recalibrate my compass, but I didn’t.  Instead, I just sort of marched forward, best I could.  There was always the next project, the next blog, the next client.  Before I knew it, it was Dead Week and I hadn’t finished anything I wanted to accomplish for the sheer sake of ticking it off my list.

I did put some wheels into motion at the beginning of this year (big announcement coming soon), but as the months between January and today came and went like so many sprockets on a conveyor belt, I began to doubt and fear that I’d never find my way through the complicated workflow.  In fact, last Thursday, I was almost certain I was going to give up.

And then I died.

Recalibrating Your Project Compass

There wasn’t a bright light or an angelic choir (I mean, did you really expect I’d be escorted into the Great Beyond with such a thing?), not even smoke-belching flames.  I was under anesthesia and suddenly, I didn’t have any blood pressure.  I didn’t know I had died until I woke up in a recovery ward, surrounded by strangers that seemed to be waiting with bated breath.

As far as I knew, I was good.  They told me otherwise.

It’s a terrifying thing to realize how many loose threads you almost left behind.  At least, it was for me.  I resolved to find my compass again and recalibrate it, because it was clearly not showing me good information.  It was saying “tomorrow, tomorrow” when it should have said “right the fuck now.”

I’m struggling to find the words to put to this, but I’m afraid that if I don’t write it out while I’m in that “I almost died, here’s my epiphany” mode, I’ll never do it.  That’s the right the fuck now part.  This attitude won’t last forever.  That compass needs daily maintenance, you know.

Next time you find yourself listing to the left or the right of your intentions, recalibrating your compass may help.  This is what I’m doing and what I do when I realize I’m dangerously off course:

Assess where you are.  You have to be brutally honest with yourself when you’re in this stage of the game.  Did you really mean to end up in Toledo?  I mean, really?  No one wants to go there.  Ohio is the worst.  Just having this discussion means that you probably know you’re in the wrong place, own it.

Figure out where you want to be.  Hopefully you took some time to write down your original destination back when you headed out.  If not, there’s no time like now to sort that.  Even if you did, you might have learned something that changed the picture.  Stop reading right now and figure out where you’re going.

Write out the major steps to get back on track.  Think it’s trite all you like, but without a map, that compass is pretty damn useless.  It won’t give you all the answers on its own, it’s just a tool to help interpret the data you’ve got.  Write your steps down.  Using a tool like Any.do or AirTable can help you see where you need to be and when as you walk along.

Consciously review this plan weekly or monthly.  Just because you set off in the right direction doesn’t mean that you didn’t manage to somehow take a wrong turn or get led astray by temptation.  The best part of a good plan is the way you can constantly revisit it to make sure you’re progressing.  That’s why writing down all those steps helps so much.

Celebrate when you realize you did the thing!   Did you find your destination?  HOORAY!  YOU DID THE THING!  This is definitely a time to celebrate and take a breath.  You accomplished something most people only dream about.  Good on ya!

I died on Thursday, May 17, 2018, and I was reminded what it means to be alive.  I am a walking cliche.  But that’s ok, because it turns out that old cliches are pretty useful for content marketing.

Now get the fuck off the Internet and do something.  Don’t get hit by a self-driving cars in your eagerness, though.  Always look both ways.

New Year’s Letter 2018

I’ve been writing these New Year’s Letters for long enough now that it’s not only a tradition, but a compulsion to do them.  So much so that I think about them long before it’s time to put fingers to keys and punch them into life.  Every year, I think that they’ll be trite and meaningless, and every year, they serve as a refocusing point for me, and maybe for some of you, and so I think that makes them pretty much ok and not entirely self-serving bits of debris in a sea that’s already fairly stuffed full of flatulence-loving self-promotional acts woven together from delusions of grandeur and mental masturbaton.

Was it the Year We Needed?

Another year has come and gone, and it’s been a Hell of a year.  It was not the year I expected to have, not by a very long shot, but maybe it was the year I needed to have.  As most of you know, I moved house from southwest MIssouri to the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas metroplex in February 2017.  I very nearly lost my mind during that process.  I have never before felt so much stress or so little control over anything, and I’ve been told I had cancer twice (I did not).

Even once that move was complete, the stress level was immense because of the incredible amount of culture shock I was experiencing.  Along with that, I had to maintain my business, maintain some level of workload, try to rebuild a household, maintain my health and not fall to pieces.  As it turns out, these were very significant challenges.  I spent a lot of time stumbling around in the dark, but as they say, “When you’re going through Hell, keep going.”  And I did.  I had to because there wasn’t anything else.

When we lost Will this summer, then both my grandparents, a friend from school and my great aunt, I was pretty sure I was going to lose my mind completely.  I shut down emotionally for a while.  I’m sorry about that.  You deserved better.  I deserved better.  But it was much too much for me to handle all at once.  Those of you who pulled me out of that deep, dark pit are saints for everything you did and continue to do.  It was a very bad, bad place with no color.  I won’t lie, I’m still recovering from that.  Mostly, I’m ok, but sometimes I’ll hear a song or something and just start crying for no reason.

I was also given hot and cold news about my health this year.  The neuro added a diagnosis of mixed Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease and Essential Tremor, the rheumatologist added Seronegative Rheumatoid Arthritis.  The hepatologist, however, said that my liver was in really good shape, the tumors have all but disappeared and the inflammation is gone.  This is a good thing.  A very good thing.  But it means that all the exercise and healthy eating has to be a permanent thing or that liver transplant becomes a discussion we have to have again.  So good and bad.

A New Normal

It took months to return to normal, but I’ve found it again.  I’ve found maybe better than normal.  I’m hoping.  Every night I go to bed and hope that this is a permanent thing.  I’m allowing myself to believe there’s going to be a tomorrow and a yesterday and that I’ll remember a week ago.  So far the memory is still a bit hit and miss, but it, too, is improving.  Texas has been very good for me and it’s nothing like what I expected it would be.

I’ve started some new projects that are very, very promising.  I’m excited to see where they go in the new year.  It’s boring work stuff, but for me it’s pretty exciting.  I have a lot of creative control and my input is valued highly.  Sometimes that’s worth a lot more than money, really.  It’s difficult to describe how much that matters, but trust me, it does.

Friends Near and Far

One of my very real fears about moving to Texas was being so far from my home base, the people I’ve known my whole life and my family.  The culture in the Ozarks is very family and clan-focused and it’s really the central focus of the whole thing.  I won’t lie, I wasn’t sure how it would go.  I knew my health would make it extremely difficult to get back often or regularly.  Eight hours in a car, minimum, is a lot for me.

But, you know, my dad was right when he said that things aren’t like they used to be.  All you have to do these days is hop on the Internet and your friends are right there.  All the friends I have in the box.  They were there through the toughest times and the easy ones, too.  If you’re reading this, you know who you are.  You have no idea how much you’re appreciated.  How much you’re needed.  How much easier you made it to make this massive transition.  

Who’s chopping onions in here?!?

On to This Year’s Goals!

Now!  As for the coming year, there should be goals.  There should always be goals, even if you don’t achieve them.  Otherwise, what are we?  We’re just floating along like jellyfish, hoping something will hit, I guess.  So, I suppose we’ll start with these:

  • Consume at least one book a week.  So, maybe reading is still a little tough, but audiobooks are working out ok.  Thanks John and Jason for pushing me in that direction.  
  • Travel a bit.  I’ve been to Austin once, and San Antonio twice.  I can make both trips very easily, so I should go more often and for funsies.  Also other places….
  • Establish and enforce better work/life balance.  I am the worst for dicking around on the Internet when I should be working and then panicking and doing a bunch of work at the last minute.  This has to stop.  Time management and work/life balance should be this year’s main work goals.
  • Invest more time in my personal brand.  If I can do the thing above, I should have time to do this thing.  My blog is sad and lonely and a site I’ve literally been working on for a year needs to launch.  It’s pathetic.
  • Get better at meal planning.  Ah, this is also a time management thing.  If I had better meal planning skills, I’d not take a freaking year to figure out what I was having for lunch.
  • Lose another 50 pounds.  This is partially because of all the med changes and partially because I like cookies too much.  I need to get back on the one cookie per meal diet, exercise more and track everything.
  • Run three 5Ks.  I’m signed up for the Cowtown 5K on February 24th, but I’d like to do at least two more.  It’s a little bit of a challenge because I need to ideally take Annie.  All this has to be cleared ahead of time and can be a pain.
  • Explore the metroplex.  I’ve lived here for 10 months and have yet to really explore the city.  I need to do this.  Annie needs to see the world.

I know a lot of people guffaw at New Year’s Resolutions, or even year end goals, or whatever you wanna call it.  It’s all the same thing.  Really, the timing is arbitrary, but I think it’s pretty important to have a set time of the year to stop what you’re doing, evaluate where you are versus where you want to be, and kind of double down your efforts.  

I don’t think it hurts to assess your progress.  You can disagree all you want, that’s your right, but I can also call you a pig-faced waffle stomper, so I think that makes us a bit even.

So, whatcha got?  What hot burning desires do you have for 2018?  What’s driving your engine this year?

Rule #1 for Writers: Always Be Genuine

If there was only one piece of advice I was allowed to dole out to writers and potential writers and kids who want to grow up to be writers, besides the obvious “don’t!”, it would be this fancy pants line from Shakespeare:  This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.

I dunno if I’d push it as far as not being false to any man, I mean, that’s on you, but I definitely support being true to yourself.  That goes double for when you’re writing.  There’s a certain rhythm that you develop as you go along, some people refer to this as your “voice,” but if you’ve done this for long you know that your voice can kind of slip along with whatever you’re banging out.

Sometimes you get bits of other voices stuck to your own.  Gross.

That’s what this blog post is about.  Shaking that shit off and just being you.  Because your audience can tell.  They can see when you’re phoning it in, they can tell when you’re trying to write someone else.  There are always tells.

What Does it Mean to be Genuine?

Being genuine is one of those things, like being in love or being an asshole, that’s a little bit hard to define.  We seem to basically know it when we see it, but explaining it to someone else is difficult.  Yet, Writers, we’re the masters of written communication, so let’s give it a go.  Merriam-Webster defines “genuine” like this:

  1. a : actually having the reputed or apparent qualities or character genuine vintage wines
    b : actually produced by or proceeding from the alleged source or author the signature is genuine
    c : sincerely and honestly felt or experienced a deep and genuine love
    d : actual, true a genuine improvement
  2. a : free from hypocrisy or pretense : sincere His apology seemed genuine.

I’m going to assume we’re talking about 2a.  I think that’s the one I mean.  Free from pretense.  Yeah.  That.  So, thanks, dictionary!

Anyway, what it really means in a functional sense is that you’re not trying to write like anybody else.  Because it doesn’t work that way.  You can only write like you.  If you try to write like Douglas Adams or fucking Thomas Jefferson or whoever you please, it’s not only going to sound awful to the ear, it’s going to be an assault on the person you’re trying to imitate.

Readers can tell when something’s just a little off, especially if they read a particular author often.  They might not be able to put a finger on it, but something… maybe in the way you use commas or how you punctuate phrases, or where you find paragraph breaks to make the most sense.  They just know.  It’s intuition.

And this sort of goes back to the post on ghosting from last week, too, I guess.  I never try to write like the person I’m ghosting for, I try to write like a version of me that’s in their pants.  For example, I write for a successful marketing professional who shall go unnamed.  I’m certain he and I have very different writing styles in reality, which is probably because he sells commercials and I write words.  But when I write for him, I just do my best to sound like a version of me that knows a lot about selling commercials.  I don’t pretend to believe I can write exactly like him.

Benefits of Being a Genuine You

Believe it or not, writing like you has some pretty massive benefits.  Yeah.  Being yourself can be cool, who knew?  This is the part of the blog where I list some shit and you read it.  So, here we go!  Benefits of writing like you!

Increase your writing speed.  This is probably the most important for us, especially considering how many of us work by the piece.  Writing speed is vital, if you can’t crank a blog in an hour, you’re not going to survive.  When you write like yourself, it’s almost effortless.  You know what you want to say about the top ten travel destinations in Texas or the six most infectious types of parasites or five ways that turnips changed the world.  So just say it!  Don’t worry over every word, use the words you’d use.  Just get the tone right and you’re glorious.

Improve engagement with the audience.  As I stated above, your audience can tell when you’re not quite yourself.  There’s something wrong with the cadence of the sentences, the paras don’t flow properly and everything is just a little… skewed.  It’s obvious that you were trying too damn hard, so stop.  Just stop.  Instead, be genuine and invite your readers in.  They’ll be more likely to become engaged because they won’t smell a rat.  Or a turd.  Whichever applies.

Create a thing that’s never been.  Here’s the ultimate goal of every writer, creating a thing that’s never been.  It’s the ultimate goal of all creative types, really.  And you can make a thing that’s totally new by taking a topic and infusing yourself and your special little brain into it.  So go marrying some shit together, go fuse stuff and see what you get.  I never said it would always be great, just that it would be new.  New is new.

If you’re struggling to tap into what makes you you, you may want to try a really basic writing exercise that many young writers spend hours and days and years at.  Freewriting is a technique where you just write, whatever comes to mind, for five or ten minutes and you don’t stop.  You just write.  You don’t edit, you don’t erase and for fuck’s sake, you don’t try to be anybody else.  It’s stream of consciousness and it’s a delightful way to yank your own youness out of you.

Go getya some words, my word warriors.  You can do the thing!

Surviving as a Ghostwriter in the Shadows

Digital publishing is a funny thing.  Too often, we the free writers of the virtual world, are treated like footnotes within bigger projects, most of which we’ve created in their entirety.  Our names never appear anywhere, we get no credit, only a fat paycheck to ease our woes.  Paychecks are lovely, don’t get me wrong, and one of my favorite things about this life, but I’m also really into getting *more* paychecks.

That’s where it gets a little tricky.  When you’re a ghostwriter, that is to say, a writer who never gets credit for their work, how do you prove the article attributed to Mr. Dan Smith was actually penned by you?  How can you establish that you have the chops you claim?

My Ongoing Fight with Nest (Yes, the Smart Thermostat Company)

This whole piece was inspired by a recent issue I had with a marketing piece that landed on my desk, via a couple of layers of marketing agencies, from Nest, the company that makes the little round learning thermostat and now a bunch of home security stuff.  I’m working under a non-disclosure agreement, so I can’t tell you too much about it, except to say that either the marketing company or Nest itself wanted me to include information about their Nest Pro program for building contractors within this 1200 word piece.

Except no one would give me the fucking information.

So I went to Nest directly and asked for it.  I explained the project as best I could without breaking my NDA, but I was constantly deflected.  I finally reached someone I thought would help me.  When I explained I was a ghostwriter acting on behalf of a marketing firm whose name I didn’t even know because of the layers that separated me from them, that door slammed shut in my face.

I started pondering this situation from that moment on.  I also emailed my company’s contact, again requesting the information I’d been after for most of a month.  I got a one sentence response, at which point I just threw my hands up, wrote the piece as best I could and turned it in.  That’s one I’m glad to be done with.  Nest is paranoid, this marketing firm is incompetent and I was the ghostwriter stuck in limbo between them.

Proving Your Meddle from Writing Purgatory

Because I was a journalist first, I very rarely encounter problems with potential clients believing that I’ve produced the content that I’m using for samples.  They can google my name and find plenty of things to back up my long career in this here writing life.  But a lot of you aren’t so lucky and have ghosted most of your lives, so I came up with some ideas for how to actually support your claims.  Ghosting is great when your clients edit your work into garbage, but it’s heartbreaking when you’ve written something that goes viral and it has someone else’s name on it.

Next time you have someone doubt your ghosted pieces or your status as a ghost, try these tips, ok?  I think any reasonable person would find these acceptable solutions.  If not, fuck ’em.  You don’t want to work for that asshole anyway.

#1. Ask your existing clients for a reference.  When you write consistently for a particular client, you should be developing a relationship with them.  You are, right?  This comes in handy when you’re trying to expand and find new clients because that other client you’ve been ghosting for can provide you with a reference that says you’ve written their content.  I’d suggest choosing the samples you want to use and ask the client to specifically mention those pieces.  Or, if you write their entire blog, for example, they could just pen something like “Sally has been writing my blog exclusively since 2009 and we’ve seen engagement triple during that time.”  That’s a nice thing.

#2. Suggest a paid trial.  I was recently asked if I could provide samples of an email campaign I’d worked on for a potential client and I had to tell them that this violated my agreement with every client I’d ever written those for.  Email campaigns tend to be kind of tightly protected secrets, even though most companies end up writing them kind-of-the-samey.  But, anyway, since I couldn’t give him the specific kind of sample he wanted, I suggested we do a paid sample so I could show him what I can do with an email.  I’m a wicked email slinger, but no one knows it.  It’s ok.  I can sleep at night knowing that no one realizes how mad my skills are.  Anyway, we’re in the middle of that now, so I’ll let you know, but I think it’s going to be ok.

#3. Provide bylined copy that’s unrelated.  I’ve had to do this more than once.  The nice thing about having a mature and established voice is that no matter what you write, it’ll kind of peek through.  Anyone who reads much will be able to recognize your signature on both your bylined copy and your ghosted copy.  Even if your bylined copy is about high school baseball, it’s better than nothing.  You might as well try as not.

Ok, that’s what I’ve got for you today.  The holidays were a mess and got me terribly behind.  I’m gonna go over into the other window and write a buncha blogs now.  Until next time…

Self-Care is Fundamental to Your Writerly Health

I’m writing this blog from the end of the road, the bottom of the barrel, the length of my rope.  You see, I’ve been neglecting my most important asset for the last month: me.  I’ve not been sleeping well, I’ve not been eating well, I’ve been overworking myself, I’ve been skipping the gym, I’ve been pushing when I knew I had nothing left to give.  I’ve been on empty and there wasn’t anything for it.  I continued to plunge ahead.

If you stay in this business, this life, for long, you’ll find that this state of workaholism isn’t unique to me or something to admire.  It’s a kind of sickness that some of us get.  We forget to stop.  We get wrapped up in the work, in the thrill of the keyboard, the rush of a new project (never mind the old one isn’t getting finished because you’re spread so damn thin).  I’ve been pretty good to keep it at bay, but I met a fella recently who brought me some really special projects and there it was, peeping at me from around the corners.

So, my fucking friends, today we’re gonna drag this ugly beast out of the motherfucking shadows and talking about the thing we don’t talk about.  Because tomorrow it might be you, it might be the person you’re collaborating with, it might be your best fucking friend.  Freelancing draws a certain kind of person, they’re often quite intense and have quite intense reactions to life.

Workaholism and Burn-Out: Where We Are Now

I collapsed from exhaustion this week.  At my desk.  I am ashamed to admit this, but I need to own it because that’s literally the only road out of this pit.  If you’ve fought the battle against workaholism, you know what I mean.  You can’t pretend that you’re just really hard-working or that it’s just that you’re really interested in *this* project.

It’s a full on obsession with creation, breathing life into a world that never existed until you strung the words together like so many fairy lights.  But if you don’t own your shit, it will absolutely kill you and take everything you love.  Burnout is real, my friends, and it’s mighty unpleasant.  Mental collapse is awful.

I don’t know where the act of creation turns into the act of self-destruction.  There’s a line there somewhere… but it’s fuzzy.  It’s easy to cross over, it’s easy to get too deep into that and forget to eat and shower and take care of the basics in life.  That’s where you start dancing with burnout and all the nasty stuff.

American culture elevates work addicts and workaholism, but it’s one of the most dangerous compulsions you can possibly have.  Like with compulsive eating, you have to work, so you’re always sort of risking it, every day.  Is today the day I’ll slip?  Is tomorrow?  Am I already in a downward spiral?  These are the things I have to ask myself to keep my head above water.

Your Daily Self-Care Checklist

I’m writing this blog more for myself than for you, but I figure that if I’m having this issue, some of you are, as well.  I know a few of you are also serious workaholics and will hurt yourselves to make deadlines and so forth.  I once believed that was admirable, even something to aspire to, but time and experience have shown me that self-immolation isn’t sustainable.  Self-neglect isn’t cool.

Or, as I like to say to people who aren’t me, you can’t fill others’ tea cups from an empty pot.  In actuality, you can’t do shit with an empty pot except smash it and if you break your teapot, well, you’re in a lot bigger trouble than you realize.  So, step one and step two and step three hundred and fifty six is self care.  Every single day.  I made a checklist.  It’s for me, but maybe it’s for you, too.

Self Care Checklist

Shower.  Take a real shower.  Shampoo your hair.  Then put on something nice that makes you feel like a person and not a slovenly zombie.  Shoes, too.  Be fancy.

Breakfast.  Protein shakes and meal replacement bars are ok for breakfast.  Just do it.  Swoosh.

Meds.  Eat them pills.  They make you strong.

Exercise.  Every day.  Monday, Wednesday and Friday, take the dog for a walk/jog around the neighborhood.  Tuesday and Thursday, go to the pool at the Y and thrash about like you’re drowning.  Eventually you’ll learn how to swim properly this way.  Saturday and Sunday are for adventure walks with the whole crew.

Don’t skip lunch.  You do this a lot.  Don’t do it.  When the bell sounds, you get up and go find food.  Even if it’s a cookie.  Cookies can be lunch if there’s other good stuff with them.  Take the time to find the good stuff.  It’s good and it’s stuff, what’s not to like?

Dinner promptly at six.  Don’t eat so close to bedtime.  It just makes it hard to sleep and you really need good sleep.  You can always go back to writing after.

Movie time.  From 8 pm to 10 pm, sit and watch TV with the fam.  You deserve a break, you’ve worked hard today.  You work hard every day.  You work yourself to death.  Learn to let yourself have some fun to death.

Weekends are for exploring.  Stop working on the weekend.  That’s exploring time.  You need to figure out where all the good stuff is, but you can’t if you’re always working on the weekends.  Just stahp.

Get enough sleep.  You’ve been neglecting this one big time.  That extra hour you’re getting to work in the morning is literally killing you.  Your brain can’t function on six hours of sleep, it’s pretty evident from your heart rate monitor and general mood.  Sleep until you’re done, or at least eight hours.  Eight hours.  Zzzzzzz….

Above all else, listen to your inner Homeland Security Advisory System.  If you’re on Red Alert, you need to stop right the fuck now.  If it’s a blue alert, keep on keepin’ on my friend.

The Secret to Keeping Your Writing Fresh

Come, Little Grasshopper, and sit at my feet.  I’ll give you one of the most important secrets of the writing trade.  Don’t be afraid, I don’t bite.  Well, not often and not unless you’ve really screwed the pooch, you know what I mean?  You know…

Anyway, in writing for a living, there are a few major struggles you’re going to encounter over the long run.  First and foremost is the all-consuming fear that you’re going to run out of work and never see another paycheck again.  Next is the realization that you’ve got too much work and you’ll never see daylight again.  But somewhere between the two of those is the worry that you’re starting to sound monotonous.  Blah blah blah keyword blah blah, ykwim?

High Quality Input = High Quality Output

I’m about to say something that you’re not going to like, so before I do, screw on your big girl panties and brace yourself.  Here goes.  You can’t just write forever and be lauded as a motherfucking genius.  Because you aren’t.  What comes out of you is directly influenced by what goes in, so if you’re not bothering to put anything INTO the data stream, you’re not going to get anything but garbage out once you run through your personal backlog of reading material, popular culture, current events and so forth.

You are not brilliant.  There’s nothing new inside your special little head.

What makes a writer is how they connect the dots between data points, not the fucking nouns or verbs or vocabulary.  I mean, that stuff is important.  If you don’t have it, no one will hire or respect you and I’ll probably laugh at you a lot, but if you can’t connect dots, you might as well just go work at a cardboard box factory.

In order to connect those dots, you have to have those dots to connect in the first place.  Which means that at least half your job is non-writing stuff like watching television, playing video games, reading books, dicking around on social media, interacting with fleshy humans and so forth.  Data collection is so vital to your world, you can’t even imagine.

Ways to Make More Time for Input

We live in a world of data, which is pretty awesome if you’re a writer with not a lot of extra time to cram information into your own head.  You have to make some time for new data input, you absolutely do, but there are more efficient ways to go about it if you’re in a time crunch.  There are plenty of writers these days who don’t read a lot of books because they simply lack the time, but they’ve consumed every single article that their favorite social media feed has shared in the last two years.  Reading is reading, don’t get pretentious about it.

Anyway, here are a few things to try in order to increase your data input volume:

Crack Open Some Audiobooks.  A friend of mine swears by these.  He’s listened to some that sound to me to be pretty damn cool, but I’ve barely cracked the cover on them.  I can’t vouch for audiobooks one way or the other, but I’d say that if you got a lot from your college lectures, audiobooks will be a world full of learnin’ for you.  You can listen and do stuff like email prospects or clean your house to make the most efficient use of time.

Thrash to New Music.  Hey, you may not think of music as a form of writing, but as long as you’re listening to the kind with words, booyah!  There are words here.  Music to me is more like poetry, but poetry is a great tool for developing a voice that glides easily across the page.  Spotify has several different features that suggest new music to users based on music they’ve already heard and I use them often.  New music gives me new ways to connect words and, sometimes, even new metre to measure sentences by.

Call Your Mom.  I’m not saying you’re not doing your best, but your mom wants to hear from you, and she’s probably been doing some interesting reading or television watching, eh?  Depending on who your mom is, you might get the latest headlines from Fox News or the greatest hits from the Discovery Channel.  It’s a gamble.  But your mom wants you to call.  You could call once in a while.

Binge Some Fucking Netflix.  Whoever first said that television was an idiot box was clearly a hater of fun and destroyer of joy.  There’s lots of really smart programming out there these days, both fiction and non.  Right now I’m watching some shit about volcanoes and stuff.  I’ve been streaming Netflix for weeks and weeks while I work, it drowns out the sound of construction in my neighborhood, skanks can’t be bothered to keep it down.  Oh, and now I know things about lava.

Ok, turd mongers, that’s it for today.  Go away and fill your brain with useful data and make your writing better.  Look at different writing styles.  Explore other genres.  Try out new stuff!

Above all else, STAY INTERESTING!